Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance, and the New Portfolio Models for Urban School Reform

Remmert Dekker

The concept of portfolio management in K-12 education (PMM)—a diverse
array of public schools overseen but not directly run by a central
office—has many advocates. The authors of this new edited volume,
including Henry Levin and Josh Edelman, examine its strengths and
weaknesses via case studies of Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and New
Orleans, each of which has employed at least a limited version of PMM.
Their findings: the portfolio approach can jumpstart change in
dysfunctional districts but is no silver bullet. In New York City, for
example, the Bloomberg-Klein regime saw genuine academic gains through
its PMM model but the changes made turn out to have less to do with the
model itself than with the political and economic strength of Bloomberg
and Klein. In New Orleans, the portfolio approach to education has
coincided with increased student performance. However, the district now
spends more on education than it did during its pre-PMM days, and lacks a
coordinated governance structure. Education policy, the authors argue,
often suffers from an unchecked rush to judgment on new ideas. However,
they also argue that, absent a willingness to try new approaches, we are
stuck with the status quo.

Katrina E. Bulkley, Jeffrey R. Henig, and Henry M. Levin, eds., Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance, and the New Portfolio Models for Urban School Reform, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2010).