The New 'One Best System?': Urban Governance and Educational Practice in the Portfolio Management Model

Principal Investigator: Katrina Bulkley | | Montclair State University

Principal Investigator(s):

Julie Marsh | Rossier School of Education | University of Southern California
Douglas Harris | Department of Economics | Tulane University
Katharine Strunk | Rossier School of Education | Michigan State University


Dramatic recent changes in many US districts, consistent with the idea of a Portfolio Management Model (PMM), shift from direct district management of schools towards 'portfolio managers' including central offices and charter authorizers. Portfolio managers oversee schools operating under varied governance structures, including charter and autonomous schools. Limited research examines this potentially fundamental change in public education governance and the effects of system change on educational practice, an issue of considerable importance. This study will examine ties between PMM infrastructure and practices of system-level actors, educational management organizations, schools, and intermediate outcomes linked with student learning. The research focuses on five central mechanisms in the PMM theory of change – autonomy, accountability, school choice, human capital, and capacity-building. The PMM theory of action relies heavily on ideas connected to principal-agent theory, altering governance structures to better align goals between 'principals' (organizational leaders) and 'agents' (those who answer to principals). Institutional theories supplement principal-agent theory by highlighting the cultural and political forces that shape educational change. Our mixed-methods study will utilize these theoretical frameworks to examine three educational systems – Los Angeles, New Orleans, and Denver – from the system to the school levels, using interviews, surveys, case studies, and administrative data.,

Grant Type:

Lyle Spencer Research Awards

Grant Amount:




Topic / Subject:

Organizational Theory/Organization Learning, Administration/Leadership, Policy

Methods / Approach:

Case Studies, Survey/Questionnaire, Interviews

Disciplinary Perspective:

Political Science, Sociology, Economics, Education