A report released Tuesday ranks cities not in terms of best-
performing schools but on their openness to outside ideas and
Education entrepreneurs - the sort of people who want to open a
new charter school, or have an innovative way to get talented new
teachers into schools - would do well to head to New Orleans. Or
Washington or New York.
Detroit or Philadelphia? Not so welcoming.
At least that's the judgment of "America's Best (and Worst)
Cities for School Reform: Attracting Entrepreneurs and Change
Agents," a study released Tuesday that's attempting to rank cities
in a new way. It doesn't look at how well their students perform, or
even on the programs their districts have put in place, but on how
welcoming they are to reforms and new ideas. The education version
of the World Bank's annual ranking of the best countries for
business, if you will.
"What I'm suggesting is a different way to think about reform
than we usually do," says Frederic Hess, director of Education
Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute and one of the
authors of the report for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
Instead of looking at changes that district leaders are pushing,
he says, he wanted to see how open cities are to bottom-up changes -
a framework that stems from his belief that the best way to change
big, established systems is often through outsiders bringing in new
tools and new ideas.
The results included some of the usual suspects - cities that are
often bandied about among education wonks talking about reform - as
well as a few surprises.
Jacksonville, Fla., for instance - a city on very few education
radar screens - was fifth on the list of 30 cities (the 25 largest
plus five that are often mentioned as "reform" cities). And
Charlotte, N.C., and Austin, Texas, were sixth and seventh. Both
cities are usually well regarded for student achievement, but not
talked about as hotbeds of reform. Philadelphia and San Diego,
meanwhile, both cities that are generally looked at favorably,
To settle on the grades, Mr. Hess looked at six measures: human
capital, financial capital, quality control, political environment,
openness to charter schools, and the district environment. He and
the other researchers relied extensively on survey data, with
standardized surveys issued both to local education operators and
national groups, like Teach for America, KIPP schools, and The New
It's a methodology that, he acknowledges, is somewhat subjective,
but that seems to give a clear indication of some areas where cities
and districts are both welcoming to reform and come up severely