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The Role of School Districts in Education Reform

Two distinct strands have emerged in U.S. education reform in recent years. One strand has focused on reforming education at the school district level, by aligning curriculum, instruction, and teacher professional development across schools and grades within a district; improving district-level management and governance; and enhancing districts' capacity to turn around low-performing schools and drive school improvement. A separate reform strand has focused on building new institutions-such as charter schools, nonprofit organizations, and education service providers-outside the district system to provide additional educational options for youngsters and services to schools, and on increasing autonomy for existing district schools. Many education reform efforts, including the Obama administration's current Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation initiatives, have simultaneously embraced both strands of education reform. But are these two approaches to reforming education really compatible? Or will little-discussed tensions between the two approaches undermine current reform efforts? Does one strategy have greater promise to improve educational options for our nation's youngsters? And, as Congress begins working to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, what does this mean for federal education policy?
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