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Idea of the Day: Decentralized Management Is Helping Schools

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School districts across the country are shifting away from their traditional management paradigm—a central office that directs its schools through uniform mandates and policies—toward a new vision where district leaders support autonomous schools while holding them accountable for student performance. The advent of new governance mechanisms between districts and schools that have come with the rise of charter schools, contract schools, and various systems that allow district-managed schools greater freedom of action in hiring, budgeting, and instructional planning has transformed the command-and-control relationships that were long the hallmark of public school management. As a consequence, school-district leaders increasingly recognize that greater school autonomy requires rethinking their models of district-level management and support.

In 2006, New York City pioneered the transformation of the relationship between the central office and its schools by launching an initiative that gave autonomy to all schools regardless of their performance. During the two-year pilot program that preceded the initiative’s launch, an initial cohort of 26 schools organized itself into four networks of schools that worked together to solve common problems. These networks were supported by a small team of central-office staff who understood school autonomy and helped schools address a broad range of issues, from instruction to hiring to budgeting. As the pilot program scaled up, additional schools followed suit and voluntarily affiliated into networks of similar-size schools. These new networks were also supported by expert teams of district personnel or by staff from a select group of education nonprofits. By 2010, every public school in New York City was required to select a support partner and join a network.

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This is part of a regular column: Idea of the Day

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