Portfolio School Districts for Big Cities: An Interim Report

Paul Hill, Christine Campbell, David Menefee-Libey, Brianna Dusseault, Michael DeArmond, and Betheny Gross
Center on Reinventing Public Education
October 2009

This report from Center on Reinventing Public Education is the next installment in a series on performance management (we reviewed the introductory report here). The authors present initial findings from four districts using portfolio management--New York City, New Orleans, Chicago, and Washington, D.C.--in the hopes that other districts considering the portfolio technique will learn from their experiences; the final report is due in 2011. If you recall, unlike traditional districts, portfolio districts empower schools to make instructional, HR, and budgetary decisions; they foster experimentation among schools rather than insisting on uniformity; and they base school expansion, closure, and funding decisions entirely on performance. The portfolio district continually reconstitutes, closes, opens, and experiments with its schools until, as the authors put it, “no child attends a school in which he or she is not likely to learn.” New York (through the city-wide “autonomy zone”) and New Orleans (through extensive and continuing chartering) have implemented portfolio management full-scale; Chicago and D.C. have adapted only parts of it so far. (In Chicago, portfolio management is only applied to the Renaissance 2010 initiative schools, while DCPS does not oversee a portion of the city's "portfolio" of schools, namely the charters and voucher-receiving schools.) The report outlines precipitating events that fostered their creation (e.g. Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and mayoral takeover in NYC), and the implications that opening new schools and closing unproductive ones has on district redesign (e.g. the need to develop a stellar human capital strategy, manage competing “old” and “new” cultures among staff, or consider switching to pupil-based funding). But there are many questions left for the final report: Can independent school operators wean themselves off of philanthropy and be self-sustaining? Will alternative sources of teachers and school leaders continue to fill the human capital pipeline? Can portfolio management continue to thrive after a city’s primary reformers have left the scene? All good questions whose answers we look forward to in this series’ next report. Read the full publication here.

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