LJAF’s investments in K-12 education seek to advance the portfolio model of school governance. This alternative structure separates school oversight from campus operations. It is based on policies that promote a decentralized administration and more school choice for families as well as increased flexibility and accountability for leaders and educators. We believe that schools and school systems that prioritize these principles can address systemic inequities and improve educational outcomes.
Unlike many traditional school systems where school leaders must follow a specific instructional program and adhere to district mandates, operators in the portfolio model have a great deal of autonomy in their decision making. They select their own curriculum and materials, hire teachers and staff, and control the campus budget. These operators work with teachers to provide a high-quality education and are evaluated by independent authorizers whose sole responsibility is to hold schools accountable for student performance. The authorizers are totally removed from day-to-day operations. They oversee the entire system, identify schools that are highly effective, and expand successful models. Families in a portfolio district can apply to attend any campus through an open enrollment process.
The portfolio structure is being used as part of a multifaceted school turnaround effort in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city long known as having one of the lowest-performing districts in the nation. LJAF has invested heavily in New Orleans, and the early results are promising. In 2005, 65 percent of students attended a failing school, and that number has dropped to just 5.4 percent today. To fully understand the impact of the changes, we seeded the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University. Researchers are studying how this new era in school reform has influenced teaching and learning in the city’s schools and what those findings might mean for other communities.
In addition, LJAF funds other initiatives associated with the portfolio model, including efforts to improve transparency on school performance, scale successful schools, and establish policies that emphasize accountability, best practices, school choice, and decentralization.