The Redesign of Urban School Systems: Case Studies in District Governance

This collection of case studies from the Center for Reform of School Systems’s Donald McAdams and the Broad Foundation’s Dan Katzir, intended for use in school-board-training institutes, explores the strategies used by twelve governance teams to implement major, district-wide reforms in nine of the nation’s largest school districts (four of which won the Broad Prize for Urban Education), during the 1990s and early 2000s. After one chapter on each of the teams, the authors dive into an analysis of which strategies worked best and why. In Houston, for example, the school board’s shared vision of a decentralized system helped empower schools to work together with community and business leaders in their areas. However, in Aldine, just a few miles north of Houston, board members centralized most of the decision-making. McAdams and Katzir note that, while some management styles worked well for some school boards, no single method was best for all of them. But through the case studies, one can discern four main characteristics of success that other reform-minded school boards might usefully consider emulating: Boards should pick a superintendent whose reform agenda aligns with theirs, strive for cohesion at all times, and—importantly—pay attention to the political environment of the district and community. While these may not be ground-shaking conclusions, they are presented clearly and thoughtfully. The cases are fast-paced and comprehensive in their retelling, and the book is replete with insightful observations worthy of reflection in districts looking to start their own reforms.

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