The Rise of Networks: How Decentralized Management Is Improving Schools

NYnetworks-report-coverMaureen Kelleher at the Center For American Progress has written an interesting piece describing how several urban school districts have experimented with different school networks. The preliminary findings suggest that other urban school districts should be willing to let their schools create networks of common interests to help those schools that need it most.

School districts across the country are shifting away from their traditional management paradigm-a central office that directs its schools through uniform mandates and policies-toward a new vision where district leaders support autonomous schools while holding them accountable for student performance. School-district leaders recognize that greater school autonomy requires rethinking their models of management and support. During a pilot program in New York City, an initial cohort of 26 schools organized itself into four networks of schools that worked together to solve common problems. Today, New York City’s public schools are affiliated in networks based on a common interest: a similar type of school; a common instructional approach; or a similar target population.

This report describes the current state of school networks in New York City and outlines the successes and challenges the city has faced in implementing school networks. It also explores how networks have been implemented in other cities-Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; and Denver, Colorado-to show how the school-network concept has been adapted to a variety of local contexts.

Here are some key preliminary findings:

  • Networks can deliver district supports more effectively than traditional central-office departments. Organizing district support by cross-functional teams responsive to a small group of schools builds greater trust between school leaders and their district and helps district-level staff better understand the needs of the schools they serve. Network teams can serve as a single point of contact between principals and district leaders, which gives principals more time to focus on teachers and instruction.
  • Networks can open the door to collaborative problem solving among groups of schools, leading to improved student outcomes. New York City educational leaders report that a handful of high-performing school networks used cross-school collaboration to make significant strides in school improvement during the 2011-12 school year. However, New York City’s networks have had varying degrees of success fostering such collaboration across their schools. In Chicago, an externally managed, voluntary network of high schools has improved graduation and college entrance rates for students. Other cities have made less effort to use school networks as a tool for cross-school collaboration.
  • Outsourcing can enhance networks, but locale is key. In cities such as New York, where robust educational nonprofit sectors exist, external partners can lead networks of schools in instructional improvement. However, New York City’s experience with outside networks indicates that external partners still need district liaisons to solve problems with operations. In cities with a weaker base of educational nonprofits, district staff must continue to lead both operational troubleshooting and instructional improvement.

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Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative

teacher poweredEducation Evolving launched the Teacher-Powered Schools Initiative at the Education Writers Association’s 67th National Seminar’s “Teachers Take Charge” panel discussion.

The launch is especially timely given the release of Education Evolving’s new national survey data that that reveal overwhelming public support and teacher interest in a professional partnership model of teacher leadership, or “teacher-powered schools.”

This new initiative is laser-focused on improving student learning and making teaching a better job for teachers. Teacher-powered schools aim to transform K-12 education in the U.S. – not from the top-down, but from the ground up – by cultivating a collaborative school governance structure where teachers, principals, parents and community leaders are empowered to work together toward a shared vision of what students, schools and education could achieve.

Here are five ways you can learn more, get involved and spread the word today:

1.       Visit Visit the new website with critical resources for teachers, district administrators, charter authorizers and policymakers on ways to create a teacher-powered school and get involved.

2.       Read the latest research report: Check out new national survey data that illustrates the widespread public and teacher interest in the concept.

3.       Forward this blog post: Share information about teacher-powered schools with those who are interested in issues of teacher leadership and school-based decision making.

4.       Follow and share on Facebook and Twitter: Share the news about the initiative with your social networks! (#EWA14, #teacherpowered)

5.       Sign-up for email updates: Simply visit and submit your email for e-news updates on teacher-powered schools.

The new report from Education Evolving on Teacher-Powered Schools reveals first-of-its-kind national survey data on teacher leadership. It just may challenge your assumptions on teacher-led innovation in K-12 education.


Bill Gates and the Common Core

med_gatesfoundationRecently, Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post wrote a lengthy story concerning the role of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in fostering the Common Core State Standards. If you haven’t already seen the full article, you should read it (see below for the link). For now, we will summarize it for you.

