The Best & Worst Cities for School Reform in the US

A new study by Rick Hess, director of education studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and colleagues identifies nine cities in the U.S. which cultivate an environment amenable to school reform efforts: New Orleans, Washington D.C., New York City, Denver, Jacksonville, Charlotte, Austin, Houston, and Fort Worth.

The study, “America’s Best (and Worst) Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change Agents,” [pdf] was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The authors analyzed six domains that they determined influenced a city’s receptivity to education reform and looked at publicly available data, national and local surveys, and interviews with on-the-ground insiders. These domains included:

  • Human Capital: access to talented individuals
  • Financial Capital: availability of private and/or public funds
  • Charter Environment: often a primary pipeline for entrepreneurs
  • Quality Control: solid metrics guiding entrepreneurial ventures
  • District Environment: capacity and appetite to support reforms
  • Municipal Environment: support from the local community, media, and government

Analysts then created a grading metric that rated each city on its individual and collective accomplishments in each of the domains.

Did Boston make the grade?

The study gave Boston an overall grade of C. Ranking 15 of 26 cities, the report says Boston is a “middling local for education entrepreneurs.” Here are the author’s assessment of the Boston’s six domains:

  • Human Capital: Average–“but not because of average talent in the city… The city receives low marks due to meager penetration of brand name alternately trained teachers and principals.” Ranked 10/26.
  • Financial Capital: “Not hard to come by … Boston Public Schools maintains fairly high per-pupil expenditures compared to other cities.” Ranked 12/25.
  • Charter Environment: “Could stand some improvement … the state’s board of education is known for being particularly selective.” Ranked 15/24.
  • Quality Control: The strongest category because the rigor of the statewide MCAS tests “rivals that of NAEP.” Ranked 10/25.
  • District Environment: “Presents a stumbling block to entrepreneurs … The district speaks out for education reform, but it has done little to advance significant change.” Ranked 26/26.
  • Municipal Environment: “Promising” with philanthropies, business, government, and media supportive of reform efforts. Ranked 6/25.

The bottom line, according to the authors, is that Boston’s “leadership is dynamic and strong; funding avenues are relatively wide; and the city’s human capital pipelines and charter sectors are improving. But charter authorizing policies, state data systems, and the district environment in Boston Public Schools all need more of a reform makeover.”

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