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The Center For Public School Renewal

Fenton, Michigan
Contact us at: [email protected]
Last revised 9/25/2015

Free public K-12 education is an essential part of the social, political, and economic life of the American people. Public education will work best when all the following are true:

  • citizens are free to know how public schools operate — their successes and failures;
  • parents are free to send their children to any publicly funded school;
  • teachers are free to teach without unnecessary constraints on their professional judgment[See CPSR Philosophy for a more complete explanation of these three interlocking freedoms.]

The drive for standards and accountability is moving us in the direction of the first freedom. The development of various forms of public school choice are moving us toward the second. The third freedom — for teachers to teach — is the least well understood and supported.

The primary goal of this website is to provide support for the belief that teachers’ freedom to exercise independent professional judgment is at the heart of school improvement.

Teaching cannot be made “teacher-proof,” nor can good teaching be commanded from outside the classroom. Teachers must be empowered to fix their own teaching, to become free to teach. See Teacher-led Schools.

The items and links below indicate our recommendations for the
best thinking on teacher leadership and empowerment

* * * * *

Ideas That Promote Teacher Leadership

§§§ 2015 §§§

The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? (Houghton Mifflin, 2015), by writer Dale Russakoff, is the latest effort identifying top-down management of school reform as the reason a reform failed. Her book details the sad fate of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Zukerberg’s $100 million gift to reform the Newark school system. According to one reviewer [CPSR has not reviewed it yet] The Prize recounts how Zukerberg’s generous gift “… all fell apart, derailed and compromised by arrogant reformers, ambitious politicians and short-sighted special interests.” The CPSR notes this is an oft-told tale, reaching back decades in the modern history of American education. It’s gratifying to hear of such a splendidly-done case study about the folly of authoritarian control of schools.

Teacher Powered Schools is a new joint venture between Barnett Berry’s Center for Teaching Quality and Ted Kolderie’s Education Evolving organization. One hopes some worthwhile school-based reform ideas and,especially, actions that lead to increasing the numbers of teacher-led schools spring from the conjunction of these two teacher-leadership oriented groups.

§§§ 2014 §§§

The founder of the Center for Reinventing Public Education, Paul Hill (long an advocate for decentralizing school systems) along with Ashley Jochim, have coauthored A Democratic Constitution for Public Education (University of Chicago Press, 2014). The book argues for the development of systems of autonomous schools. At CPSR we believe that autonomous schools are key to the growth of teacher leadership, and such schools risk failing if teacher leadership does not develop in them.

§§§ 2013 §§§

The title of Farris-Berg’s and Dirkswager’s book, Trusting Teachers With School Success, (2013), captures the essence of the problems in developing teacher-led schools. Teachers aren’t trusted, and so, they can’t lead schools to success. Eleven small more-or-less teacher-led schools are profiled here, in ways that show the advantages and difficulties with the operation of such schools. For a peek into the nuts and bolts of how such schools work, this is the book to read.

§§§ 2009 §§§

September 2009: Prof. William Ouchi’s new book, The Secret of TSL (Simon & Schuster), provides additional research-based information about the importance of decentralizing school districts as a means to improve student achievement. Some educators may oversimplify Ouchi’s message by equating lowered total student loads with lower class sizes. However, as the professor points out in a recent Education Week article (Viadero, 9/30/09), decentralization is the key reform. It provides individual schools with autonomy and empowers the school principal (and, we at CPSR believe, the teachers) to do what needs to be done to improve achievement. Oddly, Chester Finn, heretofore a strong supporter of autonomous schools, dashes a little cold water on the idea of decentralization in the same EdWeek article. We ask a question similar to Ouchi’s, “Has decentralization really been tried yet in the U.S.?” We hope to review Prof. Ouchi’s new book soon.

Spring 2009 saw the publication of another worthwhile project by Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation (www.reason.org). Weighted Student Formula Yearbook 2009 contains considerable information on the efforts of 15 districts (12 from the Council of Great City Schools) to emulate, in one form or another, the pioneering work of the Edmonton (Alberta, Canada) school district. We will have a more detailed analysis of Ms. Snell’s latest soon.

§§§ 2006/07 §§§

The theme of the September, 2007 issue of Educational Leadership (the principal publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is “Teachers As Leaders.” The magazine contains more than a dozen articles on this worthy topic. Our favorite — the lead aticle on “Overcoming the Obstacles to Leadership” by Johnson and Donaldson.

A Phoenix rising from the ashes of Teacher Magazine?

On 5/9/2007 Education Week announced the termination of its sister journal Teacher Magazine. Editorial Projects in Education (EPIE) said it would continue to support teachers sharing ideas through a new website that debuts in the fall of 2007. “The site … will help connect teachers from across the country in a new professional network devoted to collaboration among teacher-leaders.”

On 5/2/07 Education Week carried the article “Giving Teachers A Voice” recounting some teacher empowerment activities in North Carolina in recent years. For example, The Center for Teaching Quality is documenting best practices where principals and teachers work together on reforms.

Recent Empowerment Stirrings

Fordham, Again

April, 2007 brought yet another report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the general theme of school district decentralization, this one entitled The Autonomy Gap: Barriers to Effective School Leadership. See our review by clicking here. [Click here for PDF version ] See below (“Two worthy additions”) for our take on an earlier Fordham publication.

Desert Flowers?

Fall, 2006 brought news of empowered schools being created in Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas and environs). See “The Freedom to Teach” by Emily Richmond, Las Vegas Sun, 9/10/06.

Then, came a report in early 2007 that Jim Gibbons, the new Republican Governor of Nevada, included support for a pilot program for 100 empowered schools in his first State of the State address (Education Week, “State of the States,” 1/31/07).

Meanwhile …. Back East

More recently, we found a report on eastern locales interested in the same general concept (in the 3/21/07 edition of Education Week: “Easing Rules Over Schools Gains Favor” by Catherine Gewertz).

But, Beware

In view of the foregoing, it may be time to issue an Overenthusiasm Alert! Many a decent reform idea has been ruined by incautious expansion. Such a radical change in school governance relationships as is demanded by empowerment is surely ripe for mishandling.

In addition to the above …

Two worthy additions (click here) to our recommended readings appeared in the first half of 2006.

“The Agony of American Education: How per-student funding can revolutionize schools,” by Lisa Snell in Reason Magazine (April, 2006)

Fund The Child: Tackling Inequity and Antiquity in School Finance, from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute (June, 2006)

§§§ Pre – 2006 §§§

Before All That We Found …

The two best books on school reform (so far)

Other Recommended Readings

Other Organizations

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Center for Public School Renewal