Action Area 10: Reform Educational Organization & Leadership

Until recently, educational governance and management structures have been primarily bureaucratic in their mode of operation, based on centralized and top-down control, from systems to districts to schools to departments to teachers to students. More recent organizational theories and practices, however, suggest that more effective organizations afford greater degrees of self-management and lateral collaborations, tempering and reforming the vertical chains of command that characterized bureaucratic school management.362 The general trend has been towards devolved responsibility, allowing schools greater scope for self-management, communities which schools serve broader opportunities to become involved in school governance; and the empowerment of teachers to take professional responsibility for the learning that goes on in their classes.

These changes in the organization of schools in recent decades have at times been varied and extensive, from systems-mandated standards which allow teachers to use their professional judgment to determine the particular approach that would be best for their students to meet the requirements of those standards, to the spread of charter schools which allow a great deal of self-management at the school level. However, these changes have often produced disappointing results, when, for instance standards are implemented with textbook dominated learning and teaching to the test, or when charter schools work in ways that are themselves bureaucratic and produce results no better than the schools they displaced.

Here are some principles for the new school governance:

Action Items

Action Item 10.1: Create the Conditions for Innovation, Diversity and Holistic Accountability

Whether it be public, private or charter schools, we need to create conditions which a) cede progressively more managerial responsibility down through the system; b) require greater transparency to all stakeholders; c) have in place more rigorous and more holistic reporting and accountability requirements—not just narrow test results. The New Educational Leader Program would attempt to reconceive the organizational structure of schools and develop leaders for the transformed, and transformative, schools of the future. The program would, amongst its possible initiatives, sponsor a virtual network of leadership academies to lift expertise of educational leaders and align their efforts with learner performance goals; and rethink and expand the Federal Department of Education’s ‘What Works’ portal to include leadership strategies.

Action Item 10.2: Support Innovations which Blur Conventional Spatial and Time Boundaries of Education

The Blurring the Educational Boundaries Initiative would support and evaluate innovations, for instance schools that open their doors for longer hours or provide e-learning programs which extend beyond their usual geographic or demographic reach. These innovations would be supported by broader and more rigorous reporting of evidence of success or failure.

Action Item 10.3: Develop Whole of Community Approaches to Student Welfare

Develop Full Service Schools which engage a federation of providers and carers— education, health, police, community and families—in a student focused approach which identifies risk and resilience factors in the conditions of student learning.

Supporting Evidence

Supporting Evidence 10.1: Investing in Charter Schools, But Investing Well

President Obama has spoken quite favorably of charter schools, not so much as competitors for public schools, or even as necessarily superior to public schools, but as potentially valuable alternative options for families. He is expanding funding for charter schools, and supports more proactive efforts to shut down bad ones. Here is the main evidence on the record of charter schools:

Innovation: Charters are intentionally positioned to generate innovations for the public school sector.363 There are many examples of innovative schools, particularly in terms of administrative practices (marketing, employment, contracting, etc.).364 Charter schooling itself is recognized as an innovative reform strategy in terms of governance. But there is a consensus among researchers that, with few exceptions, charter school classrooms are generally no more innovative than are other public schools, and in fact may be more traditional.365 However, the new “CMOs” (or charter school management organizations) such as KIPP and Green Dot are widely viewed quite favorably as offering a workable alternative model to public schools for disadvantaged children.366

Access and Equity: Charter schools have been lauded for serving, on average, higher proportions of minority students.367 However, there has also been concern that they may be contributing to increased segregation in local communities, and that the minority students they serve to be more advantaged than comparison groups in the public schools.368 There is also concern about segregation by ability, and that charters serve a disproportionately low numbers of students with special needs.369 Some scholars have found that segregative patterns are often the result of self-segregation (such as white flight) by different ethnic groups,370 while other studies have tied marketing practices and location decisions used by charter schools to greater segregation.371

Effectiveness/achievement: The question that has received the most attention is whether charter schools, by virtue of their autonomy from local district bureaucracies, are more effective than district schools. A number of state evaluations have produced mixed findings on charter school performance, largely depending on the details of the state’s charter school policy.372 Large-scale studies of nationally representative samples of charter and public schools found charter schools to be performing at a level comparable to, or slightly lower, than public schools, once demographic differences are considered.373 Smaller-scale studies of achievement in some cities have found a small advantage for charter school students in some instances; these often focus on schools run by specific CMOs.374 However, there is still some concern about selection bias and attrition compromising the findings.

Different types of charter schools produce different results. Therefore, rather than promoting a generic idea of “charter schools”—as is the case with NCLB, for instance—policymakers should move beyond ideological commitment to charters, and focus on actual evidence to determine what aspects of charter schools “work,” and seek to replicate those factors.

