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, received Ds.
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 Teacher Project.