Innovations in Education: Creating Strong District School Choice Programs
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Key Success Factors

Amid all the details of implementing choice programs, what are the big ideas, the lessons that the five study districts have learned about what is especially important? Each district was asked about key success factors. Clustering their responses, four themes emerge.

Competent Leaders and Staff

Those we interviewed were quick to point out that district success cannot be achieved without dedicated district staff who have time to focus on implementing school choice. Key staff characteristics were cited at all levels of district organizations:

  • a superintendent with "businesslike energy and efficiency," who is "on a mission to close the achievement gap,"

  • a "stable and supportive" school board,

  • "motivated and involved" principals who are "passionate" about the school program,

  • "highly qualified and committed" site coordinators, and

  • "top-notch" teachers.

These responses reflect the inclusive team approach that districts took. No one group can manage choice without the others. These districts were clear that everyone needs to be on board, and in addition to organizing district teams at different levels, they put in place "strong, effective communication among groups."

True Partnership with Parents and the Community

"Seek parent involvement from the beginning," urged one administrator. These districts have learned to bring parents into the process at both the school and district levels, as outlined in previous sections. They view parents as both clients and partners. They have started to "listen more." They also see benefits in "laying out all the facts and being open and honest." In response, they find parents stepping up to become champions for school and district programs, and ambassadors representing them to others.

Accountability and Competition as Positive Factors

While coping with many challenges, these districts also assert the benefits of strong accountability measures and competition. "Competition encourages strength," in the view of one administrator. It makes parents "proactive in finding solutions for children," said another. Similarly, districts report that accountability is "crucial." It brings increased attention to helping schools succeed, and it causes them to "transition through the steps of change quickly." Districts in this study do not shy away from competition and accountability. They take hold of these forces and use them to drive improvements.

A Strong Strategy

No one factor is sufficient. Districts need a complete strategy that invites schools in at every stage and every level. Different forms of choice need to be part of a coordinated strategy. Resource allocation needs to follow district priorities. Strong infrastructure and proactive communication are necessary. "Every classroom must become a quality classroom." Change takes time. These districts are attentive to the change process. They support and "stand beside" their schools, while schools and the district alike keep at the hard work of becoming increasingly focused and effective organizations.

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Last Modified: 11/30/2009