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however, having a description does tell educators how to make their school successful. It is the leadership in the system that sets the tone and fosters the willingness to accept and take on improvement efforts.
Marzano describes a series of phases for leadership that promote effective change:
1. Take the pulse of staff to see how they feel and their knowledge and experiences about important issues.
2. Identify and implement an appropriate intervention to address the area of need.
3. Routinely examine the effect of the intervention, particularly in light of achievement gains.
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At first glance, many of Marzano’s statements seem to be school centric; however, in the text detailing each of his factors and influences, the backbone for implementation relies in systemic implementation and systemwide organizational structures.
National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools at SE DL | 800-476-6861 | www.sedl.org/connections/ Page 97 The School-Family Connection: Looking at the Larger Picture, A Review of Current Literature National Center for Education Accountability. (2002). Showcasing success, rewarding achievement. Austin, TX: National Center for Education Accountability. [One of a series of reports for National Center for Education Accountability, Austin, TX] Study Description: Mixed-method panel review of high-performing schools; publicly available statistical data on the largest school districts in urban centers; student demographic and performance data; onsite observation, interview
Findings about Processes and Focus of Systemic Work The panel investigated all of the large districts in the U.S. and then developed criteria and selected 108 districts to study more intensively. The report describes examples of best practice that promote
1. Districtwide communication of academic objectives and expectations In Houston Independent School District (Texas), the district provides a process for • teachers and grade-level leaders to collaborate regularly with district-level leadership.
In Garden Grove Unified School District (California), the district uses a variety of • strategies to ensure that teachers, family members, community members, and students know and understand the state standards and related academic objectives.
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4. Districtwide procedures for reward, interventions, and adjustable support based on student performance In Houston Independent School District (Texas), the district has created an automatic • data-monitoring tool that signals low performance by a classroom or grade level. As soon as the low-performance site is noted, a team—composed of district, subdistrict, and school leadership—is formed to respond to the situation.
In Atlanta Public Schools (Georgia), the district has created a staff evaluation procedure • for all staff—superintendent, executive directors, academic coaches, and teachers—to determine how well they contribute to the success of all students. The evaluations and accompanying compensation plans for district staff clearly and specifically state how they are held accountable for improving student achievement.
In Boston Public Schools (Massachusetts), the district has developed a process for • directing resources to low-performing students by creating a monitoring process for all intervention strategies.
National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools at SE DL | 800-476-6861 | www.sedl.org/connections/ Page 99 The School-Family Connection: Looking at the Larger Picture, A Review of Current Literature Shannon, G. S., & Bylsma, (2004). Characteristics of improved school districts: Themes from research. Olympia, WA: Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Retrieved on October 2, 2006, from http://www.k12.wa.us/research/pubdocs/ DistrictImprovementReport.pdf [published 2006 in Research Brief. Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement]. [One of a series for Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement, Learning Point Associates, Washington, DC] Study Description: Syntheses of research reports; 80 research studies
Findings about Processes and Focus of Systemic Work The authors describe 13 themes that are common to districts that adopt a systemic approach. They group the themes into four categories. While the third category overtly frames the words “system wide,” each of the categories is reflective of processes that reach across all levels of the educational
community as described below:
National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools at SE DL | 800-476-6861 | www.sedl.org/connections/ Page 100 The School-Family Connection: Looking at the Larger Picture, A Review of Current Literature Togneri, W. & Anderson, S. E. ( 2003). Beyond islands of excellence: What districts can do to improve instruction and achievement in all schools—a leadership brief.
Washington, DC: Learning First Alliance. [One of a series of reports for Learning First Alliance, Washington, DC] Study description: Mixed-method studies with qualitative data, intra district/school data comparisons; case study of 5 high-poverty districts making steady achievement gains for all students;
individual interviews, 15 school visits, 60 focus groups
Findings about Processes and Focus of Systemic Work
The report identified seven factors as essential to systemwide improvement efforts:
1. Districts had the courage to acknowledge poor performance and demonstrate the will to seek solutions. They had “key leaders who were willing to accept ownership of difficult challenges and seek solutions without placing blame. The leaders varied by district—school board members, superintendents, community leaders” (p. 10). These leaders were able to aggregate staff resources, commitments, and actions around improving instruction across grade levels, from campus to campus, and at the district level.
2. Districts implemented a systemwide approach to improving instruction that incorporates specific strategies to articulate curriculum and instructional supports. As in other studies, while a systemic approach has to adopt well-defined structures that apply to every level and every staff member, there also has to be a process for flexibility in order to address unique contextual factors for a single campus or student group. Successful leaders are able to find the balance between structure and flexibility.
3. Districts instilled visions that focused on instruction and guided instructional improvement to promote student learning. While a district having a vision is not unusual, in these districts, it was the manner in which districts used their visions to guide their decisions and frame their efforts that made their visions different from the typical school.
4. Districts made decisions based on data, not instinct. At each step in the process, data was used to ground all decisions.
5. Districts adopted new approaches to professional development that involved a coherent and district-organized set of strategies to improve instruction. Districts had to adopt and allow schools to adopt innovative approaches to professional development that aligned closely to the district’s vision for instruction. Strategies included creating principles for professional development that guided decisions about training, fostering networks of National Center for Family and Community Connections with Schools at SE DL | 800-476-6861 | www.sedl.org/connections/ Page 101 The School-Family Connection: Looking at the Larger Picture, A Review of Current Literature instructional experts, supporting systems for new teachers, allocating financial resources strategically, and encouraging and assisting staff in using data.
6. Districts redefined leadership roles. One key difference in their refined definition of leadership roles was the importance for leaders to establish sound relationships with a variety of stakeholder groups. They also redefined the structure of working across levels;
they established collaborations to focus on instructional needs, rather than create power structures.
7. Districts committed to sustaining reform over the long haul. This type of change was not easy for any of the districts. However, three significant challenges had to be addressed in order for the work to be sustained: “Old system structures do not easily support new approaches to professional development. High schools struggle to improve achievement.
Finding funding to support new approaches to instructional improvement remains difficult.” The authors included the following 10 lessons for all districts seeking to implement a systemwide
Districts can make a difference.
• Let the truth be heard.
• Focus on instruction to improve student achievement.
The authors also provided the following recommendations to guide others:
1. Mobilize political will to improve instruction across the district; engage everyone for the long haul.
2. Implement a systemwide approach to improving instruction that specifies the outcomes to be expected, the content to be taught, the data to inform the work, and the supports to be provided.
3. Make professional development relevant and useful.
4. Redefine schools and district leadership roles.
5. Explore ways to restructure the traditional school day and year.
6. Attend to funding.
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