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New Center To Explore Governance Alternatives

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The RAND Corporation and the University of Washington's Institute for Public Policy and Management have jointly established a new center that will explore alternatives to the current system of education governance, particularly in urban areas.

Paul Hill, a senior social scientist with RAND and a professor at the university, is heading the center, known as the Program on Reinventing Public Education.

"I've become convinced that the marginal, inside-the-system changes we've been talking about--decentralization, site-based management--are all much too gentle,'' Mr. Hill said in an interview. "They are experimental projects that leave the core of the bureaucratic system intact.''

Instead, Mr. Hill and his colleagues plan to explore how school boards could create "contract schools'' that would be legal entities operating under specific agreements with local boards. Such schools would have a strong sense of mission and a cohesive faculty, and would have to meet certain criteria to continue to operate.

The idea differs from the popular "charter schools'' concept, Mr. Hill said, because school boards' primary mission would be to create contract schools. Under the charter approach, boards react to people who want to open schools, rather than seek them out.

Contract schools, in Mr. Hill's conception, also would be different in that they would operate under legal contracts that would hold them accountable for student performance and give them an assurance that they could continue as long as they were successful. Charter schools, he said, are subject to "political vagaries.''

The Program on Reinventing Public Education will generate papers exploring the many questions involved in creating a system of contract schools.

Mr. Hill proposes, for example, that teachers work for individual schools, rather than for a central board. Their unions, he says, could help teachers find suitable spots and would negotiate only certain basic protections, much like the union that represents players in the National Basketball Association.

While districts initially should launch contract schools to help restructure their lowest-performing schools, Mr. Hill envisions entire districts being governed under such a system.

Hopes To Build a Network

The Seattle-based center will try to build a national network of local business, civic, and political leaders who are interested in changing the governance of their schools and help them link up with people in education who have similar interests.

"I'm trying to be both a researcher and provocateur to make the ideas as concrete and understandable as possible and to try to help localities and state legislatures to do something,'' Mr. Hill said.

Under a contract-school system, school boards' primary missions would be to monitor schools' performance and to make sure they had contractors to run them.

Mr. Hill said he was confident that people would be interested in running contract schools. He said he has talked about the idea with people in Denver and Seattle.

Providers might include magnet schools, universities, or clusters of elementary schools that want to create a middle school, he said.

The Program on Reinventing Public Education is supported by the Exxon Education Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the RAND Corporation's Institute for Education and Training, the Mann-Paller Foundation, and the Medina Foundation.

More information is available from Mr. Hill at (206) 543-0190.

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