The article is an important look into the way that charitable donations affect American education. The article is also timely because states will be officially rolling out Common Core this coming school year, even as South Carolina and Oklahoma recently repealed Common Core in their states.

While the article never openly declares a position on the Common Core or how it came to be so pervasive in American education, the subtext clearly is that Americans concerned about education should follow the money trail. In other words, the most compelling evidence given in the article is that advocacy organizations, states, school districts, and think-tanks that leaned toward both sides of the political spectrum have accepted money from the Gates Foundation, in the order of millions of dollars, to carry out research about Common Core. In an era of budget cuts since the Great Recession of 2008, Layton speculates that organizations and states had a financial incentive to accept the extremely well-funded Common Core agenda.

In addition to the article, there is a nearly 30 minute video interview with Bill Gates, which at times grows tense. Gates stands by his assertion that supporting Common Core has everything to do with philanthropy on behalf of American students who have been underserved by the American school system and nothing to do with any sort of political or business agenda.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the article, whatever your political and/or beliefs about the Common Core are, is its consideration of how swiftly such a sweeping change to American education was able to come about. What has taken place with Common Core since 2008 is staggering when compared with the incremental changes to American public education that have occurred in previous decades.

Following is the link to the article, which also contains the video:


Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers

National-Center-for-Time-Leaning-logoAs demands on teachers increase, schools across the country are expanding their calendars to give teachers more time to collaborate and develop new skills. Recently, NCTL unveiled its newest report at an event in Washington, D.C. co-hosted with Teach Plus.

Time for Teachers: Leveraging Time to Strengthen Instruction and Empower Teachers looks at how expanded-time schools leverage their schedules to support teacher leadership and development. This emphasis on effectively utilizing teachers’ time is particularly important as states implement the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, new teacher evaluation systems, and strategies to turn around persistently low-performing schools.

Time for Teachers examines 17 high-performing and rapidly-improving schools around the country that have taken advantage of expanded school schedules to provide students with more time for engaging academic and enrichment classes while providing teachers with more time to collaborate with colleagues, analyze student data, create new lesson plans, and develop new skills.

The report includes a series of recommendations for practitioners interested in implementing the strategies outlined in the report, along with recommendations for policymakers looking to support teacher excellence.

Three of the recommendations for policymakers include:  

  • Advance policies that enable schools to implement an expanded school schedule that offers teachers more time for professional learning;
  • Incentivize and fund high-quality, school-embedded professional learning communities; and
  • Support job-embedded professional development as part of the training for the Common Core

For more information, please visit:


Ten Years of Research on Teacher Quality

10 Year Focus on Teacher Quality - The Joyce Foundation



Ten years ago, education leaders, policy makers, and philanthropists caught on to what parents already knew: In a school, teachers are the most important factor determining whether a student succeeds in the classroom. A decade ago, the Joyce Foundation decided to fund research and advocacy on the importance of placing a highly effective teacher in each classroom, the best ways to identify and reward excellent teachers, and ways to support those who need additional help improving their work.

As momentum built and research made the case for reform, school districts across the country began to reexamine the role and importance of our nation’s educators.
Coinciding with The Joyce Foundation’s ten-year focus on teacher quality, the foundation commissioned Bellwether Education Partners to produce Genuine Progress, Great Challenges: A Decade of Teacher Effectiveness Reforms, a report that documents how the teacher quality movement took hold and propelled policy changes in dozens of states. The report also highlights key findings, best practices and case studies from a decade’s worth of research and action. And it details the work that lies ahead.

Here are the 5 key recommendations to policymakers that the report elaborates upon:

• You can’t people-proof systems in education. Current evaluation systems are a substantial improvement over previous policies. But are these the tools that will create a genuinely professional ethos for teachers? Evaluation systems should complement metric-driven systems with true managerial discretion. Districts should train and support managers and hold them accountable for their professional decisions.

• Professionalize professional development. The existing body of literature on professional development is extremely limited, but teachers must be supported in their work. Policymakers should identify and promote professional development that improves educator practice and student achievement. Evaluations should align with professional development for the purposes of growth and improvement, not just performance management.

