A growing number of urban districts across the country are profoundly changing the role of the school district and its relationship to schools in order to bring about dramatically better outcomes for students. New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, Denver, Hartford, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., are among more than 20 districts pursuing a "portfolio strategy" of continuous improvement. These districts are creating diverse options for families in disadvantaged neighborhoods by opening new autonomous schools, giving existing schools more control of budgeting and hiring, and holding all schools to common performance standards.
CRPE has been studying the development of the portfolio strategy in several cities for the past three years. This interim assessment finds that:
- Portfolio districts support and oversee school improvement in new ways.
- Charter schools have become essential parts of district portfolios.
- Portfolio districts need to do more than just invite innovation: they must actively pursue it.
- Controversy is common in portfolio districts.
- Portfolio districts are making progress.
- Portfolio strategies are hardy and are proving sustainable despite changes in leadership.
While progress is not as quick as districts would like, early results are promising. Improved high school graduation rates, better student attendance and test scores, fewer students in low-performing schools, and more high-performing teachers across districts are among the achievements in districts that have pursued the strategy the longest, like New York and New Orleans.
A full report on the progress and challenges faced by these districts will be published in 2012.