Bellwether Education Partners’ Eight Cities: Exploring Urban America’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts

By and / 12.10.2018

As a strong proponent of 21st century school systems, Reinventing America’s Schools would like to highlight Bellwether Education Partners’ Eight Cities, a project that attempts to answer the question: “How do you build a continuously improving system of schools?”

The Eight Cities website,, profiles urban districts that have managed to get “more students into better schools, faster,” by implementing some combination of school-level autonomy, partnerships with charter schools, replacement of chronically failing schools, systemwide school performance frameworks, public-school choice, and strategies to recruit and develop talented teachers and principals.

Local context matters, and each of the eight cities profiled (Oakland, Chicago, Newark, Camden, New York City, Denver, Washington, D.C., and New Orleans) followed a unique path. And sadly, politics occasionally stopped progress in its tracks. But these cities not only grew the number of high performing schools at a faster pace than other areas, they also created education systems that continuously improved.

Their leaders shared some central beliefs, according to Bellwether:

  • Schools are the unit of change
  • Families should be able to choose what’s best for their children among a diverse array of high-performing schools
  • Systems should be responsive to the needs and desire of the communities they serve
  • Those overseeing schools should ensure that they don’t fall below a minimum quality bar

The big takeaway from Bellwether’s project is that systemic change that benefits all students is possible, even in the largest and most politically charged environments. We encourage you to explore Eight Cities and learn more about the nation’s most successful urban education reforms.