Philadelphia Schools to Follow New Orleans Market Education Lead Without a Hurricane?

Philadelphia plans to revolutionize its school system by closing schools, moving to an all-charter or autonomous school district, ditching the central office, and privatizing school services with outside vendors.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

So, at the SRC’s direction, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen on Tuesday announced a plan that would essentially blow up the district and start with a new structure.

The plan – subject to public comment and SRC approval – would close 40 schools next year and 64 by 2017, move thousands more students to charters, and dismantle the central office in favor of “achievement networks” that would compete to run groups of 25 schools and would sign performance-based contracts. . . .

Forget the command-and-control district structure. It’s archaic and it doesn’t work, officials said.

Instead of orders coming from a large central office that runs 249 schools, much of the power would be concentrated in the new achievement networks.

Those would represent “a breaking-apart of the district,” Knudsen said. They would be “a group of people who choose to do business with the SRC and the central office to run” from 20 to 25 schools organized either by geography or by some other theme.

Successful principals or district staff could apply to run an achievement network. So could charter organizations, or universities, or a combination of those groups.

Principals would answer to the achievement networks, although they would remain district employees. The achievement networks would have contracts with the SRC, and would have to meet performance goals or risk being replaced.

The achievement network structure “creates an entrepreneurial approach, a flexibility, a nimbleness, a willingness to experiment,” Knudsen said.

The current academic divisions – formerly called regions, clusters, and districts – will be gone as of this summer. Pilot achievement networks will be in place this fall, with a formal rollout in 2014.

Schools would have much more autonomy, with the ability to choose their own curriculums.

Though there is some precedent for this kind of work – officials pointed to the decentralization in New York City public schools – Ramos noted that what Philadelphia is proposing “is different from what many other places are doing.”

The central office, already half the size it was a year ago, will shrink further, from over 1,000 employees a few years ago to about 200 in the new model.

This model has been working well in New Orleans where more than 80 percent of students are in charter schools without a central office and in several other districts that have decentralized control to the parents and the schools. Philadelphia is moving toward the sea change in school governance and school funding that is happening across the United States. More than 30 “school funding portability” funding systems are funding students through a student-based budgeting mechanism in cities like New York, Baltimore, Denver, Hartford and Cincinnati. In 2011, Rochester, Newark and Boston have moved to full weighted student formula systems where the money follows the child. Los Angeles Unified is moving from 100 pilot schools being funded based on per-pupil basis to all 800 schools funded based on where the student enrolls. In Louisiana, 7 school districts are piloting a student-based budgeting system, including the largest school district in the state, Jefferson Parish, with 50,000 students. New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Indiana have all recently changed their statewide school funding systems to a state formula where the money is attached to the child. These kind of systems support a level playing field for charters and district schools and do not give schools a residential advantage.

There are many interesting details of the plan at the Philadelphia Inquirer so read all about it here.