The Center for Public School Renewal
The Value of School Based Reform
This pamphlet outlines a proposal for deregulation of teaching, where states hold schools accountable for results (no mean feat, there) and school principals shoulder accountability for school results through appropriate management of their personnel. Aside from the fact that principals have neither the time nor the training to properly supervise their personnel, this proposal has some merit in that it locates control of the educational process at the school level where it belongs. These ideas would coordinate fairly well with the ideas proposed by Schug and Western, below. Without genuine involvement of teachers in decision-making about their school, this proposal is unlikely to work as its proponents hope.
This report profiles Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a private K-8 school, which offers an apprentice program to aspiring teachers. The 74 year old Teacher Training Course charges apprentices $6500 for the opportunity to work side by side with Shady Hill's experienced teachers. According to Archer, the school's training program served as an early inspiration for the professional-development-school movement, where schools and colleges form partnerships that provide in-depth exposure to real classroom experiences. Apprentices must have an undergraduate degree with a major outside of education. They are paired with two different "directing teachers" during the year and learn how to introduce a lesson, pacing, use of repetition, preparation of units of instruction, and so on. In addition to the classroom work, apprentices attend seminars and are assigned readings and research projects. Some apprentices also take courses at local universities which allows them to earn a Master's degree along with a state teaching license. Staffers at Shady Hill report that continually working with apprentices rejuvenates their own teaching and causes them to reflect on its effectiveness.
Shady Hill provides an example of how an individual school can effectively accomplish two things most commonly reserved to colleges and universities: (1) training teacher candidates to take on the responsibilities of a classroom, and (2) providing graduates of its program with state certification. While Shady Hill typically prepares teachers to teach in other schools, it takes only a short leap of the imagination to see that other schools or consortiums of schools might develop training and certification programs for their own new teachers. Such programs would empower schools to shape and develop their own staffs to the needs of their program and community rather than relying on a "stamp of approval" from a distant institution with no effective accountability for the quality of its graduates.
This Commentary proposes increasing the professionalism of teachers through participatory school-based inquiry projects. The description of what teachers in "small, learner-centered schools that are springing up in cities across the country" are doing sounds very much like the "lesson study" described in The Teaching Gap (see Stigler and Hiebert). Barnes' description seems to be largely about young teachers in small urban alternative schools, where one would expect the school culture to be sufficiently unformed to allow such "experimentation." Also, one wonders how long such an effort can be sustained as changes (both personal and professional) occur in the staff. But clearly, the author places the work of school reform in the hands of the right set of workers. She says, "For schools to flourish, it is teachers, not outside 'experts' who must ask and answer the most complex, important questions about what is happening in their classrooms." Hopefully, it won't take another century for such a view to become common rather than extraordinary.
The Minnesota New Country School (MNCS) in Henderson Minnesota is profiled. From the description, this charter school and others run the the EdVisions Cooperative come about as close to real live examples of teacher-led schools as one could expect to find.
Edvisions is a cooperative of educators and others formed under Minnesota's charter school law, with some similarities to the state's owner-operator farm cooperatives. Cooperatives cannot form charter schools but can contract with charter organizers to run a school. At this writing, eight schools are under contract to the co-op. According to a lead teacher at one school, "This model allows people to be leaders in areas in which they excel.... You have control in the hands of the people who need it to deliver education to students who need it. ... Here, we decide if we want to hire another art teacher or buy another computer."
The co-op schools are not without problems: the workload distribution is uneven, some teachers have been fired, and the teacher evaluation process has come under criticism. The designers of the co-op agree that the system is not for all teachers, but believe it is a viable option.
Another caution we would add is that, judging from remarks heard at conferences, the EdVisions folks support a decidedly student-centered (some might call it "progressive") approach to the education offered at MNCS. While this seems to be a good choice for them, at CPSR we feel that any educational style is appropriate, so long as it's selected by the school's teachers.
The article concludes with some critiques of teacher ownership by representatives of several mainstream organizations that seek to professionalize teaching in other ways (including the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers). At CPSR, we endorse teachers' freedom to teach, and believe that freedom must be guaranteed (in some fashion) by a change in school governance away from the traditional top-down management system. If it takes teacher ownership to accomplish that, then so be it.
This Commentary proposes that professional development schools (collaborations between K-12 schools and colleges for teacher training) "have the potential to alter the school culture that has prevented past reforms from taking hold." The school culture the authors feel has been so resistant to change is one of "isolation and egalitarianism" among teachers. This culture provides "few external incentives or rewards for acquiring knowledge, sharpening skills, or improving performance." This essay bears a certain similarity to the one by Barnes (qv.), though focusing more on improving teachers' extrinsic motivation than the intrinsic motivation Barnes believes is important. The value of professional development "schools" probably has to do with how truly teacher-directed they are. The collaborative described by the authors (which they founded) sounds like it might be very teacher-directed. In contrast, a PDS program launched by a university may just be old wine in new bottles--another way for the university to maintain its control over the teacher certification pipeline, while providing an appearance of greater professionalism among teachers. Why not take the alternative certification approach suggested by Schug and Western (qv.)? That would put the development of professionalism among teachers squarely in the hands of those who could make the most use of it--working K-12 teachers.
A short, heartfelt commentary by a Boston teacher. "What makes a good school ... is a feeling ... shared by the entire staff that their particular school is special. ...[W]hen a school community feels it's really in control of its destiny, teachers, parents, and administrators are more inclined to do the hundreds of little things it takes to make their school work. ...This feeling of ownership ... forms ... only when a particular school community is given the freedom and authority to try what its members believe is best for their students." One can only add, once hooked on this feeling, most teachers will likely never be really happy with any other teaching situation.
