Traditional School District Models Changing

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Budget problems and renewed focus on economic policy has led to changes in the traditional school district model, says Jaclyn Zubrycki, a staff writer for Education Week.

The classic school district model involves schools grouped according to geographic boundaries, a central office that oversees hiring and curriculum needs, and a superintendent (governed by a school board) that runs the overall system. While much of that model has stayed the same, budget crises, a need for academic improvement and more free-market approaches to education have changed policies in school districts across the United States:

– Detroit’s public school district is governed by an emergency manager. But more than 40 percent of Detroit schoolchildren attend charter schools, which are run by the state’s Education Achievement Authority. The school board performs only an advisory role.

– In Memphis, the Shelby County-Memphis district has developed an “innovation zone” comprised of 13 low-performing schools that have been given autonomy over their hiring and budget.

– Similarly, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina has seen a great deal of autonomy transferred to the schools themselves in a project supported by a number of local, philanthropic partners.

Many of these changes are not new. Twelve years ago, Pennsylvania handed over the operations of low-performing schools in the Philadelphia school system to more than 40 private non-profit and for-profit entities.

These changes have taken place in large and small cities alike.

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