Reinventing Schools – Without Charter District Conversion

February 10, 2012 at 8:03 AM Leave a comment

Incredible work has been done in New Orleans and elsewhere demonstrating how charter schools can reinvent public education. Decentralized funding and managerial autonomy were two factors that proved essential to that success. Reformers are clamoring to duplicate the model of charter school funding and governance in wholly charter districts. The question arises – does this mean that every school in a district has to be a do-over?

After Katrina, the New Orleans schools were in shambles. Replacement charter schools seized the opportunity to implement education reforms. The experiment has resulted in strong achievement for the students. Rarely do such opportunities present themselves outside of war zones or natural disasters. So, how can the essence of this demonstration project be duplicated in other regions?

The process of breaking up every school in a district has a cost that does not need to be incurred. However, any program designed for successful dissemination of innovation in school funding and governance must be implemented thoughtfully. The dialogue could be developed around two essential questions…

  • How can a district achieve an orderly transition through gradual release of money and power to trained school managers with the least disruption to the children as their achievement grows.
  • What does the training for these new school leaders need to entail?

Drawing on strengths yet addressing urgent need would suggest a combination of breaking up the worst schools while implementing new management innovations in the best district schools. The former must achieve change as quickly as possible; the latter presumably have the organizational vitality to thrive under conditions of change.

In the short run, the answer to the second question seems moot. The time for change is now. Turnaround teams and managers of change demonstrate a special kind of leadership. Transition teams from outside of education need to be inducted into the industry quickly as partners in the process. At the same time, traditional school leaders would benefit from general management training and greater community engagement.

In the long run, however, a new model of school leadership will emerge that has a general manager running the overall organization, and instructional leaders and community liaisons managing collections of small learning communities. Each will demonstrate excellence in his or her discipline. As the model evolves, overlapping training would allow career mobility across the education complex.

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Entry filed under: Issues and Ideas, School Transformation.

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