Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Can Schools Say What Their Strategies Are?

While I am not sure I, philosophically, agree with everything I am about to write, I find the potential of the idea exciting. Moreover, my conception of the idea presented is a direct product of reading and digesting the “Can You Say What Your Strategy Is?” article.

My idea is a policy proposal prompted by the question: why don’t public school systems have strategy statements? It seems to me that, surveying their boundaries (geographic, demographic, business environment, cultural environment), local public school systems might articulate strategy statements that capitalize on the features of the districts they represent.

But I’d like to go one further: public school systems should articulate strategies mandating the schools within their borders adopt the very same feature—strategy statements. The goal, functionally, would be to get schools focusing on how they might work to achieve certain goals by focusing on one competitive (and comparative) advantages. For example, “Public School X aims to increase the number of graduates who have selected specific post-secondary opportunities to 100% by 2018 by incorporating businesses and organizations from the regional economy into the curriculum and daily classroom activity as much as possible, engaging with and capitalizing on the contributions of parents active in the local economy." 

Surely that could be phrased better, but I hope my meaning can at least be gleaned from it.

Having each school articulate a statement like this, and then establish benchmarks based on this statement—to be overseen by the public school system’s central offices—would encourage schools to focus on developing a specific competitive advantage, with the potential for a number of positive externalities with regards to other metrics of school success (parent involvement, classroom engagement). 

Moreover, this model allows for competition, collaboration, and holistic improvement for the school system. More would have to be hashed out to retrofit the plan district-by-district, but allowing students and their families to select schools based on the goals, metrics, and strategy statements, rather than assignment to school based strictly on home address, could be a good way to stoke competition (allowing for a probationary period during which schools are given room to begin implementing strategies based on their statements, after which students can enroll freely). This would enable schools to compete for students based on their areas of competitive advantage, ideally producing better results.

As for the tradeoffs inherent in focusing singularly on areas in which an organization is particularly strong—I see this as a component of strategy development allowing for rich collaboration between schools, to the benefit of students. For example, in focusing on the competitive advantage of, say, having incredibly engaged teachers who double as mentors to students (outside the classroom) might leave a school lacking the resources for a robust sports program. Fortunately, another school nearby, focusing on developing leadership among students, has a particularly robust sports program. Those interested in sports at the former school have an opportunity to use the facilities of the latter—and even participate in the sports program. Managing the district well, I believe tradeoffs, conceptually, could be used to bolster the competitive advantages of individual schools, while maintaining access to all activities and classes students might be interested in.

Setting up a robust system based on parameters of strategic statements, as defined in the reading we had, could allow, I believe, for the creation of positive sum competition between schools in a district, with the fruits of achievement trickling to all of the students. After all, when schools compete, and focus on honing individual advantages, the strategies utilized can be passed on to the district at large. 

Maybe if all schools are able to articulate their strategic statements, their strategies will work for students.

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