Across the United States, school districts have a new option for their schools—“autonomous district schools”—that gives schools the freedoms of charter schools and districts a way to grow high-quality, innovative schools and diversify public school options at scale.
Like charter schools, autonomous district schools are freed from innovation-inhibiting state and district policies, allowing talented educators to make academic and operational changes that better serve students. But rather than operating under a charter that is completely independent from the district, these autonomous schools remain part of the district, which holds them accountable for their performance. They typically must follow district enrollment policies; their performance is included in ratings of the home district’s performance; and they can use district resources (such as transportation and maintenance) that charter schools often cannot. Limited early data suggests that student outcomes in autonomous district schools improve over time more than in other district schools.
In Autonomous District Schools: A New Path to Growing High-Quality, Innovative Public Schools, a Public Impact team led by Juli Kim describes different approaches for implementing autonomous district schools. Districts must carefully design and implement plans for how autonomous district schools will be governed, and how they will support and protect schools’ autonomies. This thorough report reviews governance arrangements and critical design and implementation elements and considerations.
Notable examples include: Springfield (MA) Empowerment Zone Partnership; Innovation Schools, Indianapolis; Renaissance Schools, Camden, NJ; Luminary Learning Network Innovation Zone, Denver; Partnership for Los Angeles Schools; AUSL, Chicago; Innovation Schools, Denver; Fulton County (GA) Charter System schools; and Pilot Schools, Los Angeles.
Ultimately, autonomous district schools can help districts develop a portfolio of schools that includes an increased number of diverse school options and fewer underperforming schools.