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District Lessons from Baltimore City Schools

Baltimore City Schools has gained significant attention from the national press. The New York Times wrote about their progress in December and David Donaldson wrote about it today in the Huffington Post. We see four important lessons for districts from Baltimore City Schools’ recent efforts:

  1. Push resource decisions closer to the students:  Baltimore City Schools Chief Executive Officer Dr. Andrés Alonso chose to implement Fair Student Funding (FSF) as one of his first reforms to the district. His goals were to give principals the flexibility to create the best schools based on their unique circumstances. “Fair Student Funding is not about budgets,” says Dr. Alonso.  “It is about equity, freedom, and accountability…. We can confidently say that two schools with the same kids have the same budgets, although the programs may look very different.”
  2. Reorganize the central office to support growing demands on principals: Pushing decisions down to the school level brings new responsibilities to principals and new responsibilities for supporting schools to central office.  Since implementing FSF, Baltimore City Schools has continued to reduce the size of its central office and to move more support resources closer to schools. The district has accomplished this through support networks that have responsibility for knowing school needs and making sure they receive good guidance and appropriate support. Consistent with their theory of action, they are currently planning the next evolution of reform with increased resources focused on supporting and developing principals as school leaders.
  3. Innovate within Collective Bargaining Structures: Baltimore City Schools and the Baltimore Teachers Union have established new, stronger relationships that have created a foundation for collaborating to address the toughest questions together, over time. As AFT President Randi Weingarten and Baltimore Teachers Union President Marietta English assert in their letter to the New York Times:  “Such a contract could not have been negotiated if not for the respectful, cooperative labor-management relationship… no one resorted to finger-pointing or harsh words; there was just a mutual commitment to make necessary changes quickly and move forward for the sake of the students.”
  4. Evaluate and adjust: Like any big change, transforming schools and school systems is a process that requires constant assessing and adjusting. Baltimore City Schools strives to move forward quickly, making positive change consistent with their theory of action, then evaluating the impact and adjusting as necessary. Recognizing that no change is a silver bullet, these efforts are seen as a process that inevitably evolves over time.

Learn more about ERS' work with Baltimore.

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