A few months back, the Center on Reinventing Public Education (as part of an ED grant) assembled district, charter, and nonprofit leaders from public school “portfolio districts” for its Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting. This paper offers an overview of the most pressing issues discussed at the two-day meeting—as well as some lessons pulled from it. Public school portfolio districts are those that offer students an array of diverse schools—from neighborhood to magnet to charter to contract schools—that are all held to account for performance. (Today, twenty urban districts qualify, including Denver, New York, Chicago, and New Orleans.) The paper focuses on five key issues discussed at the conference: how to manage the supply of schools, allocate resources, build fair and transparent enrollment systems, communicate effectively with parents, and invoke creative solutions for different learners. In order to frame each issue—and offer how-tos for dealing with each—panelist insights and best-practice case studies are presented. Panelists Tom DeWire from BCPS and Neil Dorosin of the Institute for Innovation in Public Schools explain, for example, how to build better assignment systems by first determining district priorities (magnet schools, socio-economic integration, geographic proximity, etc.) and then coordinating four streams of work: logistics, placement algorithm, parent communication, and system evaluation. One example of a best-practice case study comes out of Hartford, CT. The report explains Hartford’s tactics for parental communication—including community meetings and visits to libraries. Though much of this process seems straightforward, the interconnectivity of these elements makes fluid adoption of the portfolio approach difficult—and makes the lessons described in this paper all the more helpful.
Betheny Gross and Robin Lake, “Reforming Districts Through Choice, Autonomy, Equity, and Accountability: An Overview of the Voluntary Public School Choice Directors Meeting,” (Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, May 2011).