April 1, 2014

A System of Schools, Not a School System

In a previous blog, I urged a focus on schools rather than school systems. As a result, several people asked whether I think a school system is necessary at all. Yes, but it is a system that is secondary to schools and looks radically different than what we see today in East Baton Rouge Parish or in any of the 16,000 school systems across the country.It’s hard to find examples of urban school systems in America that can claim high achievement for all of its students, particularly those who live in poverty. Doubters and cynics say these results are largely predetermined by students’ demography and the neighborhoods they come from.Yet, there are growing numbers of examples of schools that are bucking the trend. These schools serve low-income neighborhoods and, despite the statistics, are achieving with their students remarkably different results. Looking closely at these schools, we’ve found two common truths: (1) educators are empowered to run schools, and (2) they are held accountable for outcomes.It is these places where decision-making is at the school level, instead of the system level, that we find examples that give us great hope for all students. They are showing us that schools can be a powerful unit of change. Today, however, our unit of focus continues to be on a deeply troubled school system, often at the cost of educating all children.In a time when the needs of students are more diverse than ever, when parents and local neighborhoods are demanding better options closer to home, and when educators are seeking mission over money, the traditional government-run school system as the organizing force of education delivery is proving ineffective and grossly out-of-touch. We need a radically new approach.If we build a “system of schools” from the ground up, instead of a “school system” from the top down, I believe:

  • School leaders will have more resources to meet their students’ needs;
  • Teachers will realize higher pay and have real choice of where to work;
  • Top flight talent will flock to the region;
  • School options will expand, giving parents more control and choice;
  • Schools will exist based on parent demand and their ability to prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow; and
  • Student performance, skills, and knowledge will accelerate.

Whether we realize it or not yet, trying to resuscitate a broken school system only delays us from the opportunity to give every child and every family access to a great school in Baton Rouge. Let’s build that system of schools – starting with a focus on schools – now.

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