A roadmap for education reform

Article Highlights

  • How do you transform an educational ecosystem? 8 interlocking components: #roadmapED.

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  • In 2010, Milwaukee came in 19th out of 25 cities ranked when examining best&worst for school reform. #roadmapED

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  • Schooling and teaching look remarkably like they did a century ago. What needs to change for 21st century? #roadmapED

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Well-meaning education reformers are too often content to layer their new proposals atop outdated schools and systems. Unsurprisingly, school improvement efforts have repeatedly failed to deliver the results for which we hoped. Doing radically better will require state, civic, and system leaders to embrace a more coherent and comprehensive push to overhaul antiquated structures, regulations, policies, and practices.

Here, a group of leading educational thinkers sketches a bold set of interlocking strategies for dramatically improving the instruction, operations, governance, accountability, talent management, budgeting, and leadership of an entire educational ecosystem. The contributors use Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a city recognized for its pioneering school choice efforts, as a prism through which to examine what this overhaul will look like in practice.

New schools and innovative delivery
Michael Horn and Megan Evans
Among the recommendations:

• Districts can better customize student learning by exploring new ways of designing classrooms using technology.

• Districts can pursue performance-based contracts with online learning providers, textbook publishers, and other vendors as a way to ensure quality and control expenditures.

• State legislatures can compel providers to come to the negotiating table with state education agencies or districts. For example, they can set limits on Internet expenditures or offer tax breaks to companies that reduce fees for education institutions.

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Among the recommendations:

• State education agencies can institute new or improve existing school level report cards to make them universally comparable, easy-to-read, and more useful to families in school-choice rich areas. They might consider including more non-academic information, for example.

• Philanthropists and community leaders can launch a charter school incubator like those in New Orleans or Indianapolis, or support partnerships with organizations like GreatSchools, which provide resources to parents to help inform choice.

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Among the recommendations:

• Officials from the state education agency can take "learning visits" to places where RSDs are successfully operating, such as Louisiana or Michigan.

• The state legislature should develop clear language, procedures, and rules for how and when the recovery school district can intervene in traditional district matters.

• Local foundations can provide support to allow the RSD to staff ahead of growth, ensuring people and processes are in place to support expansion.

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Among the recommendations:

• District leaders can make professional development funds at the school level more flexible, allowing principals to create plans that are specific to their needs.

• Principals can select teams of high performing teachers who develop model lessons and videos to support a broader district-wide teacher training effort.

• City officials can develop a system that allows district, choice, and private schools to share teacher performance data with each other.

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Among the recommendations:

• Local business executives nearing retirement can advise district or school leaders on human capital strategies that have proven successful in their industries.

• School leaders can create strategic compensation programs combined with rigorous evaluation to attract and retain the most talented teachers.

• State education agencies can establish statewide teacher selection systems that control admission into education programs and raise standards.

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Spare some change: Smarter district resource use for transformational schools
Jonathan Travers, Genevieve Green, and Karen Hawley Miles
Among the recommendations:

• Districts can take time to review their school funding systems to determine whether they are making the most of the resources they have, and to ensure they are as equitable, flexible, and transparent as possible.

• Districts and school leaders can opt to explore new staffing designs and teacher compensation models. This might entail, for example, maximizing students' exposure to the most talented teachers by offering higher pay to those high performing teachers who take on bigger classes.

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Among the recommendations:

• State legislatures can allocate funds to develop a statewide, streamlined data warehouse which could track metrics like academic achievement and growth of students, program offerings, and school-level approaches to education.

• District central offices can work to establish a research consortium in partnership with local universities, allowing unbiased, "user-friendly" knowledge to be shared with policymakers, providers, and the public.

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Leading systemic reform
Heather Zadavsky

Among the recommendations:

• Superintendents overseeing major reforms can develop a strategic plan that clearly articulates goals, strategies, and guidelines for holding educators and policymakers accountable.

• Superintendents can engage in frequent, consistent communication to inform relevant stakeholders of the strategy and progress.

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About the Author


Frederick M.
  • An educator, political scientist and author, Frederick M. Hess studies K-12 and higher education issues. His books include "Cage-Busting Leadership," "Breakthrough Leadership in the Digital Age," "The Same Thing Over and Over," "Education Unbound," "Common Sense School Reform," "Revolution at the Margins," and "Spinning Wheels." He is also the author of the popular Education Week blog, "Rick Hess Straight Up." Hess's work has appeared in scholarly and popular outlets such as Teachers College Record, Harvard Education Review, Social Science Quarterly, Urban Affairs Review, American Politics Quarterly, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Phi Delta Kappan, Educational Leadership, U.S. News & World Report, National Affairs, the Washington Post, the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic and National Review. He has edited widely cited volumes on the Common Core, the role of for-profits in education, education philanthropy, school costs and productivity, the impact of education research, and No Child Left Behind.  Hess serves as executive editor of Education Next, as lead faculty member for the Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program, and on the review boards for the Broad Prize in Urban Education and the Broad Prize for Public Charter Schools. He also serves on the boards of directors of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and 4.0 SCHOOLS. A former high school social studies teacher, he teaches or has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Rice University and Harvard University. He holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Government, as well as an M.Ed. in Teaching and Curriculum, from Harvard University.

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