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.

In Turnaround Town, the News is Always Good

In Turnaround Town, aka Lawrence, MA, the news is always good—or so says the official edu-media plan, which you can savor for yourself below.

Reader: today we pay a return visit a place that I like to call simply ‘Turnaround Town.’ Perhaps you know this city by its other name: Lawrence, Massachusetts. When we last dropped in, state officials had just conducted an exhaustive investigation, concluding that the problems of the city’s schools lay in its leaders: bad, worse, corrupt, in jail, even more corrupt, or just indifferent. Then tragedy struck: a software glitch at the state Department of Education caused the word “leader” to be auto corrected into “teacher,” and the official Lawrence Turnaround™ plan was born. Continue reading →

The Official Education Rephorm Lexicon

A portfolio is a discredited approach to education reform and a brief case in which papers explaining the excellence of said approach can be carried.

Reader: like you I spend many hours each day aligning myself with the new Common Core standards. And already the payoff has been huge. My scores on the standardized tests that I administer to myself three times per week have risen incredibly, while my Value Added has also shot up, except around the house where I continue to refuse to lift a finger. Nowhere has my improvement been more excellent than in mastering new vocabulary. Yesterday alone I acquired two new Tier Seven vocabulary terms: oenophile and Jeroboam. Continue reading →

Missing: Lots and Lots of Charter School Students

UP Academy, which is expanding into Lawrence and recently applied to open another charter school in Boston, lost more than 25% of its students last year.

Since UP Academy took over a public middle school last year, more than 25% of its students have left. Yet state officials continue to tout UP as a success story.

The hot new buzz word in local edu-crat circles these days is “portfolio.” Here–say it with me: port·fo·li·o. Excellent! Now you are probably wondering, what does  “a case for carrying loose papers,” (from Latin, the imperative of portare “to carry” and folium, meaning “a sheet for writing upon”) have to do with closing the achievement gap–unless perhaps those papers are to be stuffed into said gap???

Alas, “portfolio” in this case refers to the many education options that await students who live in a high-poverty, low-performing school district. Or at least that’s what the term WOULD mean if we weren’t in the strange, upside down world of education reform. Instead, “portfolio” really refers to a nonsensical #edreform strategy in which 1) a few schools enjoy the luxury choosing their students while 2) the remaining, truly public schools continue to deal with the reality of poverty that made them low-performing in the first place. Continue reading →