Steven Hodas was Executive Director of the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Innovation under Mayor Bloomberg, pioneering new approaches to large–district problem-solving and procurement. A former CRPE Practitioner-in-Residence, Education Week “Leaders to Learn From” Award recipient, and NASA Education pioneer, Steven has designed a wide range of education services and policies, from the first platform for large-scale district formative assessment to national K12 antibias programs to a revamped education system for the US Bureau of Prisons. He currently serves as the Senior Strategic Lead for citiesRISE, a global youth mental health non-profit, and is the founder of The Paleogene Project, which re-envisions the structural, functional, and political relationships between public schools and their communities.
For nearly a year, schools’ unpredictability has created stress and suffering for kids and families, especially in Black and brown communities where jobs and lives are also most at risk from the virus.
Before the COVID meteor knocked them for a loop, school districts were the primary providers of child care, nutrition, recreation and education — not to mention the largest employers of adults — in their communities.
School as we know it is gone and it won’t be coming back. Deprived of the ability to physically gather grade-level cohorts of students into large facilities reliably staffed by authorized district employees, it lost—with stunning speed—both operational viability and the consent of the governed.
Author Steven Hodas shares his experiences working with the New York Department of Education to foster innovative practices and develop more nimble procurement procedures.
I’ve written extensively about the “District Operating System (DOS):” the set of unsexy, below-the-radar functions like procurement, contracting, IT, and HR that determine the look and feel of what schools do.
How ingrained district operating systems practices can interfere with policy goals and school-level initiative, and why we need to retool the DOS to enable dynamic problem-solving.
In the past couple of years I’ve probably used the word “innovation” thousands of times and read or heard it thousands of times more.
To a certain kind of mind, the status quo has no risks and no costs. The “way we do things” is seen as, if not the best of all possible worlds, then at least a sort of unexaminable state of nature.
Everything that schools do, they buy, one way or another. Whether it’s professional development, curricula and tests, or pencils, hamburger, and software, the choice is the same: either spend money on salaries and materials to make it yourself, or pay someone else to spend their money on salaries and materials and then buy it from them.
The vitriol that characterizes much of the dialog on school reform is most roiling when the conversation turns, as it invariably does, to teachers unions on one hand, and “corporate reformers” on the other.
Clearly it wasn’t only the failed $1.3 billion deal to put iPads in the hands of all students and teachers that forced the resignation of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Superintendent John Deasy.
The recent New York Times article on New York City’s high school admissions process describes how the incorporation of game theory into an algorithm for matching students with schools has substantially increased the rates at which students are matched to schools of their choosing.
Michael Horn’s recent piece on the failure of inBloom captures why it was the very opposite of a disruptive innovation from a markets perspective, as well the fatal blind spots and judgment errors present from its inception.
Steven Hodas (@stevenhodas) is a veteran of both the New York City Department of Education and the edtech industry. In this blog series, School District Innovation: When Practice Collides with Policy, he provides insights into the challenges, struggles, and opportunities of large-district attempts to reform longstanding practices and change cultural norms.