Changing Public Education

Photo of Montclair State student working with middle school student.

Katrina Bulkley, professor of Educational Leadership at Montclair State, has received a $1 million grant from the Spencer Foundation to study the effectiveness of the portfolio management approach being used in some urban schools in Los Angeles, New Orleans and Denver.

Bulkley's project, titled "The New 'One Best System': Urban Governance and Educational Practice in the Portfolio Management Model," is funded under Spencer's new Lyle Spencer Awards program. "This is the largest grant program ever put forth by Spencer, which is one of the most important foundation funders of educational research," says Bulkley.

"The changes occurring in cities that are adopting a portfolio management model are dramatic."
–Katrina Bulkley

Today, as she sees it, many schools are moving away from traditional governance by districts overseen by elected school boards and toward a portfolio management model, in which managers oversee autonomous, privately managed and charter schools that operate under varied types of governance.

"The changes occurring in cities that are adopting a portfolio management model are dramatic and impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, yet there is very little research showing whether, and under what conditions, these changes lead to improvements that benefit those children," says Bulkley.

Along with researchers from Tulane University and the University of Southern California, Bulkley is a principal investigator on the 32-month project, which is also supported by Montclair State's Center for Research and Evaluation on Education and Human Services. Project research will begin in January with a focus on schools in three cities that have adopted a portfolio management approach to publicly funded school governance.

Bulkley expects to survey more than 4,000 teachers and 1,400 principals across the three cities, as well as collect quantitative administrative data from each district about schools, teachers and students. She also will conduct interviews to provide researchers with qualitative data that Bulkley believes could help shape the future of public education. "Our hope is that our research can help policy makers and educational practitioners make better-informed decisions about how to operate urban school systems to best serve the interests of the children, families and communities."