The Education Innovator
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Innovating to Meet High Expectations in Challenging Times
This month, school districts nationwide are renewing their commitment to high student achievement for all children and to doing their part to reach the national goal of returning the United States to Number 1 in the world in postsecondary completion by 2020. And many, if not most, are recommitting to this important goal amid the most challenging fiscal circumstances they and the country have faced in decades. Despite gradual improvement in the economy, pre-K-12 education public funding levels will be flat or down for several years. Thus, school districts continue to pursue ambitious reform agendas by using innovative strategies that allow them to “do more with less.”
Districts and schools are taking bold steps to accelerate progress in closing achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, and increase the number of students prepared for and entering higher education. In the words of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, they are part of a “quiet revolution” of educators who are “challenging the defeatism and inertia that has trapped generations of children in second-rate schools,” and are doing it despite the current economic constraints.
Specifically, districts are pursuing several strategies that are showing promise: (1) rethinking resource allocations; (2) leveraging community resources; (3) taking advantage of technology; and (4) partnering for success and savings.
Traditional cost structures and spending patterns do not focus resources on the key priorities, such as raising student achievement, improving teacher quality, and turning around low-performing schools, according to Education Resource Strategies (ERS), a nonprofit specializing in strategic planning, organization, and resource allocation in urban school districts. States need to overhaul “antiquated cost structures and operating models that undergird most school systems,” and “get into the game of restructuring the use of existing resources…not simply adding resources on top,” contend Karen Hawley Miles and Karen Baroody, ERS’s executive director and managing director, respectively, in a recent Education Week commentary. By focusing on equity, transparency, and flexibility, schools, districts, and states can both drive better results and make their operations more efficient.
In many districts, budget time is characterized by making minor adjustments to the previous year’s budget, and the budgeting process is divorced from school planning. In The Strategic School: Making the Most of People, Time, and Money, Miles and co-author Stephen Frank cite courage and persistence as essential for transformational change: courage to set priorities and “say that some things are more important than others,” and persistence to overcome “a host of regulations, contractual provisions, and district practices [that] combine to thwart changes in school organization.”
From its efforts helping urban districts strategically reallocate their resources to improve student performance over the past decade, ERS has defined a comprehensive framework of seven Core Transformational Strategies that support high-performing schools. The Resource Check™ tool, a questionnaire available online from ERS, is designed to help school districts determine how they are currently organizing their key resources—people, time, and money—to support high-performing schools.