I went to the meeting at School of the Future last week to learn more about the District’s strategic plan, Imagine 2014. The most controversial part of the plan is the part about Renaissance Schools. The Renaissance Schools plan calls for the transformation of some of the city’s lowest performing schools. This is to be achieved through a request for proposals (RFP) that will go out to organizations with a proven track record of turning schools around. According to the District, both outside organizations (charter managers and EMOs) and internal groups (teachers and principals) are encouraged to apply.
There are a few problems with this. Are regular teachers and principals expected to compete with multi-million-dollar organizations in an RFP process? Other districts that have transformed schools by putting an RFP out to teachers and principals have provided extensive training and planning grants to the applicants, but there does not seem to be any plan to do that here. Without these supports in place, the offer for teachers and principals to enter the process is kind of hollow.
In Oakland, design teams consisting of teachers, students, parents, community members, and the principal spend more than a year planning their new school and get support from the Bay Area Coalition of Equitable Schools throughout the process.
In New York, design teams of educators and community members respond to an RFP with a concept paper. Those that have a strong plan get a planning grant and extensive support from New Vision for Public Schools to develop a full proposal.
In Boston, educators that are selected through an RFP process get a planning grant from the Boston Foundation and ongoing support and training from the Center for Collaborative Education.
All three of these districts used outside organizations for training and technical support, but actually had school district teachers and principals design and run the schools. The schools also remained public schools, accountable to their district. This kind of process builds the capacity within the district to change schools itself, rather than always relying on outside organizations to do it for them.
Another problem with the proposed plan for the Renaissance Schools is that the RFP process will go out before the schools are selected. This means that if educators or community members from a particular school find out that their school is selected and want to apply, it will be too late or that they would have to apply in advance just in case their school is selected. This is totally ridiculous if the district is serious about having the community involved in this process.
Overall, while the District keeps saying that local educators and community members are encouraged to participate in this process, it seems that the process is set up to make that very difficult. The process seems to be designed for large charter management organizations (like Mastery and KIPP) and Educational Management Organizations (like Edison). Shouldn’t we have an option that allows local educators and community groups to participate in transforming their schools? Other districts have done it and it has worked, maybe we should learn from them.