Half-pregnant reform

An excellent article in the Washington Post describing the efforts in Boston around both charter and district-led pilot schools:

[Boston] has unleashed imaginative teachers to run both independent charter schools and semi-independent “pilot” schools, with much of the rest of the country waiting to see which does best. […]

A study by scholars from Harvard, MIT, Michigan and Duke, sponsored by the Boston Foundation, shows the Boston charters are doing significantly better than pilots in raising student achievement. This includes results from randomized studies designed to reduce the possibility that charters might benefit from having more motivated students and parents.

I am not surprised by the study and I confess I find the efforts of districts to create their own semi-autonomous schools misguided. Making significant changes to large organizations – be they bureaucracies, private companies or governments –  is not achieved through incremental steps.  One cannot successfully get half-pregnant with reform. What is unclear is why these schools would be better off trapped in this halfway house of reform rather than becoming full charter schools and shredding the complete carapace of the district system, instead of just one or two parts.

This is relevant to Denver as well, as the district’s efforts to create reform within the schools they operate (compared to charter schools which they oversee) are at best inconsequential and at worst a waste of time and resources.  In recent memory were first beacon schools, then innovation schools (originating with an initially promising legislative bill, eventually badly watered down by special interests). I have not seen a study of relative performance of these schools compared to their peers, so perhaps there is some data to the contrary, but my anecdotal reading of the lists of distinguished schools makes this seem unlikely. I’ve written before on the mistake of DPS in trying to create new schools from inside a system which is not hospitable.  At some point hopefully consensus will emerge that these efforts are a platonic cave of of real reform.

There have been hints of Denver once again trotting out new efforts to create high-performing district schools that would claim innovation while encumbered by many of the same practices (district operations and hiring, principal approval) that have shown no progress. Proponents of the “do-it-ourselves” efforts would be well-informed to find some evidence of success nationally (and safe to say it won’t be in Boston) or admit that this idea is neither new nor good.

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