Education reformers who take on the important but massive issue of school governance often find themselves, like three captains at the helm of the same ship, attempting to navigate in different directions. The devolution model, piloted by Andy Smarick and Neerav Kingsland, embraces efforts to expand the role of charter organizations and dispenses with the district. The school-transformation model, put forward by Mass Insight, relies on third-party support to construct K–12 feeder patterns of allied schools; and the portfolio strategy, championed by the authors of this short CRPE paper, puts forward a system in which diverse, autonomous schools are governed by the district via performance contracts. Though these approaches seem to conflict, the authors of this paper contend that these proposals are actually complimentary variations on a theme: Government ought to steer (e.g., set goals, judge performance) but not row (i.e., provide). The success of the portfolio model, which creates exactly this kind of government, depends on the supply response: the presence of smart entrepreneurs with innovative ideas about education, folks who are willing to fund those ideas, and so on. And while the devolution and school-transformation models can provide the supply response (respectively, a marketplace for providers and networks of schools organized in feeder patterns), they need a government that allows schools to innovate but closes those that fail. Though this report takes the (not unexpected) perspective that the portfolio strategy charts the clearest course through these stormy seas, it is an important step towards finding a common guiding star in a turbulent voyage.

SOURCE: Paul Hill, Ashley Jochim, Christine Campbell, Portfolio Strategies, Relinquishment, The Urban School System of the Future, and Smart Districts, Portfolio School Districts Project (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, February 2013).

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