Family choice among schools is a necessary starting place for a district that believes no child should attend a school where he or she is unlikely to learn. Students and families need to be able to choose where they attend school. Portfolio districts ensure this in two ways: 1) student assignment policies, and 2) improving options for parents.
In a portfolio district the most important figure in improving student achievement is the school leader. School leaders should be given as much authority as possible to make the right decisions for their school—choosing who is part of their teaching and administrative teams, and having control over their budget and freedom to buy the services their school needs. In exchange school leaders must work within their budget and be held accountable for results.
Pupil-based funding ensures that funds follow the student. This means that the vast majority of dollars flow to schools based on enrollment and can then be used by schools to pay for salaries, resources, and any support needed.
The portfolio strategy requires that a lot of motivated people, with skills that are in short supply in traditional districts, work together at both the school and central office level. To be successful, portfolio districts must find, promote, and support the best people from within and become effective at competing for national talent as well.
Portfolio leaders do not see the district as the sole provider of support for schools. These leaders strive to create a more diverse set of support providers that schools can select from.
Accountability in a portfolio district is focused on results and continuous improvement. In a portfolio district, it is commonly understood that effective educators are rewarded, effective schools are replicated, struggling schools receive strong support, and chronically low-performing schools are closed.
Implementing a portfolio strategy creates enormous conflict but also requires widespread support. Portfolio district leaders need a strong public engagement strategy to build the support needed despite the large-scale change and upheaval that many stakeholder groups will experience as the strategy is implemented.