How Do You Build Continuously Improving Systems of Schools?

Over the last 20 years, eight U.S. cities have seen more students attending more effective schools at a faster pace than other urban areas. In Oakland, D.C., Denver, New Orleans, New York City, Newark, Camden, and Chicago, education leaders have increased the number of high-performing schools and set up systems that continuously improve.

Bellwether Education’s Eight Cities tells the stories of those efforts in order to show current and future superintendents, members of boards of education, and state education leaders that it’s possible to go beyond incremental academic improvement even in the largest or most politically charged environments.

All of the highlighted cities have implemented some version of a strategy commonly referred to as “the portfolio model.” The portfolio model rests on the following central beliefs and strategic pillars.

Central Beliefs

  • Schools are the unit of change.
  • Families should be able to choose what’s best for their children among a diverse array of high-performing schools.
  • Systems should be responsive to the needs and desires of the communities that they serve.
  • High-potential or high-performing schools should replace consistently low-performing schools.
  • The role of government is to make sure schools do not fall below a minimum quality bar.

Strategic Pillar

  • School-level autonomy around staffing, budgetary, and instructional decisions
  • Schools have a formal performance contract with an oversight body that monitors school performance
  • A performance framework applies to all public schools
  • One or more school-quality oversight bodies that make high-stakes opening and closing decisions based on school quality, community need, and family demand
  • An office or organization focused on expanding, replicating, and incubating new schools
  • A talent strategy for teachers and principals

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