“An Open Letter to Urban Superintendents in the United States of America” – A short response

Is it time for urban school superintendents to move from
being Reformers to Relinquishers? Yes, is the compelling case that Neerav
Kingsland makes today over at Straight Up. Kingsland, chief
strategy officer for New Schools for New Orleans, writes that reform-minded
superintendents should embrace the lessons from New Orleans, a key one being that
the academic achievement gains made in the Big Easy have not come from traditional
reforms and tweaks to the system. Rather, the changes in New Orleans are the
result of virtually replacing the traditional, centralized, bureaucratic system
of one-size-fits-all command and control with a system of independent
high-performing charter schools all held accountable by the center for their
academic performance.

In other words, Kingsland reasons, superintendents should
rid themselves of the notion that “current opinions on curriculum, teacher
evaluation, technology, or anything else will be the foundation for dramatic
gains in student achievement.”

Kingsland’s argument is a powerful one because it is based not
on philosophy or concepts, but on real academic gains made in a city that for
decades had some of the lowest performing schools in the country. “In the next
five years,” Kingsland writes, “New Orleans will likely be the first urban city
in the country (that I know of) to surpass its state average.” The Louisiana
Legislative Auditor backed up such optimism when it reported in 2011 that New
Orleans “is making progress toward improving student performance based on
multiple measures of accountability reported by LDOE [the Louisiana Department
of Education].”

The future, insists Kingsland, belongs to the “Relinquishers”
and not to traditional system reformers. I’d argue this isn’t a lesson unique
to New Orleans, although it’s a true path breaker. Similar lessons are emerging
in places like Denver; Washington, DC; New York City; Albany; Indianapolis; and
even in Cleveland, where reform is being driven one school at a time.

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