Chait On NYC

Get this woman a blog! DC-based education consultant Robin Chait guest blogs again:

Tuesday’s NY Times reports that NYC schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein will abolish the system’s 10 regional superintendent offices in favor of support from partner organizations or networks. Schools will select from a menu of three support options, including networks of schools led by support teams; partner support organizations, in which schools can choose from nine private nonprofit groups to support them; and four learning support organizations, run by former regional superintendents, each with a different theme. Partner support organizations have had extensive experience in providing support to schools and include those that have developed their own reform models.

This is an innovative idea whose time has come. The structure empowers principals, provides them with needed support to turn around struggling schools or make needed improvements, and eliminates a layer of bureaucracy and probably a good deal of principals’ time spent on non-instructional tasks. It also enables principals to address the different needs of their communities and the students they serve. While principals make the ultimate selection, they are encouraged to seek input from parents, teachers, and other school staff.

This restructuring effort has some elements of an all-charter system, although all schools operate within the public school system and are accountable for meeting its standards. And while charter schools are not the panacea for school reform that their advocates hoped for, they have enabled innovation that has led to a number of successful models for educating students in high-poverty, urban schools.

By adopting a charter-school like structure, Klein is allowing schools to build on what we’ve learned from effective charter schools serving urban populations in addition to allowing new models of innovation to flourish. It has the potential to reinvigorate many schools and provide needed support to all schools within the NYC school system. More importantly, it has the potential to provide one solution to the age old problem of how to scale up promising school models within a large, urban district.

There are also some possible dangers that Klein will need to guard against. While all of the options have been vetted by the NYC Department of Education, the Chancellor and his staff will need to continually monitor the school support organizations to ensure they are fulfilling their obligations to the schools. The system also needs a process for monitoring the whole system, ensuring that it’s working, and making mid-course corrections. Some of the support models may not work or may need to be adjusted. The NYC Department of Education should also conduct formal evaluations, to inform future efforts in NYC and other districts. While there are potential risks in adopting this model, they are outweighed by the potential gain of a successful structure for urban innovation.

Robin Chait is a Washington D.C.-based education consultant.

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