Many of the highest performing schools of all types are “powerful schools.” These schools often have autonomy and flexibility in staffing, schedule, curriculum, and spending. But it’s not really autonomy which makes these schools successful, it’s how educators use their flexibilities to meet the needs of their community and improve student outcomes. Empower is working to cultivate more powerful schools and partnering them with communities that need them most. These partnerships form the foundation of an Open System.
The Open System is a new model based on the assumption that systemic success can only occur by focusing on what it takes to achieve success at each individual school. While many of the tenets of the Open System are not new, the ideas are gaining momentum and new research is fueling the fire. The Economist recently highlighted research calling out the effect of increased school autonomy on both student achievement and the rate of student improvement in England. The same article references that both lower- and higher-income students achieve higher in more autonomous schools.
Who benefits, by how much, and in what ways are important questions for policy. The research in The Economist suggests that England has the policy provisions in place to allow schools greater flexibility, if only stronger leaders were in place to take advantage of them. Empower is working to leverage policy to create schools with more flexibility in Massachusetts, recognizing that autonomy is a crucial component of systems which can enable wide-scale positive change for students.
Our enthusiasm regarding change is fueled by the potential for beneficial partnerships, but our optimism is grounded in the promising relationships developing between districts and proven school operators in other areas of the country. In Education Next, Richard Whitmire (author of On the Rocketship) describes four districts in three states which have fostered successful – though surprising – collaborations. Other reports, of district partnerships with charter schools, and of traditional systems like Boston increasing school-level autonomy in hiring and staffing, indicate a growing trend.
Empower is energized by the opportunities to partner with communities to help them get the schools they want and the results they need. Partnership is at the core of Empower’s vision for open systems, and we expect to share more stories in the future about how communities are developing powerful schools as a result of collaboration and support.