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Lessons on portfolio management, here and elsewhere

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

Can Philadelphia establish a robust, accountable "portfolio management" system for schools at the same time it faces huge budget shortfalls?

Research for Action this week released an issue brief on portfolio management that examines the implementation of the model in Chicago, New Orleans, and New York City. It also looked at Philadelphia’s past experience with what was then called a "diverse provider" model.

Among its findings: in New Orleans, New York, and Chicago, spending increased substantially in the years after the implementation of the portfolio model. In New York City, state and city contributions have increased more than $3 billion in the last five years.

“In the three largest districts with portfolio management – Chicago, New York City, and New Orleans – reforms were implemented alongside an infusion of significant resources,” said the report.

As for Philadelphia’s own experience, a four-year analysis of the District’s 2001-2006 diverse provider experiment found “no statistically significant effects” on student performance among privately managed schools.

After the state takeover of the District in 2001, 46 low-performing schools were turned over to outside providers — although these providers had limited authority. The schools did not operate as charters, but under the provisions of the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and the requirements of the District’s bureaucracy.

That analysis did, however, find “significantly positive effects” in reading and math test scores for District-led improvement interventions implemented in a comparison group of schools,

RFA executive director Kate Shaw, who wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the Daily News on Wednesday, said that the the review raised a few red flags.

The biggest one: "Everything we saw in the research and experiences of other large districts, none of them embarked on this kind of change without significant infusion of new funds," she said.

The review also raised questions, given reduced capacity in the District’s central office, how Philadelphia will hold schools accountable for performance and continue to ensure equity around student choices, she said.

"These are things that the new superintendent will have to think long and hard about," Shaw said.

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