After a facilities snag forced Cascade Midway Academy to delay its opening as a full-fledged new school, its founders decided to launch a learning hub for 12 students enrolled in nearby districts and charter schools.
How the Portfolio Strategy Evolved from Idea to Action
In 2003, Paul Hill and I, along with James Harvey, wrote a book called It Takes a City. The book was written for mayors, civic leaders, school board members, and involved citizens, as a practical guide on how to formulate a reform plan bold enough to work while dealing with political opposition to change. It encourages mayors and civic leaders to stay engaged in education reform. And it concludes that school systems must redefine their mission, around building a funding and regulatory environment where strong schools can flourish, offering families choices, and creating new options via charters and contracts with independent operators. This was the foundation of what today we call the portfolio strategy.
Over the past decade, forward-thinking leaders in more than 40 cities and state takeover districts have embraced giving principals freedom in exchange for accountability, giving schools control of spending and hiring, working with the charter sector to offer new and distinctive schools, and looking to the community and beyond for new school supports and talent. Smart and driven leaders and educators have taken these common sense ideas and boldly iterated and improved upon them.
New Orleans is an important exemplar, both in the use of the portfolio strategy and local leaders’ creative adaptation of it. In their essay “A Playbook for a New Approach in New Orleans,” John White and Adam Hawf (Louisiana state superintendent and assistant superintendent, respectively), write of the reality of education in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina nine years ago, the hard work of educators and families, the revelation of new challenges, and the continuous improvement and innovation taking place in the city. The New Orleans story is a testament to the educators and families who won’t settle for small gains.
Our latest book shows how leaders in New Orleans and other cities have adapted the portfolio strategy to local needs and conditions.
At CRPE, we don’t think of the ideas we’ve developed for the portfolio strategy as “done.” We aren’t prescriptive or ideological about this approach—we’re researching and learning as it takes shape in cities across the country. For those considering it, we will help them learn from each other, provide tools to help with implementation, and keep pushing them to improve.
After tracking and detailing school systems’ reopening plans for months, our research now turns to how districts are translating their plans into action.
Districts had all summer to address the concerns that special education families raised this spring. Yet, in many school systems, special education was largely an afterthought in districts’ planning for fall reopening.