But without exception and irrespective of the policies involved, the radical changes we’re describing happened because local leaders had the courage to insist that schools operate in conditions politically difficult to achieve, but essential to success. Those conditions include:
* Leadership: Every success we’ve seen involves empowering a new leader to make decisions that unflinchingly put the needs of students first.
* Autonomy: Radical improvement requires control over staffing, budget, schedules and school culture in ways that are often politically hard in traditional school systems.
* Teacher leadership: Great schools always feature increased collaboration for teachers and a willingness to provide wider avenues for their leadership within the school.
* A third-party player: Nonprofits external to the school system have helped guide nearly every real transformation we’ve seen, because they provide not just guidance and support, but also political insulation and durability.
* Flexibility given community conditions: While they require these principles, successful changes aren’t cookie-cutter solutions; they vary with their communities and cannot be replicated by exact recipe.
* Accountability: It must be clear who is responsible for achieving results and what happens in the event things don’t work out.
It’s no accident that these are precisely the principles that apply to the creation of successful new schools in neighborhoods where schools struggle. Indeed, there is much evidence that new school creation can be a profoundly effective strategy.