Performance Management in Portfolio School Districts

Center on Reinventing Public Education
Robin J. Lake & Paul T. Hill
August 2009

No-strings management in public education is so 2007. Just a month after announcing the Race to the Top competition, Sec. Duncan outlined stipulations for winning $3.5 billion worth of Title I school improvement aid (see here), to be allocated to school districts -you guessed it - on a competitive basis. This report from Center on Reinventing Public Education could not be timed more perfectly. To make it in the new era of accountability, school districts have to do what many good businesses and governments have done for awhile - manage for performance. Implicit in the "portfolio strategy" adopted by districts such as New York, New Orleans, and Chicago is that leaders must view all decisions - rewards or sanctions, school closures, etc. - through the lens of performance. Portfolio districts do not concede to political pressures; they remain neutral about who runs a school (see our recommended reading here on Los Angele's decision to open up 250 schools to outside school operators); and they encourage innovation. The report offers no pretenses as to how difficult performance management is, particularly for smaller cities lacking educational entrepreneurs, and for centralized district offices lacking the capacity for this type of management. But Duncan isn't kidding when he tells districts to close or transform their lowest-performing schools through dramatic turnaround strategies. Any district serious about winning Title I school improvement funds should study this report carefully. Get it here.

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