— Christopher Lubienski

Supporting Evidence 10.2: Full Service Schools and School-Centered Community Revitalization

Student background factors have an enormous impact on academic outcomes. As much as 70-80% of the variance in student achievement is due to factors outside the formal schooling experience.375 In comparison to most industrialized countries, the U.S. has considerably higher rates of children in poverty and much greater wage inequality across the economy.376 Poor children in the U.S. enter school with enormous disadvantages in relation to their middle and upper class peers, including delayed language acquisition, vision and hearing problems, low birth weight, asthma, poor overall nutrition, and complications due to parental alcohol consumption or smoking during pregnancy.377 Moreover, American poverty tends to be longer lasting, more residentially concentrated, and more strongly associated with poor health outcomes due to the large number of citizens lacking health coverage. Policymakers have known for decades that academic outcomes are strongly influenced by factors outside the school, yet our systems for the delivery of educational and social services are still largely separate. Urban schools and public agencies confront chronic, interrelated problems, but the system treats them as acute. Poor urban families today often must deal with several separate public service providers, each with different intake procedures, terminology, and concepts of need.378 Numerous educational policy organizations have recognized the need to more directly address the out-of-school needs of students.379

A number of communities and public leaders across the country are attempting to improve both student achievement and overall well-being by providing more comprehensive networks of support in and around public schools. 56% of U.S. elementary schools have at least one after school program located at their facility, but a significant portion of these schools report that costs to parents hinders participation.380 There is also growing interest in community schools, sometimes called full-service schools, which attempt to provide a “one-stop shop” for family, health, and educational services.381 Approximately 1,700 schools now have school based health center that cater to local needs and aim to reduce students absences and under performance.382 Social entrepreneurs like Geoffrey Canada have gone a step further, creating support networks across multiple schools and neighborhoods in an attempt to break the cycle of generational poverty.383 At this point, however, most public educational and family support services remain fragmented, and the creation of comprehensive support in schools depends on local social entrepreneurs and non-profit organizations.

— Peter Weitzel

Supporting Evidence 10.3: Implementing Distributed Leadership Practices

The current era of accountability and school reform has placed significant demands on educators in schools and school systems. In particular, the principalship has been subjected to a sustained period of role expansion, with increasing time pressures and intensification of work responsibilities.384 Distributed leadership practices are emerging in response to this increasing role complexity, as a mechanism for administrators, teachers, and staff members to work collaboratively within their organization to reap collective benefits for improved student learning. Effective principals organize in such a way that leadership activities are interwoven into the fabric of school life. By empowering teachers and other personnel within the school organization, principals can be proficient in bringing together people, resources, and organizational structures to work toward a common cause.385

Distributed leadership practices challenge technical-rational perspectives of leadership that mandate a division of labor, with only those at the top of the organizational hierarchy bestowed with decision-making authority. Changes within divisions of labor, however, are creating workplace interdependencies that require new forms of coordination386, and the traditional top-down leadership model is being replaced by one that embraces collaborative and shared forms of leadership.387 By working in participatory and inclusive ways, principals can facilitate the development of human capital throughout the organization, building leadership density that can positively influence teachers’ behaviors and classroom practices.388

As school leaders strive to distribute leadership activities across their schools, they should be cognizant of some obstacles that can inhibit its implementation and acceptance. Some leaders may be reluctant to relinquish power and that may be placed in vulnerable positions when they lack direct control over certain organizational functions. Another issue to consider is that traditional departmental or grade-level structures can inhibit teachers’ abilities to work collaboratively. Additionally, leaders must address the twin challenges of how to distribute responsibilities and who is in control of distributing responsibility and authority.389 Authentic forms of distributed leadership require a redistribution of power, with a shared commitment to collaborative leadership activities.

Although this practice demonstrates substantial promise, as a relatively recent phenomenon, distributed leadership currently is not tightly defined, and the term is used in varied ways.390 There is relatively little empirical evidence to suggest a direct causal relationship between distributed leadership practices and increased school achievement391, but this theory is being employed as a framework for studies conducted in elementary-secondary systems both in the United States and in many international settings, including Australia, Canada, England, and Norway. Although the vast majority of the research has focused on leadership at the school level, some studies are beginning to examine distributed practices of school district leaders392 and across schools.393 Although sparse, this growing body of empirical research does present some encouraging evidence to indicate that distributed leadership practices can be effective in promoting increased student learning.

— Donald G. Hackmann

Supporting Evidence 10.4: School Accreditation

A recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education highlights the current debate in federal governance and policy for education.394 While the Department of Education recognizes accrediting agencies for purposes of financial aid allocation and distribution of federal monies, the federal government is not currently involved in accreditation itself. Rather, this role has been filled by a variety of private agencies.

While the role of the Federal government in direct school funding is relatively small, the symbolic and operational impact of Federal policy on education contributes to shaping the educational landscape for all educational sectors. As the Obama administration moves forward on policy initiatives in a dire economic environment, government is taking a more active role in regulating a variety of sectors. Education is one area where self-regulation is working and should be reinforced, not centralized.

