Can 'Portfolio Management' Save Urban Schools?
Can They Save Urban Schools?
Recent years have seen a flurry of substantial changes in large urban school districts across the country, but the ideas behind these changes are fuzzy, the forces propelling them ill-defined, and the likely consequences debated with vague abstractions rather than evidence-based arguments. Chicago, New Orleans, New York City, and Philadelphia are among the national leaders in the movement to shift from a centralized bureaucracy that directly manages a relatively uniform set of schools toward a model in which a central office oversees a diverse portfolio of schools that might include traditional public schools, privately managed schools, and charter schools. Other cities moving in this direction include Baltimore, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Oakland, and Washington.
In Chicago, Arne Duncan's "Renaissance 2010" contributed to the development of roughly a hundred new schools, including charter schools, schools operated under contract with nonprofit organizations, and empowered district-run schools. In post-Katrina New Orleans, two distinct governing authorities now oversee a city in which almost 60 percent of public school students attend charter schools. Shifts in New York City began with greater centralization, and then moved toward decentralization involving shifting responsibility for selecting school support from the district to the individual school. And in Philadelphia, a much touted diverse-provider model brought for-profit and nonprofit organizations into schools as school managers, shifting district norms around who can—and should—provide educational services.
Despite minimal evidence of success, at least to date, politicians from the right and the left (including Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama) and prominent educational funders have held up these districts as...
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