Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tennessee ASD leads nation on implementing portfolio reforms

New assessments show progress across districts

Seattle, WA - Tennessee’s state-run Achievement School District (ASD) has again received high marks on its implementation of the portfolio strategy for managing and improving schools. New York City, Denver, and the Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans also continue to lead among districts implementing these reforms.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington has released the new rankings as part of its work supporting a national network of over 40 portfolio school systems.

CRPE’s Portfolio Implementation Snapshot Tool rates each school system’s progress on portfolio reforms. The twice-yearly assessments are based on interviews with district or other system leaders and measure implementation progress on the strategy’s seven key components: good options and choices for all families, school autonomy, pupil-based funding, a talent-seeking strategy, new sources of support for schools, performance-based accountability, and extensive public engagement.

Districts can use the online tool to track progress (or lack of it) and see how they line up with best-in-class portfolio practices and other districts in the Portfolio School District Network. “These ratings show cities where they are and where they want to be,” says Christine Campbell, CRPE’s policy director. “The cities that invest the time in these interviews and bravely open themselves up for review are making a big step forward, whether they are currently at the top or the bottom of this list. In six months’ time, some of those just getting started will see big gains because they are becoming strategic about their work and actively making use of the network’s resources.”

Highlights from the new round of snapshots:

  • Tennessee’s ASD tops the list, as it did in the last round of rankings. The ASD continues to improve its implementation, this time in public engagement, by creating the Achievement Advisory Council to involve community members in the school redesign process.
  • The RSD in New Orleans continues to improve its common enrollment system, which allows families to rank order school preferences on one form across all charter and district schools. The RSD also leads on implementation of pupil-based funding, refining it with a new differentiated special education funding formula.
  • Denver continues to make progress with its portfolio management and public engagement efforts, improving its process for school transformation, expanding efforts to attract and develop independent technology providers to serve schools’ personalized learning needs, and instituting a common enrollment system across district and charter schools to simplify enrollment and choice for families. These actions appear to have resonated with voters; the November school board election resulted in a 6-1 supermajority committed to accelerating the district’s strategy.

The systems leading on implementation appear to have embraced the idea of continuous improvement: both Tennessee’s ASD and New Orleans’ RSD are constantly refining their approach to the strategy. The snapshot reflects these efforts and also serves as a tool to guide them. “The snapshot provides transparency, and it enables us to see our blind spots,” explains Malika Anderson, chief portfolio officer for the ASD. “It helps us to identify our thought partners among our district peers and to push each other in the work to better serve students."

Since new leadership or a shifting political climate can cause rapid change, the snapshots help alert stakeholders when strategies may be changing. While New York City is ranked among the top districts, the snapshot is a measure of where the district was in January 2014, right after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office. De Blasio has indicated that he may halt or reverse some of former mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education initiatives, so it will be important to watch what happens next. The same is true for Hartford, where the pending departure of Superintendent Christina Kishimoto spells uncertainty for portfolio reforms.

The Portfolio Implementation Snapshot Tool is publicly available at

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