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Reinventing Public Education: How Contracting Can Transform America's Schools

by Paul T. Hill

A heated debate is raging over our nation's public schools and how they should be reformed, with proposals ranging from imposing national standards to replacing public education altogether with a voucher system for private schools. Combining decades of experience in education, the authors propose an innovative approach to solving the problems of our school system and find a middle ground between these extremes. Reinventing Public Education shows how contracting would radically change the way we operate our schools, while keeping them public and accessible to all, and making them better able to meet standards of achievement and equity. Using public funds, local school boards would select private providers to operate individual schools under formal contracts specifying the type and quality of instruction. In a hands-on, concrete fashion, the authors provide a thorough explanation of the pros and cons of school contracting and how it would work in practice. They show how contracting would free local school boards from operating schools so they can focus on improving educational policy; how it would allow parents to choose the best school for their children; and, finally, how it would ensure that schools are held accountable and academic standards are met. While retaining a strong public role in education, contracting enables schools to be more imaginative, adaptable, and suited to the needs of children and families. In presenting an alternative vision for America's schools, Reinventing Public Education is too important to be ignored.

Strife and Progress

by Paul T. Hill Betheny Gross Christine Campbell

Deficient urban schooling remains one of America's most pressing--and stubborn--public policy problems. This important new book details and evaluates a radical and promising new approach to K-12 education reform. Strife and Progress explains for a broad audience the "portfolio strategy" for providing urban education--its rationale, implementation, and results. Under the portfolio strategy, cities use anything that works, indifferent to whether schools are run by the public district or private entities. It combines traditional modes of schooling with newer methods, including chartering and experimentation with schools making innovative use of people and technology. Urban districts try to make themselves magnets for new talent, recruiting educators and career switchers looking to make a difference for poor children.The portfolio strategy creates interesting new bedfellows: people who think that government should oversee public education align with those advocating choice, competition, and entrepreneurship. It cuts across political lines and engages city governments and civic assets (e.g., philanthropies, businesses, universities) much more deeply than earlier reform initiatives. New York and New Orleans were portfolio pioneers, but the idea has spread rapidly to cities as far-flung as Los Angeles, Denver, and Chicago. Results have been mixed overall but generally positive in places that implemented the strategy most aggressively. Reform leaders such as New York's Joel Klein have been overly optimistic, however, assuming that the strategy's merits would be so obvious that careful assessment would be unnecessary. Serious policy evaluation is still needed.

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