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School turnaround policy has become prominent in American education discourse. Some federal initiatives specifically target the lowest achieving five percent of schools in the nation, with the goal of bringing schools out of improvement status rapidly. This paper considers and extends the work of three recent studies of school turnaround. Collectively, the studies demonstrate how a strong federal initiative can impact public education on multiple levels, including the state, district, school, and individual levels. School turnaround demonstrates the power of federal initiatives in the United States to impact the public school system at all levels. State departments of education have responded in ways to obtain federal funding. Districts and schools generally with the least capacity to enact change have been challenged with an opportunity to win substantial dollars, but many elected not to compete. Increases in student achievement through such reform appear to be possible, but the human and social costs have yet to be adequately considered.
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