Redesigning the District Operating System

In this paper, we look at the inner workings of a school district through the lens of the “district operating system (DOS),” a set of interlocking mutually–reinforcing modules that includes functions like procurement, contracting, data and IT policy, the general counsel’s office, human resources, and the systems for employee and family engagement. We examine the ways in which ingrained district operating systems practices can interfere with policy goals and school-level initiative and argue for a retooling of the DOS to enable dynamic problem-solving.

This is the last in a series of white papers on system redesign. Our first paper, Next Generation School Districts, goes deep into the question of which system policies are most likely to get in the way of implementing personalized learning at scale and defines the new capacities and functions districts need to develop. Our second paper, The Case for Coherent High Schools, explains why personalized high schools are hard to get and keep in a traditional district, and argues that stable leadership, school-level autonomy, and choice for both staff and families are necessary to support high school redesign at scale.

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