The authority to intervene in local districts remains an essential tool if states want to continue playing a meaningful role in improving local schools.
There Is More Than One Way to Grow Great Schools
People who believe in a portfolio strategy believe great schools can prosper in many circumstances. The role of portfolio leaders is to create opportunities for innovation and improvement and to ensure all schools are getting results across all of a city’s public schools. For that reason, we have begun an effort to track and report on new ways that school systems can expand the number of great schools via replicating existing district schools, creating more options to expand high-quality charter schools, create innovation zones, etc. A recent collaboration with Joe Siedlecki from the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation produced this great starter list that can give cities like Los Angeles a place to start thinking about possibilities. This piece was originally published on the MSDF blog.
Since 2010, our Quality School Options team has focused its efforts in cities that seek to increase the number and percentage of students attending high-performing or high-potential schools. We do that by supporting the growth of great schools and assisting city leaders in the implementation of key tenants of a school portfolio strategy.
Our belief is that communities should:
1. Do what they can to create space for new and innovative schools and school models.
2. Empower entrepreneurial school leaders to design and manage their schools to best meet the needs of their students.
3. Identify those schools that seem to generate good learning outcomes for kids and are in most demand by families.
4. Make an intentional effort to grow the number and size of these schools.
Portfolio strategy ≠ charter school growth strategy
Far too often, we run into situations where stakeholders believe a portfolio strategy is nothing more than a charter school growth strategy. We encourage city leaders to think beyond the obvious. While we ultimately aim for a system of autonomous and accountable schools, we know there may be more than one path to get there.
What might that look like?
Below are 15 ideas, spanning the traditional district and public charter school sectors, that city education leaders could consider in an effort to provide kids and parents with an ever-improving set of school options:
1. Start a new charter school.
- The coming launch of the first campus of Compass Rose Academy in San Antonio.
2. Start a new district school.
- Launch of Lincoln-West School of Science and Health by the Cleveland Metro School District.
3. Replicate a successful charter school.
- Addition of new campuses for IDEA Public Schools in Austin, Texas.
4. Replicate a successful district school – replication model.
- The creation of the Grant Beacon Prep Innovation Management Organization (IMO) in Denver, which elevates the original principal into an executive role and he controls the management of two schools that are implementing the school model he developed.
5. Expand grade levels/capacity at existing successful charter school.
- Boys Latin Charter in Philadelphia is adding grades 6-8 to go with their original 9-12 HS campus.
6. Expand grade levels/capacity at existing successful district school.
- Powel Elementary in Philadelphia was a K-4, but is adding grades 5-8.
7. Ensure a successful charter school is full to current capacity.
- Every year the DC Public Charter School Board encourages families to fill seats on their highest rated (Tier 1) charter schools.
8. Ensure a successful district school is full to current capacity.
- Cleveland Metro Public Schools mounted a campaign to ensure all the seats that their highest performing schools were full.
9. Restart a struggling charter school with a proven restart/high-potential operator.
- Mastery taking over a struggling Scholar Academies charter school in Philadelphia.
10. Restart a struggling district school with a proven/high-potential restart operator.
11. Consolidate a struggling district school into a high-performing district school.
- Atlanta Public Schools consolidating the struggling Carver School of Technology into high performing Carver Early College.
12. Provide high-performing district schools with more protected freedoms and opportunities to innovate on their model.
- Denver’s implementation of the Luminary Learning Network.
13. Turn a successful in-district program model into a school model.
- Project RESTORE in Indianapolis being replicated as a whole school model.
14. Support district schools in voluntarily implementing a proven/tested school model.
- Chicago Public Schools supported 5 neighborhood schools in implementing the International Baccalaureate school model.
15. Support district schools in joining a school model network.
- Other network & school model options exist such as Expeditionary Learning, Big Picture, New Tech, Envision Education, Bard Early College high schools.
The success rates of these options will vary and often depend upon the quality of the school leader and the freedom they have to design and manage their schools. But keep in mind that even charter schools aren’t a guaranteed success. As recent CREDO analysis of cities suggests just 38 percent of charter schools in urban areas outperform their district peers in reading and math.
My point is this: there is more than one tool in the toolbox, let’s use them all.
How do efforts to reinvent career and technical education fit into a broader portfolio strategy to improve the quality and diversity of school options for students?
If partnership schools prove able to turn around persistently struggling schools, they may be well the effort—but this is still a big if.