Paul T. Hill, a professor at the University of Washington’s Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and the Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, released an education proposal targeted at poor and minority students that uses a portfolio approach to public schools.
Hill writes that “Addressing our stunning achievement gaps, particularly those affecting minority students in our cities, means that students, not the system, must become the primary organizing principle for educational policies—and more importantly, for schools themselves.”
He claims that today’s public school system is reluctant to accept new ideas, which makes broader change that can benefit disenfranchised students impossible. He suggests, “[disadvantaged students] need schools that are focused on providing them with the skills they will need to succeed in today’s society, schools that are flexible enough to try a variety of teaching methods until they succeed in reaching these goals.”
In order to make the transformation that Hill suggests, schools would be required to “bring about a systematic change” that would involve transforming the role of the school boards from groups that oversee a central bureaucracy to portfolio managers. Hill likens this to investors with diversified portfolios of stocks and bonds. School boards would move away from the “one size fits all” model of education by providing a wider range of schools—such as, “…traditional neighborhood schools, to magnet schools with particular curricular focus, to alternative schools serving at-risk students.” Some of these schools would be operated by the community, nonprofit, and for-profit groups operating under charters or contracts. It would be the responsibility of the school boards to “…manage their community’s portfolio of educational service offerings, divesting less productive schools and adding more promising ones.”
The key features of this portfolio-based system include public oversight, public funding, concentration of resources near the student, strategic use of community resources, rewards for high performance, openness to promising ideas, people, and organizations, free movement of dollars, students, and educators, and an environment of support for both new and existing schools. This portfolio system has a quasi-market approach that is controlled by the public. The system would “allow schools to meet [student] needs in ways that look very different from how we think of school today…through online and distance learning options, combinations of apprenticeships and instruction, and other possibilities not yet imagined.”
Hall claims that the time for dramatic change is here. Although most policy makers agree, many point out problems with the implementation of such an ambitious change in the educational system. Some argue that the politics behind education would never allow for a complete overhaul of the structure that has existed for nearly a century. Others say that parent choice leads to voluntary stratification, and that the choices offered in this plan would only further this already existing problem. Lastly, outside of suggesting a gradual introduction, Hall offers little suggestion for the creative destruction that could occur as this program is introduced.
This bold plan requires total implementation, and partial measures should be avoided. Although Hall notes that this plan will take time and effort, it is hard to tell if politicians and citizens are ready to make a real change to failing schools. Hall calls for a joint effort of people to amend the slogan of our schools systems from “the best we can do given the bureaucratic circumstances” to “by any means necessary.”
Rosemarie Capozzi is an intern at Accuracy in Academia.