Phalen Leadership Academies

School District Innovation Zones: A New Wave of District-led Efforts to Improve Economic Mobility

10/16/2017

Summary

This executive summary describes The Bridgespan's Group latest research project, School District Innovation Zones: A New Wave of District-led Efforts to Improve Economic Mobility. The report focuses on a
new wave of district-led “innovation zones” that holds promise to overcome the challenges of turning around failing schools and deliver significant improvements in student outcomes.

A new wave of school district-led “innovation zones” holds promise to improve the substandard quality of education experienced by many low-income students, one of the most effective ways to put disadvantaged kids on a pathway of upward economic mobility. These zones provide a subset of district schools with control over staffing, curriculum, and budgeting. Nonprofits typically operate the schools and districts hold them accountable for significant improvement in student outcomes.

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On Philanthropyroundtable.org
Charter-like deregulation of public schools can open a door for effective philanthropy on the district level. "Should Donors Invest in School Districts?" takes a look at three innovation zones that are helping build new paths for investors interested in giving to districts.

We profile the experiences of five school districts at the vanguard of innovation zones—Chicago; Denver; Indianapolis; Memphis, Tennessee; and Springfield, Massachusetts. These innovation zones reveal certain design features that place a focus on improving teaching and learning over multiple years—the heart of any successful school turnaround effort.

Interest in innovation zones has picked up in recent years as legislatures in several states, including Colorado, Indiana, and Tennessee, have given school districts the authority to grant schools varying degrees of freedom from school district and state policies. A number of philanthropists across the country have made multimillion dollar investments to help school districts implement their innovation zone strategy. In a related article, we profile the experiences of three funders who have invested in this new wave of innovation zones and believe that such zones have to the potential to boost funder confidence in district investment.

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