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Resisting the Temptation to Comprehensive Action

Consider a given public policy problem. Everyone sees the problem is complex. From this comes an impulse to control all its elements. Everyone sees the importance of improvement. From this comes an impulse to command improvement. Together these produce the 'blueprints' we so often see: lists of actions all of which must be taken, in a certain order, over a period of time. But in the public sector blueprints usually fail. Mechanisms of "mutual adjustment" usually work better.

Can the National Government Be Effective? Lessons From Urban Development

K-12 education exists in state law. It cannot be reached directly by Congressional or the President. Typically, in such policy areas, the national government tries to 'do things' by tying requirements to its grants-in-aid. This approach has failed in the past, as in the 1960s when the national government tried to take control of urban development.

Albert Shanker: The Importance of Incentives and Rewards in Education

Albert Shanker said in 1991, before school choice and chartering, “People in other fields dislike change too. But they have to do it. We in education don’t. For us nothing is at stake.” The absence of an internal impetus for change leads us to prescribe "mandates." But why not find what is blocking change inside K-12, and fix that?

Who Should Adapt: Students to School or School to Students?

Education policy is dominated by people who themselves did well in school. As a result, they believe conventional school must be OK and that students should adjust to it. Students give a different view. But nobody much listens to them, or thinks the job of educators and policy makers is to adapt school to the students.

Clayton Christensen: Why Organizations Find Major Change So Difficult

Clayton Christensen explains how hard it is for existing organizations to change in more than incremental ways, and why significant change requires the creation of new organizations. His research has huge implications for a K-12 strategy that relies on the notion that it will be possible to improve the schools we have.

The Valley Crossing School as a Precedent for Contracting

Three local districts in Minnesota’s metropolitan suburbs share an elementary school didn't build, don’t own and don’t themselves staff. The Valley Crossing school is a kind of virtual organization; a fascinating case in the use of contracts.

The Emergence of an ‘Open Sector’ in Urban Education

The "Open Sector" is a reality, as new public schools appear outside the traditional district framework. In a few places districts themselves are proactively creating new independent public schools—in competition with the schools they own and directly run. This policy brief rounds up "Open Sector" activity in 17 major urban communities across the country.