Restructuring Urban Systems from the School Up

In light of the elections that took place across the country last week, former Boston superintendent Michael Contompasis penned an op-ed to the Boston Globe, advising the new mayor that the way to “fix what’s broken is not to apply a Band-Aid to a system that’s not working for all students. It is to reimagine the system itself.”

We all agree that current urban school systems are broken. Fewer than 25% of urban students meet national standards on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and even highly touted districts such as Boston and New York have barely improved in the past decade.  The newly released national NAEP data  showed no significant change for the achievement gaps among ethnicities or gender in test scores for 4th and 8th graders in reading or math. If we want to build the schools of the future, why are we working with the systems of the past?

Our publication, Smart Districts: Call to Action, encourages new thinking around education systems, settling on a “third way” between the traditional urban public school system and the charter system.  This theory leverages key components of the charter world-feeder patterns and increased autonomy for school leaders-and builds capacity by shifting some responsibilities from the central office to a Lead Partner working with a cluster of schools.

We hope our Smart District publication, along with Mr. Contompasis’ op-ed challenge, will continue to advance discussion of a new framework that solves some of the problems that exist in both primary strategies now being used: central office command-and-control (decades of failure) and total decentralization (too small to scale).  Let us know what you think. And please join us in pushing state and district policymakers to do what it takes to make this vision a reality.