This working paper (of research soon to be released in a book) may be the most important recent research on decentralization of school systems and its impact on school achievement. The study looks at nine large city school systems, divides them into three organizational categories (of three districts each), and then does some comparative analysis of those categories. New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles public school districts comprise the most centralized category of districts (called U-Form). The same three cities have large parochial districts which fall into the most decentralized category (called H-Form). Three other cities (Houston, Seattle, and Edmonton, Canada) form the intermediate "balanced" category (called M-Form).
The study approaches the question of school effectiveness by looking at districts from the perspective of management and organization scholarship. It seeks to determine if, as organization research in other areas shows, the M-Form type of education organization outperforms the more centralized U-Form.
The authors found that differences associated with the three categories do seem to be present. They found that decentralized systems put more resources into the classroom, are better able to monitor performance, and showed better results on standardized tests. In addition decentralized systems had fewer instances of corruption, in spite of maintaining smaller compliance staffs.
A key factor in decentralization was the re-location of spending authority from the central administration to the school, through the M-Form districts' adoption of a "weighted student formula" budgeting system (originally developed in Edmonton). As described for one district,
"Each student is free to choose any public school in Seattle, and the money follows the child. In addition, each school receives a flat base allocation so that small schools can meet their costs. Principals are free to decide how to apportion these funds between credentialed teachers, paraprofessionals, clerical staff, materials, utilities, building maintenance and so on. The result is that principals in these districts consult with their teachers on budget priorities, make local decisions about how to staff the school, and also decide at each school how much to spend on new painting, carpets, and computers."
According the Edmonton teachers union president,
"As far as I am concerned, decentralization is a wonderful thing, because it gave teachers the opportunity to be empowered and to have a role in making decisions about their schools .... It used to be that someone else somewhere at Central, would decide what books I should be using and send them to me. It would be a surprise to me when the books arrived! Under decentralization, they send the money to the school, and now the teachers have decisions to make for themselves."
These descriptions seem to approach what CPSR envisions as teacher-led schools. Our only concern would be over the relation that exists between the principal and the teachers. In a school with a collegial principal, things should work well with regard to decision-making. However, as we learned from Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny, not all leaders can or should be followed. Hopefully, decentralized districts can develop effective ways of dealing with a school in the hands of a crazy skipper.
The author takes on school improvement planning, saying that it, "currently accounts for a large share of school failure." He quotes Michael Fullen's view that improvement planning becomes "a source of confusion and burden to teachers," and believes that what does improve instruction and achievement is "a team of teachers meeting regularlyand continuouslyto design, test, and then adjust their lessons and strategies in light of their results." Schmoker says, "In the end, these plans are more political than practical ... [representing] ... a school of district's futile bureaucratic attempt to demonstrate' that they are doing everything possible to improve achievement." He believes that "It is still the rare school that recognizes that teachers, working together, have the capacityright nowto improve instruction. We need to give them this opportunity." He concludes that such an approach is within reach, if only districts, departments of education, universities, and accreditation agencies could lead the way. While Schmoker is absolutely correct that teachers need to be at the center of school improvement efforts, his wish that major elements of the education establishment make that happen seems like asking the fox to guard the hen house.
The authors cite the findings of a national study (Opportunities to Learn in America's Elementary Classrooms by Robert C. Pianta) as revealing "... the most vital if overlooked fact about our schools: Most teaching is mediocre' or worse." Paraphrasing the authors, they say the Pianta study finds that the typical child has a 1 in 14 chance of learning in a rich and supportive environment and that three out of four classrooms are dull, bleak places devoid of any emphasis on critical reasoning or problem-solving skills. The authors conclude that "... the key to better schools is not commissions or new commercial curriculum materials, or even professional development. Each of these lacks the most basic, critical ingredient: a willingness to establish clear expectations for instruction, to arrange for teachers to work in teams so they can meet and exceed those expectations, and to institute simple routines for honestly and continuously monitoring teaching to ensure its effectiveness," They feel the Pianta study "... is a gift an opportunity, a window to the soul and center of schooling, and a view of what might be the best ways to improve it." In our view, Schmoker and Allington have about the same view of what is needed to bring about school improvement as Stigler and Heibert, authors of the Learning Gap and proponents of Asian-style "lesson study," (see below). The problem is creating the "elbow room" that schools need so that teachers can be allowed to fix their own teaching. We think a change in the traditional American system of school governance is needed. Otherwise, the worthless "decades of reform" the authors decry will keep on rolling along.
This report examines current teacher licensure in Wisconsin, finds it flawed and ineffective (the authors terms: costly, outmoded, and unreliable), and recommends an alternative certification system that would essentially create a teacher-apprentice program--in every district, and perhaps in every school. The authors claim that an apprentice-like system will provide practical and effective instruction for new teachers working in the schools that need them. They point out, for example, that the current licensing system provides schools with teachers who have been approved by persons who have no responsibility for those teachers' subsequent performance. In contrast, the authors' proposal will give "principals and teachers ... a strong say in the hiring of people for ... their respective schools." Their site-based training proposal also means that teachers and administrators in a given school would assume paid responsibility for new-hires' training.
This Commentary proposes that urban districts reconstitute their lowest-performing schools into professional development sites (partnered with universities), where the best teachers in the district are recruited (with appropriate incentives) to teach and mentor all new teachers in the district (who are required to spend their first year in one of these professional development schools). The authors recommend other reforms designed to facilitate the foregoing changes. Here again is a proposal that gives local control of teaching training and employment to the professionals already working in a K-12 school system rather than reserving it to distant and unaccountable institutions.
This report summarizes the research findings on how school-based management (SBM) can be implemented
The authors identify 10 characteristics of Actively Restructuring Schools, list four dimensions to the change process, and offer a number of recommendations for implementing SBM. Overall, this paper seems to be a useful general guide to those who wish to work toward developing teacher-led schools.