‘Greenfield’ reforms wither without choice

Universal school choice is needed to motivate public schools to innovate, concludes The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice by the Friedman Foundation For Educational Choice. “Existing choice programs transfer students from marginally less effective public schools to marginally more effective private schools, but they do not seem to drive more ambitious school reforms,” write Greg Forster and James L. Woodworth.


Urban superintendents collaborate with charters

More than 20 urban districts have adopted a “portfolio” strategy, holding district-run and independent charter schools to the same performance standards, reports Hopes, Fears, & Reality, the Center on Reinventing Education’s 2011 charter school review.

In 16 cities, leaders have pledged to work together for student success by “creating common student enrollment systems, sharing facilities, equalizing funding, encouraging teachers and principals to share instructional strategies, and sharing responsibility for students with special needs.”

“Urban school superintendents across the country are realizing that a centrally delivered, one-size-fits-all approach simply is not viable, and that they need partnerships to bring in entrepreneurial talent and mission-driven teams,” writes editor Robin Lake.

Charters are expanding in rural areas, small towns and small states; and are serving a growing share of Hispanic and low-income students. Free-standing charter schools are growing faster than those run by charter management organizations.

Collaboration can sap charters’ ability to innovate, warn several analysts in the commentary section.

Don’t assume that practices and routines that “work” for one school will work everywhere, warns Rick Hess.

As I see it, the real power of charter schooling is that it presents “greenfield” in which new cultures and models can be established on fresh turf, rather than painfully injected into resistant, calcified systems. The closer charters start to work with existing districts, the more they seem bound to import norms, expectations, and routines from those systems.

Charter success 2.0 will require rethinking “long-held assumptions about the shape of teaching and schooling,” he writes.  “Linking charters more closely to entrenched systems threatens to make that process less likely.”

Funding education innovators

You’ve got a great idea for a new kind of school or a teacher recruitment program. How do you get the start-up money? In “Fueling the Engine,” in Education Next, Rick Hess writes about education innovators and the philanthropists that fund them.  It’s an excerpt from his new book Education UnboundThe Promise and Practice of Greenfield Schooling.

“Greenfield is a term of art typically used by investors, engineers, or builders to refer to an area where there are unobstructed, wide-open opportunities to invent or build,” Hess writes. Or as, Mao said: “Let a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thought contend.”

The challenge for reformers is to recognize that enabling such providers is not just a matter of promoting “school choice,” but also of freeing up the sector to a wealth of different approaches and cultivating conditions in which problem solvers can succeed and grow. . .  funding is the fuel required for innovators to thrive.

The U.S. Education Department wants to fund innovation too, Hess notes.

Over $650 million in (federal i3) funds will be awarded, and a coalition of foundations announced last week that it will offer up to half a billion dollars to match the federal grants.

. . . Remember, the i3 investment probably amounts to a third or more of school reform investment in the U.S. this year, and the follow-up $500 million will increase its impact even more. This could be a substantial boon to innovation and a spur for new providers to take evaluation and scale far more seriously, or it could result in cementing the status of popular outfits that know how to write grants, land influential consultants, and afford high-priced evaluation.

Ed Week has more on the foundations’ partnership with the feds.