• Open and expand teacher preparation. Teacher preparation is a difficult sector to reform, but doing so is key to improving teacher quality overall. Policymakers should increase rigor and quality in teacher preparation but also end protectionism of traditional preparation programs and open preparation to greater competition.

• Address productivity. Current education policy is often additive rather than productivity focused. Policymakers should find ways to promote productivity by better deploying the existing pool of teacher talent or improving how technology is used in schools and classrooms.

• Address the politics. Education is inherently political and the American debate about public education is special interest dominated. School improvement requires a robust political strategy to support its educational strategy.

It is comforting to see that a research report ten years in the making confirms many of the initiatives being championed by education reformers.

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Projected Statewide Impact of “Opportunity Culture” School Models

Opportunity CultureThe impact of “Opportunity Culture” schools could be students gaining years of learning, and teachers earning hundreds of thousands more over their careers.

In a major policy brief out, Public Impact estimates what a state would gain by implementing “Opportunity Culture” models statewide, using North Carolina as an example for analysis. Opportunity Culture models redesign jobs to extend the reach of excellent teachers to more students, for more pay, and within budget—typically in collaborative teams on which all teachers can pursue instructional excellence together and are formally accountable for all of the students they serve.

Using conservative assumptions to analyze the cumulative impact over one generation of students, or approximately 16 years of implementation, in three-fourths of North Carolina’s classrooms, Public Impact’s analysis projects that:

  • Students on average would gain 3.4 more years’ worth of learning than in a traditional school model in the K-12 years.
  • Teachers leading teams would earn up to $848,000 more in a 35-year career, with considerably higher figures possible for large-span teacher-leader roles not included in this analysis.
  • Teachers joining teams to extend their reach could earn approximately an additional $240,000 over their careers.
  • State income tax revenue would be up to $700 million higher in present-value terms over 16 years of implementation.
  • State domestic product would increase by $4.6 billion to $7.7 billion in present-value terms over the next 16 years.

The authors project that teachers leading teams in states with pay closer to the national average would earn up to $1 million more in a 35-year career. Public Impact has separately suggested that a 10 percent average base pay increase is also needed for teachers in North Carolina, where pay is near the bottom nationally.

The brief provides an analytical framework that any state could use to estimate the benefits of transitioning to higher-paid school models that extend highly effective teachers’ reach. It addresses the ways a state could make the transition to these Opportunity Culture models, and some of the critical policy conditions needed for the transition.

Public Impact’s analysis projects that children would acquire more than three extra years’ worth of learning in a K-12 career-which would translate into average lifetime earnings increases of $100,000 to $130,000 per student, according to research showing the link between student achievement and lifetime earnings potential.

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School Districts Get Advice on ‘Doing More With Less’: Report reflects new realities

Spending-Money-Wisely-AD-on-DMJWith America’s public schools unlikely to return to past funding levels in the near future, the District Management Council ( released a policy guide this week to help districts thrive, rather than just survive, within the constraints of their new fiscal realities.

In the main report, “Spending Money Wisely: Getting the Most From School District Budgets,” the council lists 10 high-impact opportunities that it says helps school systems “do more with less.” The Boston-based nonprofit, which helps its member districts with management issues, will begin posting a set of papers outlining specific steps to implement the cost-saving measures, on its website.

The Top 10 steps that school districts can take to manage their funds more effectively, according to the District Management Council’s latest research:

1. Calculating the academic return on investment of existing programs

2. Managing student-enrollment projections to meet class-size targets

3. Evaluating and adjusting remediation and intervention staffing levels

4. Adopting politically acceptable ways to increase class size or teachers’ workload

5. Spending federal entitlement grants to leverage their flexibility

6. Adopting more-efficient and higher-quality reading programs

7. Improving the cost-effectiveness of professional development

8. Rethinking how items are purchased

9. Lowering the cost of extended learning time

10. Targeting new investments by eliminating inefficient and unsuccessful strategies

One overall conclusion from this list is that evaluating current systems to find flexibility and chances for reform is a crucial strategy.

