Portfolio cities are not all created equal. Some, like New Orleans, have been able to advance quickly. Others are slowed down by the public reactions to school closures or school board turnover or other political or technical realities. District leaders like the idea of accountability for schools, but avoid creating clear performance criteria. They like the idea of new schools, but don’t want to close low performers. They like the idea of partnering with a few charter schools, but they don’t want to upset the unions by partnering with more. They like the idea of school-level decisionmaking, but don’t want to shrink their central offices.
Civic leaders and philanthropists who want to support portfolio efforts need to be skeptical of people who adopt the word “portfolio” without really being serious about carrying out the reform. It’s also easy for even the most well-intentioned portfolio leaders to get caught up in day-to-day policymaking and implementation and lose sight of whether their efforts are panning out in meaningful changes for students.