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The Path Forward: School Autonomy and its Implications for the Future of Boston Public Schools


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Slides from a June 3, 2014 forum at the Boston Foundation on a new report, The Path Forward: School Autonomy and Its Implications for the Future of Boston's Public Schools. The report was presented by Dr. Linda Nathan, Special Assistant to the Superintendent, Boston Public Schools; David Rosenberg, manager and Practice Leader, Education Resource Strategies, and Dr. Michelle LaPointe, Consultant at the Center for Collaborative Education.

The report examined the differences between "traditional" schools in the Boston Public Schools and those given some level of autonomy through a number of different vehicles. It found that while more autonomous schools were achieving better results and were more popular among parents, they and traditional schools were handcuffed by systems that made it difficult for school leaders to be as flexible as they might with resources and decision making to improve student performance.

The report lays out seven recommendations for next steps to transform the Boston Public Schools into a new "system of schools" model, where building-level leaders would have the autonomy to make a wider array of decisions while the district moves into a strong support role.

The full report can be found on the Boston Foundation website at - and the video of the forum can be found at:

Published in: Education
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The Path Forward: School Autonomy and its Implications for the Future of Boston Public Schools

  1. 1. © Education Resource Strategies, Inc., 2013 School Autonomy and Its Implications for the Future of Boston’s Public Schools The Boston Foundation ● June 3, 2014
  2. 2. © Education Resource Strategies, Inc., 2013 School Autonomy and Its Implications for the Future of Boston’s Public Schools 1. Our charge and approach 2. Themes from Boston 3. Themes from peer districts 4. Implications and discussion
  3. 3. Our charge “The Autonomy Team is charged with creating a recommended vision for autonomous schools in Boston:  Should all schools within BPS operate within autonomous structures?  Is autonomy a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success?  How and under what conditions should autonomy be granted?  Should autonomy be withdrawn based on certain conditions?  In what areas should autonomy be granted (governance, curriculum/assessment, scheduling/calendar, staffing, budget, professional development)?” Superintendent John McDonough October 1, 2013 3
  4. 4. Context: As charters expand, BPS’ student population growth lags 74.2 4 55.9 56.9 4.4 6.7 7.2 5.7 3.6 4.13.1 3.1 2007 2012 76.6 Thousands of Boston students, 2007-2012 Avg annual growth, 2007-2012 Overall +0.6% METCO +0.2% Private +2.6% Parochial -4.7% Commonwealth Charter +9.0% BPS +0.3% Source: DESE, ERS analysis
  5. 5. BPS is at a turning point 5 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Receivership In-District Transformation Innovation Turnaround Horace Mann Charter Pilot 6 7 9 10 11 18 19 19 20 20 21 23 33 36 40 41 11 11 13 32% of BPS students will attend an autonomous school next year Note: This analysis assumes current enrollment of Mildred K-8 & Henderson Elem will be attending autonomous schools next year Source: 45 Types of autonomous schools Numberofautonomousschools
  6. 6. Our approach Collaboration among Boston Public Schools, Education Resource Strategies and the Center for Collaborative Education Test the relationship between increased autonomy and higher student achievement Draw on experience within and beyond Boston A study of autonomy – not autonomous schools 6
  7. 7. Our approach 7 Student, teacher and budget data analysis 100+ BPS interviews Peer district analysis Cross-functional work group Expert advisory group Documentation of school autonomies Case studies of high-performing BPS schools Findings and Recommendations
  8. 8. View film
  9. 9. High-performing schools* feature similar practices… 9 * ‘High-performing schools” are those where 2012 MCAS mean scale score and 2010-12 mean scale growth were both among the highest at the school’s grade level Source: Team interviews Staff organize a professional development institute with curriculum developed and co- taught by the school’s teachers and tailored to meet their development needs. A school leader re-assigns instructional staff in order to lower class size in 1st and 2nd grade classrooms.
  10. 10. …but implementation is more difficult (and therefore rarer) at Traditional schools 10 * ‘High-performing schools” are those where 2012 MCAS mean scale score and 2010-12 mean scale growth were both among the highest at the school’s grade level Source: Team interviews District policies and Election- to-Work Agreement empower the school team to develop and implement tailored PD Absent policy support or EWA, flexibility requires extraordinary principal capacity, creativity and a willingness to challenge the status quo
  11. 11. …plus more than half of its remaining budget, which pays for core teachers and principals …its team would have increased flexibility over an additional 15% of the school’s budget… Quantifying the challenge for Traditional schools $7,664 $5,915 $602 $653 $241 $210 $43 Total budget Currently flexible (AP's, subs, etc.) Trade in Art/Music/PE teachers Opt out of Discretionary Services Trade in Paras/ Counselors Budget on Actual Salary Remaining Budget $perpupil 11 Source: BPS FY2014 Budget Data, ERS Analysis. This analysis uses the Edison K-8 total school-reported budget (General Fund only). Example: Edison K-8 If Edison were a Pilot school…
  12. 12. Traditional schools have less purchasing power 12Source: BPS, ERS analysis Flexibility to… Trad Pilot Inn HMC Turn Extend instructional and professional development time at lower cost Budget using actual teacher salaries Buy back certain discretionary services from the district
