Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 157–176 | Cite as

Turning around failing organizations: Insights for educational leaders



Purpose In this article, we review the literature from the organizational sciences to develop a grounded narrative of turnaround in education. Approach The approach is a review of literature. We employ an integrated process to unpack and make sense of the turnaround literature from the organizational sciences. We rely on strategies appropriate for document analysis, and borrow analytic strategies (e.g., memoing, coding) employed with interview data. Findings We examine seven defining themes that flow from our review of empirical and theoretical work on organizational recovery in firms, non-educational public agencies, and not-for-profit organizations: (1) not all failing schools are worth saving; (2) focus on leadership; (3) act quickly; (4) diagnose first; (5) emphasize efficiency moves; (6) create a sense of hope; and (7) backward map from the customer and focus on core activities linked to valued outcomes. Implications We posit that the literature on turning around failing organizations in sectors outside of education provides blueprints for recovery activity in failing schools. The implications for turnaround leadership are particularly strong. Originality This is the first systematic effort to mine research in the corporate, not-for-profit, and public sectors to develop insights for turning around failing schools.


School turnaround School reform Failing schools 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Peabody CollegeVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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