In this multi-method case study, the authors explore the success of school reform in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), whose school reform combines a portfolio strategy and a managed instruction approach.
Portfolio strategy is a term used to describe an approach that decentralizes resources and decision-making to school sites—increasingly in conjunction with the creation of charters and other schools of choice. In this approach, choice among a diverse set of options is a strong element and there is an expectation that choice and market-based accountability will drive improvements in schooling.
Managed instruction is an approach that calls for strong district oversight of school and classroom practices, with strong guidance and support for teaching. This strategy is based on the expectation that direction around “best practices” and support for professional development will lead to improved teaching and learning.
Few districts have attempted to combine the strategies by managing instruction across a portfolio of schools. An important exception is MPS—a district known for having had one of the most aggressive school choice plans in the nation for nearly 20 years, offering private school vouchers, charter options, and within-district public school choice. Over the past 5 years, Milwaukee has attempted to build common instructional practice across this diverse portfolio of schools.
The experience of MPS illustrates the challenges that arise when choice-oriented reforms intersect with capacity-building approaches. This report addresses questions raised by MPS district leaders regarding the success of their reform efforts aimed at improving instruction throughout the district.
A new book, Global Education Reform: How Privatization and Public Investment Influence Education Outcomes, provides a powerful analysis of these different ends of an ideological spectrum – from market-based experiments to strong state investments in public education.