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The Urban School System of the Future: Applying the Principles and Lessons of Chartering (New Frontiers in Education)

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ISBN-13: 978-1607094760
ISBN-10: 1607094762
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Editorial Reviews


In this brilliant book, Andy Smarick pulls together three education reform movements -- charter schools, vouchers, and school district transformation -- and shows how they can combine into a dramatically more effective way to provide public education. Mayors, governors, superintendents, and educators will all find powerful new ideas about how to build a public education system that serves all children effectively and can respond as student populations and the demands of the economy change. (Paul Hill, Founder, Center for Reinventing Public Education, Research Professor, University of Washington Bothell, Author, It Takes A City: Getting Serious About Urban School Reform)

Smarick shows us the way for the public education of our American dreams, and why our current school districts can’t get us there despite great effort. (Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix, former President State Board of Education, California)

Smarick’s thesis is powerful, clear, and tragically out of the mainstream. He argues that our obsession with the structure of schools – be they traditional, charter, or private – prevents us from effectively using public dollars to provide an excellent education for all citizens. He’s right. And he points a way forward: let educators run their own schools, let families choose schools that best fit their needs, and let government execute accountability systems that support the best schools and close the worst. Our nation’s century old educational policy regime is limiting the intellectual and economic growth of our nation. And, in the end, Smarick’s plan is the only way out. (Neerav Kingsland, CEO, New Schools for New Orleans)

Every school a charter school? In a bold, well-argued call for the redesign of urban school districts, Smarick proposes that all schools—even those previously run by a district--would have to pass muster with an authorizer--and also with parents able to choose among them. (Paul E. Peterson, Harvard University, Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government, Director, Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance)

Andy Smarick has written a new book about urban education and reform. Urban School Systems of the Future is a provocative analysis; Smarick argues not that urban districts have problems, something most people would agree with, but rather that when it comes to urban education policy and practice they are the problem. Drawing on both the history and status quo of urban education and the more recent experience with charter schooling, Smarick picks up the David Osborne, Paul Hill et al. mantle and carries it forward with a call not to just evolve urban districts into portfolio providers of educational services, but rather that a suite of options should replace them. (

The Urban School System of the Future with a depressing realization; 'The traditional urban school system is broken, and it cannot be fixed.' Over the next 170 pages, he outlines exactly how the system has failed and what we can do to transform it. His solution: dissolve the urban school district as we know it and replace it with a system of chartered schools. His analysis of the problems facing all sectors of urban schools is incisive, smart, and thoughtful and he brings to bear data (especially regarding Catholic schools) that sheds new light on these familiar topics….The Urban School System of the Future offers a compelling vision that school reformers should take seriously. Only through understanding the opportunities and limitations inherent our nation’s urban school systems can we endeavor to develop the next generation of school management strategies. (Education Next: Journal Of Opinion And Research)

About the Author

Andy Smarick has worked on k-12 education at the white house, the US Department of Education, the US Congress, a state legislature, and most recently as the deputy commissioner of a state department of education. He co-founded a college-preparatory charter school for disadvantaged students, served as a white house fellow, and earned a Bachelors degree, summa cum laude and with honors, and a Masters degree from the University of Maryland.

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Product Details

  • Series: New Frontiers in Education
  • Hardcover: 190 pages
  • Publisher: R&L Education (October 18, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1607094762
  • ISBN-13: 978-1607094760
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,249,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael Sarich on October 25, 2012
Format: Paperback
Andy Smarick has written a book that most in the education "industry" would prefer you wouldn't read. However, if you do, I can promise you a well-written cogent policy prescription for what ails our current educational system and affects us all.

While some may quibble that Smarick goes too far, as a parent and someone who has worked in the Baltimore City school system, I would argue he may not have gone far enough. Only a fundamental "re-think" of the entire process can possibly hope to serve our children and keep our nation strong.

Certainly change can be challenging and even scary; however,as Andy points out, "Diverse new schools can be continually created, failing schools can be closed, and great schools can be replicated and expanded." As a Dad who wants the best for his son, this is exactly the type of educational system I would want him and his peers enrolled in.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By ST on December 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I recognize that a high proportion of my friends are wonks obsessed with education policy who will probably like this book, but really, other people interested in the fate of civilization should read it, too. Andy Smarick presents a compelling set of arguments about how and why we should apply the principles and lessons of chartering to urban school systems.

Although not the first person to point out that states should withdraw the exclusive franchises given to districts (he rightly cites Ted Kolderie), he provides a useful sketch of historical context and connects the dots among numerous key studies and findings. Exhibit A is that many urban districts have been failing for a long time, and decades of efforts to fix them have also failed. As one USDOE report notes: "Businesses operate under the immediate threat of bankruptcy and termination; schools typically do not." In other words, it doesn't matter to districts how they perform: there are no real consequences. For those who criticize charters as having insufficient influence on districts, he cites a 2005 study of Washington, DC's charter sector, which concluded that the district appears "impervious." Indeed.

Smarick acknowledges that not all charters are great and that the charter sector needs to be more vigilant about closing poor-performing schools. And he argues that we need to apply that same rigor to district schools--and also to private schools, if they would like to opt into the new system that he proposes. In his new system, a chancellor oversees authorizers, operators (who might be CMOs [charter management organizations], or EMOs [education management organizations], or DMOs [district management organizations], or even PMOs [private school management organizations]), and schools.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Paul Simone on June 22, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
It is now time for the discussion to change from are our urban schools doing a good job to how to best implement this new system of urban education. That is to say, the time for talk is over, it is now time to take what we know, and put it to use. No more discussion required. The plan is here and waiting.
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I read education education reform material regularly and this is probably the best and most influential book I've read since E. D. Hirsch's The Schools We Need about 15 years ago. Urban education is a massive failure everywhere and it doesn't take much time to make that case as Smarick easily does. (Not that education in the suburbs is all that great either.) But Smarick has a prescription that makes much sense. He rightly notes that no sector is pristine. The traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools all have good schools as well as schools that are not performing. To somewhat simplify his recommendation, we need to stop worrying about the structure of the school, whether its a traditional public school, charter school, or private school, but ask whether it is a good school. Do parents actually want to send their children to it? Does it educate children to standards that we expect and need in the 21st Century? If so, we shouldn't care much about what kind of school it is, but how do we get more like it available to more families?

What America lacks is enough good schools for every child to attend one. So we need to foster a system, especially in urban areas, that creates and replicates good schools and closes the ones that don't perform after they have had a chance to do so. The chartering model, which utilizes an "authorizing body" to approve the creation of schools and oversee their outcomes independently from the operator of the school, offers such a system.
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