Category Archives: Portfolio

A Few Suggestions to Address Steve Zimmer’s Legitimate Concerns

I just read this LA Times piece on a potential expansion of the Los Angeles charter sector.

The article includes the following quotation from Steve Zimmer, the chair of the Los Angeles School Board.

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 6.41.48 PM

I think Steve makes reasonable points.

A major charter expansion could leave the most at-risk students in traditional schools.

I also worry about the facilities costs. Uncoordinated charter growth at this level could leave the city with a lot of half-used buildings, which is ultimately a poor use of resources for all involved.

That being said, many children in Los Angeles are attending very low-performing schools, and rigorous research demonstrates that the L.A. charter sector is generally performing well (CREDO found .1 effects).

Fortunately, there is a way forward.

And most of the solutions needed, I think, are squarely under Zimmer’s jurisdiction. 

First, the city should build a unified enrollment system (that could be run by the district or a non-profit). This would ensure that all families can utilize a fair and easy process to enroll their children in a school that fits meets their expectations.

Second, the city should expand enrollment boundaries so that families can choose from multiple schools (in a city the size of L.A., citywide access with free transportation is probably unfeasible).

Third, the city should regulate transfers and expulsions, to ensure that no schools, be they traditional or charter, are kicking children out.

Fourth, the city should re-weight its per-pupil funding so that the schools serving the hardest to reach children, be they district or charter, receive more funds.

Fifth, the city should institute a unified accountability system that ensures that all schools receive an easy to understand letter grade, and schools that continue to receive an “F” change governance. Any child whose school is closed should automatically have preference of any top rated school in the city that has available slots.

Sixth, the city should create an independent facilities authority that assigns public building based on performance and works to consolidate under-enrolled schools.

Under this system:

1) Open and transparent choice could reduce the clustering of hard to serve students in specific schools.

2) To the extent that this does occur, increased weighted funding could provide more resources to these schools.

In short, Steve’s very legimate concerns can be addressed.

Increasing high-quality choices can have secondary effects that negatively affect children.

Fortunately, there are ways for government leaders to mitigate these effects and increase educational opportunity for all children.

Does Portfolio Beget Portfolio or Does Charter Beget Portfolio?

Screen Shot 2015-07-05 at 8.30.50 PM

One question I’ve been muling over is whether district leadership adopting portfolio principles actually leads to aggressive portfolio implementation, or whether charter market share growth is what actually drives increased implementation of portfolio principles.

Above is a screenshot of CRPE’s rankings of portfolio districts.

The top two districts are or will be +75% charter within a few years.

The next few districts, for the most part, have modest charter market shares (10-25%).

When I have more time, I might try to take the above cities and plot correlation between charter market share and portfolio model adoption (note, however, that cities like Washington D.C. and Newark aren’t in the CRPE network, I think, so CRPE’s list might not be comprehensive).

I might also quibble that CRPE is being a little generous in some of their rankings. Is Los Angeles really a national exemplar in accountability?


Here’s my gut instinct: over the long-haul, we’ll see more districts “forced” into portfolio through increases in charter school market share than we’ll see districts adopt portfolio because that’s what their district leadership believes in.

In other words, when a third of your children attend charter schools, things like unified enrollment, unified accountability, and increased autonomy for all schools becomes a logical way to organize the system.

At some point, the regulatory environment will evolve to match the conditions on the ground.

Sometimes this will happen earlier on, such as Denver.

Other times, it will happen a little too late, as in Detroit.

But, without charter market share in the 20-40% range, I don’t think we’ll see many cities adopt unified enrollment, unified accountability, educator autonomy, and a decentralized ecosystem for talent and school supports.


In sum: I think charter growth begets portfolio more so than portfolio begets portfolio.

This is a hunch. I might be wrong. Let me know if you think I am.