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Friday, November 1, 2013

Which American Cities are Education Reform-Friendly?

We all want better educations for our communities and children. But are some cities more “reform-friendly” than others? A new study by The Thomas B. Fordham Institute in conjunction with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research says so. 

As the press release for the study points out, education entrepreneurialism is all the rage right now. Organizations like Teach for America, EdisonLearning, New Leaders for New Schools, and Wireless Generation are big players today but relatively new upstarts. Such a trend produced a need for research into which cities are most ready reform the way they approach education.

In this study, six areas were considered when judging the nation’s 25 largest cities plus five smaller communities:

1.    Access to an ample supply of human talent
2.    A pipeline of readily accessible funding—venture capital and operating donors alike—from private and public sources
3.    A thriving charter-school sector
4.    Attention to quality metrics to guide and regulate entrepreneurial ventures
5.    Receptivity to non-traditional providers and to reforms at the district level
6.    Similar receptivity at the municipal level

True to their educational paradigm, cities were given a grade from A (extremely reform-friendly) to F (extremely reform-unfriendly). What were the results?

No city surveyed received an A, but eight received Bs: Austin, Charlotte, Denver, Fort Worth, Houston, Jacksonville, New Orleans, New York City, and Washington D.C. These cities are hotbeds of entrepreneurship where exciting reforms are already underway. Six cities fell into the bottom of the reform heap, earning Ds or Fs: Albany, Detroit, Gary, Philadelphia, San Diego, and San Jose. These cities aren’t attracting large sums of money or innovators, and few are enacting significant reforms. 

What does this mean for those who inhabit the education space and want to be a force for restoration? It means we should focus energy on those places where we have great chances to succeed in reform efforts without neglecting those cities where there is a great need for entrepreneurship. 

The cities at the bottom of the pile aren’t bankrupt. They are simply in need of a few innovative restorers. As the researchers involved with this study said,

“Is there hope for the laggards? Indeed, yes. This study outlines enormous opportunities for mayors, school systems, and business leaders to turn things around, though such transformations won’t come easily or fast. But then, Silicon Valley did not become a hotbed of innovation over night. It took decades to infuse the region with the financial capital, talent, networks, and expertise that make it what it has become.”

Such words are instructive for any reformer. Change will not come overnight or without hard work, but if those of us who have been called to this work will persist in our efforts, transformation is possible. And who knows? Maybe your city is just a few reformers away from climbing from the bottom of the list to the top.


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