Put Learning First: A Portfolio Approach to Public Schools

February 2006

This paper explains how the public education system resists reforms and shows how to make much higher-performing schools available to disadvantaged children. It explains why change is so difficult and why seemingly obvious solutions will not work. The paper also shows how new ideas about teaching, learning, and effective schooling can take hold, and details a portfolio management system—new set of structures and incentives that fosters innovation, adaptability, and performance.

Portfolio management is a new and different vision for education reform. It dramatically changes the roles, responsibilities, and incentives of virtually everyone in the public education system. Instead of trying to refurbish an old, ineffective public education structure, it aims to raze the current system to the ground and build a new one. Certainly, the need for such dramatic change is clear. Encumbered by a system that resists meaningful reform, the nation's schools are unable to educate millions of poor and minority students. If reformers are to build such a system, however, they must be prepared to stay with the effort and avoid partial measures. Just as new structures do not get slapped up overnight, this change will take time and effort. After all, it will require nothing less than the total transformation of the nation's public education system.

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