Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting

 

Reforming Districts cover imageA
few months back, the Center on Reinventing
Public Education (as part of an ED grant) assembled district, charter,
and
nonprofit leaders from public school “portfolio districts” for its
Voluntary
Public School Choice Directors Meeting. This paper offers an overview of
the most
pressing issues discussed at the two-day meeting—as well as some lessons
pulled
from it. Public school portfolio districts are those that offer students
an
array of diverse schools—from neighborhood to magnet to charter to
contract
schools—that are all held to account for performance. (Today, twenty
urban
districts qualify, including Denver, New York, Chicago, and New
Orleans.) The
paper focuses on five key issues discussed at the conference: how to
manage the supply of schools, allocate resources, build fair and
transparent
enrollment systems, communicate effectively with parents, and invoke
creative
solutions for different learners. In order to frame each issue—and offer
how-tos for dealing with each—panelist insights and best-practice case
studies
are presented. Panelists Tom DeWire from BCPS and Neil Dorosin of the
Institute
for Innovation in Public Schools explain, for example, how to build
better assignment
systems by first determining district priorities (magnet schools,
socio-economic
integration, geographic proximity, etc.) and then coordinating four
streams of
work: logistics, placement algorithm, parent communication, and system
evaluation. One example of a best-practice case study comes out of
Hartford,
CT. The report explains Hartford’s tactics for parental
communication—including
community meetings and visits to libraries. Though much of this process
seems
straightforward, the interconnectivity of these elements makes fluid
adoption
of the portfolio approach difficult—and makes the
lessons described in this paper all the more helpful.

Betheny Gross and Robin Lake, “Reforming Districts
Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the
Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting
,”
(Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, May 2011).

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