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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Reinventing school districts

New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Denver and Indianapolis show how urban districts can improve education for needy students, argues David Osborne in Reinventing America’s Schools. He praises high-quality urban charter schools and semi-autonomous “pilot” and “innovation” schools.

The 74 is running excerpts from the book.

“Schools work better when their leaders have the autonomy to run their schools; when they are held accountable for performance, with consequences for success and failure; when parents can choose among diverse public school models; and when those in charge of steering the district don’t also row (operate schools),” argues Osborne in a Boston Globe column.

Autonomy means that school leaders make the key decisions: whom to hire and fire, how to reward staff, and most important, how to structure the learning process. There are dozens of options, from personalized learning with educational software to project-based learning, from intensive tutoring to peer learning. . . . Accountability means that schools are required to produce positive results for students, from academic growth to parental satisfaction to healthy graduation rates. If schools fail, they are replaced by stronger operators; if they succeed, they may expand or replicate.

Let districts be districts,” responds Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “Very few urban districts have figured out how to oversee high quality charter schools; more often than not they are terrible at it,” he writes. Instead, he urges urban districts “to play to their strengths, especially their biggest advantage—scale.”

This will allow them to offer continuity (in curriculum, expectations, etc.) to the significant percentage of urban students who bounce around from school to school; to influence the local teacher preparation programs in meaningful ways; to intersect with other social service agencies serving low-income children.

Leave “innovation” and “entrepreneurship” to charters, writes Petrilli, and let the districts do “systemic reform.”

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