I came across a very interesting project from Boston, USA, which sets out to give schools more autonomy and accountability. Known as the Boston Schools Project its has been running since 1994. The results are impressive and include:
· Pilot Schools are attractive to Boston families, as evidenced by high waiting lists;
· Pilot Schools have high holding power, as evidenced by high student attendance and low transfer rates
· Pilots Schools are safe, as evidenced by low suspension rates
· Pilot Schools are successful in educating students, as evidenced by low grade retention rates; standardized test scores (in MCAS and Stanford 9) that are comparable or higher than the BPS district averages for most Pilot Schools; and high graduation rates
· Pilot Schools provide students with expanded life opportunities, as evidenced by high college-going rates.
I was very interested in what they describe as their Conditions of Autonomy:
Five Pilot School Areas of Autonomy, plus Accountability
1. Staffing: Pilot schools have the freedom to hire and excess their staff in order to create a unified school community. This includes:
Deciding on staffing patterns which best meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of students
Hiring staff that best fit the needs of the school, regardless of their current status (member of the district or not, although every teacher hired becomes a member of the local teachers union)
Excessing staff (into the district pool) that do not fulfill the needs of the school
2. Budget: Pilot schools have a lump sum per pupil budget in which the school has total discretion to spend in the manner that provides the best programs and services to students and their families. This includes:
A lump sum per pupil budget, the sum of which is equal to other BPS schools within that grade span
The district has moved toward itemizing all central office costs, and allows Pilot schools to choose to purchase identified discretionary district services or to not purchase them and include them in the school’s lump sum per pupil budget
3. Curriculum and Assessment: Pilot schools have the freedom to structure their curriculum and assessment practices to best meet students’ learning needs. While acknowledging that all Pilot schools are expected to administer any state- and district-required test, these schools are given the flexibility to best determine the school-based curriculum and assessment practices that will prepare students for state and district assessments. This includes:
Schools are freed from local district curriculum requirements
Graduation requirements are set by the school, not by the district, with an emphasis on competency-based, performance-based assessment.
4. Governance and Policies: Pilot schools have the freedom to create their own governance structure that has increased decision making powers over budget approval, principal selection and firing, and programs and policies, while being mindful of state requirements on school councils. This includes:
The school’s site council takes on increased governing responsibilities, including the following: principal selection, supervision, and firing, with final approval by the superintendent in all cases; budget approval; and setting of school policies
The school has flexibility to be freed from all district policies, and set its own policies that the school community feels will best help students to be successful. This includes policies such as promotion, graduation, attendance, and discipline
5. School Calendar: Pilot schools have the freedom to set longer school days and calendar years for both students and faculty. In particular, research supports a correlation between faculty planning time spent on teaching and learning and increased student achievement. Scheduling which allows for summer and school year faculty planning time contributes to a more unified school community and educational program. This includes:
Increasing planning and professional development time for faculty
Increasing learning time for students
Organizing the school schedule in ways that maximize learning time for students and planning time for faculty (e.g., longer days Monday through Thursday in order to have half-days for students on Fridays, enabling faculty to have a significant planning and professional development block every Friday afternoon).
Accountability: Pilot Schools Network Statement
(Adopted 4/2000) The Pilot Schools believe that having in place a strong system of assessing student progress is vital to creating excellent schools in which all students learn and achieve at high levels. We believe in standards that lead to excellent schools, not standardization. We support the development of network-wide competencies and assessments that, while providing common information on how schools are doing, also allow for and encourage uniqueness in approaches to instruction and assessment among schools. Ultimately, good assessment systems should open doors for all students rather than shut them, and help students graduate with a range of options.