To read more go to:


Marc Tucker: Designing a Better Accountability System

school-accountabilityFor the past few months, Marc Tucker, of the National Center on Education and the Economy, has written a series of blog posts in which he lays out his plans for comprehensive reforms to bring more accountability to American education.

Tucker began back in February with a post entitled, “NCLB, California and Accountability in all its Guises” in which he argued that there is no evidence that test-based accountability helps students, teachers, or schools improve student achievement.

Tucker went on to elaborate on this theme in “The Failure of Test-Based Accountability”. Here, Tucker argues that testing has not only been unhelpful but downright harmful to the profession of teaching.

In his next post, “Accountability and Motivation”, Tucker evaluates various options for bringing greater accountability to American education.

Then, drawing on a career theme for his work, Tucker focuses, in “Accountability: What the Top Performers Do”, on how the top performing school districts around the world set up their successful accountability systems. Essentially, tests are used only to hold students, rather than teachers and schools as in the United States, accountable. This takes place as students know exactly which courses and tests they must take in order to move on to the career or university they have chosen and as their diplomas display exactly which courses they took and how they did on those courses.

Next, in “Accountability and the Modern Teachers’ Union”, Tucker explains how he feels the defensive and political position of modern American teachers’ unions has not aided the profession. Rather, he argues the teaching profession should do what other professions have done in the United States and what teachers have already done in countries with more successful education systems: boost the profession by making it harder to become a teacher. Once this takes place, there will be a stock of better teachers leading to better student results leading to higher respect for the profession leading to higher pay for teachers. Everyone is happy.

Following up, Tuckers writes three successive posts, here and here and here, about his vision for an overall improvement of the American educational accountability system. Tucker also sums up his plans in this post, in which he lays out a plan for four comprehensive tests given to students through their public school career. These tests would be expensive, but the fact that there would only be four would make up for this, and the benefits of good testing aligned to academic and professional goals would be well worth it. Moreover, the system would give more time for teachers to be accountable to each other.

Tucker concludes the series with “The Federal Role in State Education Accountability Systems”, which discusses the means by which the federal government can play a helpful role in facilitating this plan without intruding on state and local rights.

For those especially interested in macro-education reform, these posts are very much worth your time and effort. Tucker is an education veteran who has explored many education models and seeks to synthesize them to help American education.

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Should High Schools Open Later?

11219.pdfHigh school students everywhere may rejoice to hear the latest research on school start times for students in their age group.

A new report from the Education Commission of the States ( says school begins too early for these students, a point about which there should be no dispute.

Following are three key takeaways from the report:

1. Research shows adolescents, driven to later wake/sleep times by their biological clocks, lose as much as an average of 2.7 hours of sleep on school days.

2. There is virtually unanimous agreement in the research community that later start times in adolescent education would produce a positive change in adolescent learning, health, and safety.

3. Few, if any, educational interventions are so strongly supported by research evidence from so many different disciplines and experts in the field.

Following is the link to the report:

The conclusions of this report will certainly be useful to the state of Maryland, which passed a bill earlier this spring to study school start times. Montgomery County Public Schools (MD), one of the largest school districts in the nation, has already been studying the issue, and Superintendent Joshua Starr has recommended moving school start times back 50 minutes.

See the related link to an article about the MD bill:


Rural Education: Examining Capacity Challenges That Influence Educator Effectiveness

mcrellogo.ashxJane Best and Courtney Cohen of McREL have written a helpful document looking at some of the hot button education issues today, but with a unique focus on rural education.

While a quarter of all American students are enrolled in rural public schools, many rural teachers and administrators believe that education stakeholders are slow to fully recognize and address the unique challenges facing rural educators.

This brief addresses some capacity challenges highlighted by rural teachers and administrators including:

  • Recruiting and retaining highly effective teachers
  • Connectivity to technology and use of digital capacity
  • Effective teacher evaluation processes for rural school settings

The paper discusses recent steps taken by the federal government and individual states to address the concerns of rural teachers and administrators and provides considerations and recommendations for policymakers. It concludes with a series of thought-provoking follow up questions, which would be very useful for a professional development session.

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