When Andres Alonso joined Baltimore City (Md.) Public Schools in 2007, he wasted no time in implementing the Portfolio Strategy. The district had over 80,000 students, 91 percent of which were minority and 82 percent were low-income. Baltimore City had been plagued by low test scores and a widening achievement gap for years, and Alonso sought out this multi-tiered approach as a resolution.
Five years later, Baltimore’s next reform phase is going to be particularly challenging. It’s not as though the first phase came without its challenges, says Sarah Yatsko, senior research analyst with the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE). In the first phase of the district’s move toward the Portfolio model, it closed schools that were severely low-performing and therefore there was little pushback from the school board and community. In other words, all the low-hanging fruit—or low-performing schools, if you will—have been picked. Now the district is forced to look at a larger bottom tier of schools and determine what will be closed and how resources will be allocated.
Baltimore’s progress and success is highlighted in a report released by CRPE in June. Although Baltimore was chosen as a case study, over 25 urban districts around the country, including New York City, Chicago, Denver, and Hartford, have adopted the method.
“The portfolio network has tripled in size in the last five years,” says Yatsko. “If you had a crystal ball, I wonder what we’d think of [the Portfolio Strategy] in 10 years. One thing [co-author] Paul [Hill] has said is it’s not a reform that’s like other reforms. It’s not a formula. It’s really a way of thinking about how you manage a large number of organizations, letting go, and trusting that professionals in your schools know best. And, it just works.”