  13. 13. We owe it to our students, parents and teachers to create successful schools for all students. – School Leader Ultimately we all want the same thing – to jointly raise children who are successful in life. – School Leader In Boston, we rise and fall together. – District leader
  14. 14. The gray areas create too many opportunities for discord. – District Leader There seems to be a dissonance in the district. – School Leader We could use more clarity. – District Leader
  15. 15. Capacity varies at all levels Of 111 BPS principals in 2013-14… 15 51 had less than 3 years of experience at their schools... including 29 who were in their first year as school leader Source: BPS HR data, ERS analysis
  16. 16. Capacity varies at all levels How would you describe the quality of support you receive from your district’s central office in the following areas? 16 7% 6% 4% 27% 29% 27% 33% 2% 24% 20% 41% 45% 41% 24% 31% 37% 20% 18% 17% 33% 33% 8% 8% 8% 2% 35% 8% 8% 2% 2% Overall Staff evaluation Budget Hiring Curriculum and Instruction Professional Development 5 4 3 2 1 Excellent Very Poor Source: Survey of BPS principals, January-March 2014
  17. 17. Themes from Boston 1. The highest-performing schools, regardless of type, implement similar resource strategies… 2. …but inequitable rules for use of resources makes this more difficult for traditional schools. 3. The vision for success is shared; the vision for autonomy is unclear. 4. At all levels, capacity to implement and support autonomous schools at scale varies.
  18. 18. Similar populations, varying contexts District Enrollment % White % ELL % FRL Baltimore 85,000 8% 4% 85% Boston 57,000 13% 30% 75% Denver 87,000 21% 35% 72% Lawrence 13,000 6% 28% 84% Los Angeles 665,000 9% 33% 63% New York City 1,030,000 14% 15% 72% Approach to autonomy is affected by: • State policies • Beliefs of district leaders • Variation within each district Source: Center for Collaborative Education, district websites
  19. 19. Articulating a distinct theory of action Autonomy is a means to improve student achievement by: Enhancing choices available to students Pushing resources and decisions closer to students Fostering innovation Attracting and retaining strong school leaders Source: Center for Collaborative Education
  20. 20. Peer districts invest in common approaches to support autonomy • Multiple measures (School Quality Review) • Used to identify and support struggling schools • Focus on improving professional practice • Culture of collaboration and support • Central office shift from monitoring/directing to providing cross-functional support • School networks organized by affinity, geography and/or grade level School support Investment in Human Capital Autonomy with Accountability Source: Center for Collaborative Education
  21. 21. Themes from Peer Districts 1. A Common Theory of Action 2. Autonomy coupled with accountability 3. Focus on human capital development 4. New role and structure for districts
  22. 22. Recommendations 1. Operate as a “system of schools” 2. Extend maximum flexibility to all district schools 3. Decentralize non-core central services 4. Incubate and oversee development of new school models at the Cabinet level 5. Support school leaders and their teams in making strategic resource decisions 6. Implement a clear and equitable accountability system for all schools 7. Prioritize Superintendent candidates with the capacity to unite people around this vision
  23. 23. Extend maximum flexibility to all school teams 23 Don’t have and don’t want (5) • Set base compensation and benefits • Contract with food service vendors • Contract with transportation partners Don’t have but want (25) • Define staff job descriptions • Exit staff based on philosophy, commitment or team contribution • Set allocations for counselors et al • Make the final decision on who to hire • Choose interim assessments • Hire/allocate instructional support staff • Allocate non-instructional positions Have and want to keep (10) • Eliminate a position based on school needs • Screen general education teachers for fit and qualification • Assign teachers to leadership positions Have but don’t want (0) Bulleted items are a sub-set of flexibilities in the category. Have/want based on at least 50% of principals surveyed answering that they have and/or want the autonomy Source: Principal survey, ERS analysis Of 40 flexibilities tested in the context of improving student learning, at least half of the system’s school leaders say they…
  24. 24. Autonomy doesn’t equate to success. It creates the conditions for success. – School Leader Flexibility Accountability Capacity
  25. 25. What does it take for the central office to actively support school leaders and their teams?  Over highest impact resources, including staff roles  Provided equitably across all schools 25 Flexibility Account- ability Capacity  Clear, consistent expectations for all schools  Clear conditions for supports or interventions  Investing in recruitment and development of school leaders and their teams  Ability to support – not only direct – school leadership teams
  26. 26. Further Questions 1. How can Traditional schools compete and excel at scale in the current context? 2. What would it take for BPS to extend and sustain certain autonomies to all schools? 3. What should the district’s posture be vis-à-vis schools – service, support, guidance, or something else? 4. How can the district systematically incubate and support new strategic school designs in pursuit of student learning? 5. How should the system invest in identifying, developing and retaining its most effective school leaders?
  27. 27. School Autonomy and Its Implications for the Future of Boston’s Public Schools The Boston Foundation ● June 3, 2014