Wednesday, July 17, 2013

District-charter compact: Real benefits are hard to roll back

This post by Joe Siedlecki appeared in the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation blog on July 17, 2013. Link to external website.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) recently released an interim report on progress in 16 cities whose education leaders have signed a district-charter compact. The report notes a number of commonalities across the cities:

  • 15 cities have committed to expanding and replicating the best schools regardless of sector
  • 15 cities have committed to ensuring equitable distribution of public resources
  • 13 have developed plans to jointly recruit and develop school leaders
  • 10 have committed to creating common performance based accountability systems
  • 8 have committed to create common or coordinated school enrollment systems

Expanding great schools, regardless of sector

The very brief takeaway? In more and more cities, when civic and cross-sector education leaders sit down together to problem solve how to best serve students and families, they end up coming to a similar conclusion: We need to grow and expand great schools, regardless of sector. Not surprisingly–especially given that all 16 cities that signed compacts are also member of the CRPE’s Portfolio School District Network– the path these cities are on incorporates many of the seven components of portfolio school districts.

Stutter-step progress

The report notes that all district-charter compact cities have “made inroads toward a relationship focused more on problem-solving than on posturing, and most have made systemic changes to policies and practices.”

Of course, the path to progress has often been less than smooth. The reports’ authors, Sarah Yatsko, Elizabeth Cooley Nelson and Robin Lake, make no bones about the two-steps-forward-one-step-back nature of the effort. “Progress has been episodic,” they write, “and has sometimes stalled, due to leadership transitions, local anti-charter politics, and key leaders’ unwillingness to prioritize time and resources for implementation.”

The good news, however, is that even in environments where acrimony runs high, consensus and incremental gains have emerged.

Two-patterns: District-charter compact benefits are hard to roll back; cities are transforming into ‘learning’ communities

The report also captures two other patterns worth noting.

First, is that cities are, intentionally or not, focusing on the implementation of practices that, once implemented – and experienced by families and school leaders and administrators – will be “difficult … to roll back.” For example, once a city implements a common enrollment system that streamlines application processes across public schools, districts will find it very difficult to go back to the Wild West environment of multiple applications, timelines and processes for families to navigate. Similarly difficult to undo are changes such as a districtwide shift to funding students (rather than staff) or to giving budget authority to principals so they can staff schools that serve their specific student populations and their communities’ unique needs.
Second, the 16 cities profiled are effectively attempting to become learning organizations/communities. They are seeking to identify what works, regardless of sector, and then explore ways to do more of it.
We applaud the commitment, hard work and vision it takes for leaders in these cities to reshape the ways their districts work. We look forward to more progress.

The CRPE report, District/Charter Collaboration Compact, focuses on 16 cities whose educational leaders signed a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Compact between superintendents and charter school leaders. The compact seeks to push district and charter leaders to focus attention on how schools perform rather than on whether they are district schools or charter schools.

Read the full report here.