In addition, as a practical matter, the outside providers, whether charter operators or education management organizations, will work outside the District and the union contract, which was not true of the schools that started operating under a private provider in 2002.
Even with those different conditions in place today, there are still two fundamentally different theories underlying what makes school improve.
The “theory of action” approved by the School Reform Commission in January touts both “managed instruction” and “performance empowerment,” which describe very different approaches to school change.
“Managed instruction” stresses a comprehensive curriculum, professional development and student assessments based on that curriculum, and data-tracking of students so they can get the right services.
The goal of “performance empowerment” is to “empower education leaders and schools who have demonstrated their capacity to consistently obtain outstanding instructional outcomes for students.”
Managed instruction is the approach taken in Empowerment Schools, now more than 100 District schools that have consistently failed to make federal learning goals and have gotten extra resources.
Some of the schools on the Renaissance Eligible list will be managed by a team in the superintendent’s office, and Ackerman still prefers prescriptive approaches to full-blown autonomy and experimentation. In these schools that will become her special concern, called Promise Academies, “We’ll see expanding upon some of the strategies we know are working in Empowerment Schools,” she said. “In Promise Academies, we will not say, ‘Do whatever.’ We know what works, and we’ll put those things in place.”
Rayer said, in essence, that “managed instruction” is the first line of attack, followed by autonomy in case that doesn’t work – but only with the “right” people.
“We think that’s part of our theory of action. When schools struggle, the District doesn’t just throw its arms up. The District steps in and tries to support them,” Rayer said.
“But we’re saying in a case where Empowerment hasn’t worked in a school, something needs to happen to dramatically improve the performance of children at that school. Not just a little bit better, but a lot better. And that’s Renaissance.”
In that case, he said, “we’re not leaving it to people who are there in the school” to decide the best approach, “but we’re going to bring in high-performing teams who can prove they have a track record of running a great school. … So if you think about it, the autonomies are going to people who have a track record of doing quality work.”
Along with Renaissance Schools, the 25 Vanguard Schools, a group of high-performing schools, will be rewarded with autonomies around instruction, curriculum, teacher work day, budgeting, and other matters.