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.

Most importantly, we believe that parents should have a fair opportunity to find a best fit school for their children.

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.

2.     Start a new district school.

3.     Replicate a successful charter school.

4.     Replicate a successful district school – replication model.

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.

7.     Ensure a successful charter school is full to current capacity.

8.     Ensure a successful district school is full to current capacity.

9.     Restart a struggling charter school with a proven restart/high-potential operator.

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.

12.  Provide high-performing district schools with more protected freedoms and opportunities to innovate on their model.

13.  Turn a successful in-district program model into a school model.

14.  Support district schools in voluntarily implementing a proven/tested 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.

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