Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies For Managing Urban Schools

December 2012

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This new book from Paul Hill and colleagues Christine Campbell and Betheny Gross explains the underlying idea of the portfolio strategy. Based on findings from studies of portfolio school districts, the book shows how mayors and other city leaders have introduced the strategy, compares different cities’ implementation, tells about the civic coalitions that come together to support it, and analyzes the intense and colorful conflicts it can set off. The book also offers a clear, concise explanation of the main components of the strategy and how they work together under a model of continuous improvement to create a unified strategy.

One core theme is that entrenched interests are sure to fight any reform initiative that is strong enough to make a difference in big city education. The authors explain how the fact that no adult group’s interests perfectly match those of children makes conflict inevitable and often productive.

The book also takes stock of results to date, which are mixed, though generally positive in the cities that have pursued the strategy most aggressively. However, Hill, Campbell, and Gross make clear that early reform leaders like Joel Klein in New York and Paul Pastorek in Louisiana have been too optimistic, assuming that the results would be so obviously good that careful assessment was unnecessary. The authors show what kinds of proof are necessary for a portfolio strategy and how far short the available evidence falls.

Finally, the authors show why the portfolio strategy has proven much more sustainable than other education reform efforts, and is likely to have a “ratchet” effect—occasionally stalling out due to political resistance, but coming back because of the pressing need facing districts and the logic of continuous improvement.

This book will be of interest beyond the education community, to people who see K-12 education as crucial to the future of cities. It is targeted at mayors, city council members, candidates for those offices, district and charter leaders, and local foundations, as well as governors and their staffs. The book will also get the attention of school board associations, teacher unions, and education policy wonks, though many of them will not like it. Strife and Progress treats education as a civic leadership and capacity‐building issue, not an enterprise set apart from local politics.

Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies For Managing Urban Schools is published by Brookings Institution Press.

Advance praise for Strife and Progress:

"This book highlights that public education can serve children better if it is willing to open itself up to new ideas, new sources of talent, and greater competition. Hill and his co-authors provide a roadmap for city leaders, outlining the "portfolio strategy," by which a city can tap all the talents within its nonprofits, colleges, foundations, and businesses. This book is for any leader who won't rest until every child has access to an effective school."U.S. Senator Michael F. Bennet, Colorado

"Strife and Progress is a must-read for anyone who wants to act on the lessons of the past decade to improve urban education. It describes a revolutionary new approach to improving school systems that we've seen firsthand can attract and retain exceptional educators, unleash their leadership, empower parents, and expand opportunity for all children."Wendy Kopp, Founder and CEO, Teach for America

"There can be no one-size-fits-all in our relentless pursuit to create an education system that exists solely for the benefit of students. In Strife and Progress: Portfolio Strategies for Managing Urban Schools, Hill, Campbell, and Gross present an innovative strategy for those looking for new ways to fix an old system."Jeb Bush, Governor of Florida, 1999-2007, and Chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education

"Paul Hill and his colleagues write with power and clarity about a school reform strategy—portfolio management—that he has long championed. He shows how it has worked in school districts throughout the country and the political pushback it has generated. This is an important book because portfolio strategies are critical to improving our public schools, and Hill's sharp eye will help future reformers move forward more effectively."Joel Klein, Former New York City Schools Chancellor, CEO of the Education Division and Executive Vice President, News Corporation

“Paul Hill can rightfully be termed the father of the 'portfolio' approach to urban school reform. More than a decade ago, he argued that urban communities would do well to abandon their reliance on trying to fix traditional bureaucratic districts—and that kids would be better served by a more dynamic and more performance-based approach to school management. In this book, accompanied by two able colleagues, Hill offers a clear-eyed look at the state of portfolio management and explains what it’ll take for this increasingly popular strategy to deliver. This is a book that deserves the attention of both urban leaders and would-be school reformers.”Frederick M. Hess, Director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute