Better Schools Through Better Politics: The Human Side of Portfolio School District Reform

Over the past half-decade, the Center for Reinventing Public Education has emerged as the premier expert on (and proponent of) “portfolio” districts—those that manage an array of school options, some run by the district, others by external entities. The latest on this topic from CRPE focuses on the political dynamics behind decisions to close underperforming schools within a district’s portfolio (as well as how each individual stakeholder group is affected by closures, whether done right or wrong). Using New York City, Chicago, Denver, and Oakland as case studies, the report offers smart recommendations based on actual examples of what works—and doesn’t—when executing school closures. Among them: Remember that school reform—and school closure—is inherently political; districts must have a savvy leader (think Michael Bennet in Denver rather than Cathie Black in New York City). And remember that closures must engage the community. To win stakeholders over, show them data about the school’s finances, student achievement, safety, facility use, and more. Bring them on field trips to high-performing schools to illustrate what their school could become (a tactic used with success in Oakland). District officials or charter authorizers struggling with the decision to shutter low-performing schools—and the inevitable political fallout that comes with it: Give this report a thorough read. It offers objective and thoughtful ways forward.

Sam Sperry, Kirsten Vital, Cristina Sepe, and Paul Hill, Better Schools Through Better Politics: The Human Side of Portfolio School District Reform (Seattle: WA: Center for Reinventing Public Education, March 2012).

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