The Rise of the *Portfolio* Model for Schools

The portfolio model of school district management—it sounds technocratic, even a little bit weedy and yet it’s arguably one of the hottest button topics in our great education debate today. You may have heard the ‘p’ word mentioned in the context of recent teachers strikes in LA and Denver, and if you haven’t, well, you’ll likely be hearing it soon. That’s because there’s big money lining up to bring the portfolio model to a school district near you. A new organization backed by two billionaires—that would be Reed Hastings of Netflix fame and hedge funder John Arnold—will be pushing aggressively and expensively to expand the portfolio model across the country. But what is it exactly? In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jennifer and Jack are joined by Katrina Bulkley, author of Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance and the New Portfolio Models for Urban Education Reform. Bulkley walks us through the central tenets of portfolio-ism and also sheds some lights on why districts that have embraced the portfolio push seem to be, well, on fire.

You can read a full transcript of the episode here. And if you’re a fan of Have You Heard, please consider becoming a supporter on Patreon.

The Problem with Fear-Based Education Reform

Did you hear the one about how schools should be run more like businesses? In the latest episode of the Have You Heard podcast, Jennifer and Jack are joined by business journalist Andrea Gabor, author of the new book After the Education Wars: How Smart Schools Upend the Business of Reform. Gabor argues that business DOES offer lessons for schools – but that the education reform industry has learned all of the wrong ones.

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Takeover! What’s Behind the State Takeover of School Districts?

Have You Heard looks at what’s behind state takeovers of school districts. As guest Domingo Morel explains, laws authorizing states to take over urban districts appeared as a direct response to Black power at the municipal level. Today, while takeovers come shrouded in the discourse of “achievement,” the conservative logic behind them is unchanged: improving schools requires weakening the political power of the communities they are in. Full transcript coming of the episode can be accessed here.

And if you like what you’re hearing on Have You Heard, you can now support us on Patreon.

Further reading (and thanks to our guest Domingo Morel for putting this list of recommendations

Carr, Sarah. 2014. Hope Against Hope: Three Schools, One City, and the Struggle to Educate America’s Children. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Press

Chambers, Stefanie. 2006. Mayors and Schools: Minority Voices and Democratic Tensions in Urban Education. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Fung, Archon. 2004. Empowered Participation: Reinventing Urban Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Henig, Jeffrey, Richard Hula, Marion Orr and Desiree Pedescleaux. 2001. The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics, and the Challenge of Urban Education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Hochschild, Jennifer L. and Nathan Scovronick.  2004.  The American Dream and Public Schools. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Reckhow, Sarah. 2013. Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Russakoff, Dale. 2015. The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools? New York: NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Shedd, Carla. 2015. Unequal City: Race, Schools, and Perceptions of Injustice. New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.

Steffes, Tracy. 2012. School, Society, and State: A New Education to Govern Modern America. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

The Cornhusker Challenge

I talk to Education Cities’ Ethan Gray about the new Education Equality Index, and challenge him to accompany me to the #1 gap-closing city in the USA: Omaha, Nebraska. (Spoiler alert: he accepts!)

CornGuyEduShyster: Let’s not waste any time here. We’re headed straight to the top spot of your new Education Equality Index: Omaha, Nebraska—which is, according to your measure, closing the achievement gap faster than other city in the nation. Anything unusual happening in the schools there that you can put your finger on? 

Ethan Gray: You’re going to the question of why the results are the way they are. At this point we’re focused on trying to highlight the schools in those cities that have closed or are closing the achievement gap, and we think it’s really important for local education leaders, policy makers and researchers to spend some time in those schools and get to know them better and understand what educators in those schools are doing and what they would ascribe their success to. I haven’t spent time in those schools and so I wouldn’t hazard a guess.

EduShysterFull disclosure—that was actually a trick question. Omaha is unusual in that it has no charter schools. Nebraska, which is also home to your #6 gap-closing city, Lincoln, is one of just seven states that doesn’t allow charters. 

Gray: [Dry chuckle…] We don’t really think it’s about the type of school. We think it’s about spending time in those schools and learning more about what the school leaders, educators and parents are doing there. What we’ve noticed looking at the data is that there are schools of all types that are showing up on our list of gap-closing schools: district schools, charter schools, magnet schools, low-tech schools. We’re really encouraged that in almost every city we looked at, there is at least one, if not multiple gap-closing schools. Continue reading →

Schools and Neighborhoods: It’s Complicated

What’s the connection between schools and neighborhoods? If this seems like a straightforward question, try asking it to someone. Better yet, put it to a *stakeholder* in the heated debate over the future of public schools. For example, as neighborhood schools in urban areas are replaced by a portfolio of *choice options,* does that mean that the goal of education reform is to help students *overcome* their struggling neighborhoods? Can *choice options* fundamentally transform a *failing neighborhood*? What happens to a neighborhood when an institution as central and essential as the school is no longer part of it? And how do schools fit into the process of gentrification that’s reshaping so many cities?

Education policy wonk Seth Rau and I decided to pose the school/neighborhood question to a handful of people who we know, and whom we knew would have different opinions on what the connection between schools and neighborhoods should be and could be. Now we want to hear from you. Send your thoughts (under 500 words worth of thoughts please!) to Jennifer@haveyouheardblog.com and we’ll share in a future post.

—Jennifer Berkshire, editor, EduShyster and Seth Rau, Legislative Coordinator at the San Antonio Independent School District 
Continue reading →