The primary mechanism for ensuring quality and public accountability in education P-20 has been the regional accreditation process, formed through a public-private partnership outside of the federal government. The University of Illinois, for example, receives accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association. Primary and secondary schools in the Midwest region have, until recently received their accreditation through the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA CASI). The regional system has been built on voluntary participation, systematic improvement, evidence-based self evaluation, and peer review. The regional system has been both lauded and criticized and the Bush Administration policies on accreditation were decidedly in favor of centralization of accreditation.

We will address first primary and secondary school accreditation and then proceed to higher education. Our goal is, first, to address what we believe is the appropriate role between the U.S. Department of Education and the regional accrediting bodies, and, second, to suggest that masterful use of this unique relationship can be used to promote an aggressive agenda of access, excellence, and success for all of America’s youth – a system that can stimulate improvement and accommodate educational innovation.

Primary and secondary schools

One pattern worthy of note is the movement away from regional accrediting bodies toward a broader set of standards impacted by globalization. The NSA CASI recently merged with the southern regional commission to form a “unified” organization with stated goals of “[transforming] from regional accreditation to global systems of accreditation, continuous improvement, and research.”cccxcv

Higher Education

In higher education, regional accrediting agencies oversee institutional accreditation, while specialized agencies provide programmatic accreditation in technical and professional fields. Processes range from intensive periodic accreditation to ongoing, continuous processes reflective of business models.

Criticisms of the current accreditation process focus in two broad areas: political agendas and lack of accountability. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has raised concern that accreditation focuses too much attention on inputs, not outcomes.396 ACTA proposes greater involvement of trustees in accreditation, movement towards a market driven accreditation process in which membership is not regionally driven, but subject to competition, and decoupling financial aid eligibility from accreditation. While the principles underlying these recommendations merit discussion and debate, wholesale adoption would create disruption in a globally admired educational system.

— Tod Treat

Supporting Evidence 10.5: Defining the American University

The much discussed problems of “affordability” in higher education have many root causes, but one of the most basic, yet least obvious, is the lack of a consistent and acceptable policy definition of the university itself. Billions of dollars in public funding flow to both private and public institutions that call themselves universities (or colleges) with little transparency and few discernible measures of performance or quality to justify the investment.

In today’s society, with information conveyed at the speed of light, it is not surprising that there is much disagreement as to what a university actually is, or is supposed to be. In the United States today, distant learning, on-line, interactive television, non-resident and storefront facilities located along Michigan Avenue in Chicago to strip malls in Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida, bear the appellation of “university.” As early as 1930, Abraham Flexner recognized and commented on the problem, “The term ‘university’ is very loosely used in America.”397 And Flexner, not one to buy into non-tradition complained that “It must be a rare experience to listen to the pronunciation of a foreign language by a boy or a girl who has qualified for matriculation in the University of Chicago by correspondence.”398

Visitors to the United States from other advanced nations with different perceptions and codes defining the nature of universities are both amused and amazed at what passes for a “university” in the United States. The federal government in the United States by massive funding mechanisms such as vouchers, tax credits, tax deductions, and loans, incentivizes the creation and perpetuation of the plethora of private not-for-profit, religious, for-profit, and public institutions, most of which are called universities. The nature of federalism in the United States leaves basic accreditation control of universities to states, supplemented by a complex system of regional accreditation such as Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and nationwide professional accreditation by such organizations as the American Bar Association, American Medical Association, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, etc. Accreditations by state bodies have the reputation of being mired in politics and influence peddling by private non-profit and for-profit institutions.cccxcix Moreover, while universities are chartered at the state level, those holding regional accreditation are given exemptions from meeting requirements of each state in which they operate. The intense motivation for accreditation is stimulated by the necessity of some rudimentary stamp of accreditation approval in order to be an institutional recipient of federal or state taxpayer funds.

The basic problem lies in the historically nebulous nature of the role and perception of the university in society and what its actual legal structure happens to be. The range of notions of what a university is quite broad. John Henry Newman saw the university as a place for the acquisition of “a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind, a noble and courteous bearing in the conduct of life – these are the connatural qualities of a large knowledge.”400 According to Newman, the object of the university is to provide such enhancements to all who would partake. Lord Curzon, the reactionary Chancellor of the University of Oxford a century ago, averred that Oxford had only “a special duty to educate the leisured classes.”401 And, a bit in the same vein, Alison Richard, currently Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, and former Provost of Yale, in 2009 notoriously explained to her fellow Vice Chancellors in the United Kingdom that universities are not “engines for promoting social justice.”402 The definition of the university, its role and purpose in society is, today, largely in the eye of the beholder.

Thus, the lack of generally accepted definitions as to what the intents and purpose is of higher learning, and the defining of the social mission of the university, is an issue of no small moment. The Spellings Commission, 2008, evidenced an awareness of the problem, but fell short of any viable solution. As with the commercial banks of America, the non-regulation of higher education coupled with contradictory and ill-defined government policy toward funding has resulted in generally questionable quality of higher education that comes at a very high price for the consumer. Any measure of efficiency in the development of human capital and in the deployment of public resources requires a rethinking of the nature of the American university.

— Kern Alexander