Blog: Autonomous School Designs Attract Attention Nationwide

A number of recent news articles have highlighted how education leaders across the country are exploring ways in which increasing school-level flexibilities may improve outcomes for students. Empower’s core belief is that powerful schools change the trajectory of children’s lives. There are talented leaders throughout the education system, but in order to truly make a difference, they need the freedoms to make real decisions about how to activate people, data, and time to the greatest advantage for their students.

Empower works collaboratively with district and civic leaders to bring greater flexibility to individual schools. Other states are also showing deepening interest in how to expand autonomy while ensuring accountability. New York state is looking directly to Lawrence, Massachusetts for a “third way” of structuring a school district which can include both traditional and charter schools to provide maximum flexibility for leaders, teachers, and families. Of course, this model isn’t about being flexible, it’s about enabling students to learn and succeed, which is exactly what is happening in Lawrence as well as other locales where individual schools have been empowered.

Georgia is another example of where the state is looking to take over failing schools and create an Opportunity School District with schools independently-governed or managed by charter school operators. These are energizing prospects to give children opportunities to excel academically. Empower has created an Empowerment Zone in Springfield that aims to do just this – empower schools to maximize student learning.

The purpose of the Open System model is to give talented school leaders the autonomy to make real decisions regarding staffing, curriculum, scheduling, and culture so as to have a meaningful impact on their students. There are no prescriptions or mandates beyond investing authority in strong leaders at the school level. This is the same type of reform that the Eli and Edyth Broad Foundation is moving toward by suspending the Broad Prize for Urban Education. While the $1 million award is highly-valued, the foundation expresses concern regarding the impact. Without empowered and skillful leaders with charter-like flexibilities, even generous financial resources can have limited effects. But individual schools with control over their existing resources, in conjunction with differentiated supports and partnerships, can move the needle on student achievement and accomplish lasting gains.