Any discussion of leadership must start with a question of “leadership for what?” For school leaders in particular, we must be clear on the broader purpose of their leadership; for a quality education is not a privilege for a select few, but a civil right for all. In that spirit I believe school leaders must deliver on the promise of equity. In fact this is a guiding principle for the preparation of school leaders here at the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership. Ensuring a high-quality education for all students is the civil rights challenge of our times, and in my view, the raison d’être for every educational leader.
Our January 2013 newsletter focused on teacher evaluation, which continues to occupy a significant part of the education reform landscape. However, as school leaders become more proficient in the use of new teacher evaluation instruments, their work will have just begun. In other words, being able to rate a teacher’s performance with increased accuracy does nothing (in itself) to actually improve that teacher’s performance. The improvement of teaching practice is a much larger piece of instructional leadership — an important construct that has gained much attention in recent years.
Within education circles it’s commonplace now to hear talk that the quality of teaching is the number one variable impacting student achievement, with the number two variable being the quality of instructional leadership. In fact these are two of our foundational beliefs here at the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership. It certainly makes for a strong theory of action: If we want to improve student learning then we must improve the quality of teaching; and if we want to improve the quality of teaching then we must provide the leadership necessary to build teacher capacity.
In this age of political disagreement, most would agree that the main purpose of newly adopted teacher evaluation instruments is to help teachers improve their teaching effectiveness. However, a policy disconnect stands in the way of how these new evaluation models can lead to improvement in teaching practice. To understand why, let’s take a look at the genesis of the recent teacher evaluation movement.
When President Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the federal government aimed to stimulate the economy, support job creation, and invest in critical sectors, including education. The Recovery Act provided $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund, a grant program designed to reward states for education reform. The first round of grants sought to ensure that states were serious about teacher accountability. In order to receive funding, states had to enact sweeping changes in how teachers were to be evaluated.
One thing is true for successful school leaders and teachers: both are intentional and explicit about the purpose of their actions, be it a school improvement strategy or a classroom lesson.
In high performing school districts, purpose permeates the system. At every level there is a clear understanding about intended outcomes and viable strategies to achieve those outcomes – the end game being student achievement.
But all too often, in school after school, district after district, we see a plethora of initiatives and practices that lack a clear purpose and connection to improving the practice necessary to increase student learning.
|Stephen Fink||Anneke Markholt||Sandy Austin|
Recently we celebrated the 10-year anniversary of the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership (CEL). Our mission a decade ago, as it is today, was to support school and teacher leaders in the challenging work of eliminating the achievement gap among students. When we began this ambitious journey, high school seniors in the current 2012 graduating class were in second grade.
Today, our nation’s education system continues to face stagnating achievement gains, despite nearly 10 years of federal education reform efforts. The once-bright promise of those reform efforts has faded as we recognize that too many of the students who were in second grade in the spring of 2002 will not be graduating with their class of 2012 this year.
Armed with the knowledge that quality teaching matters most for student learning, policymakers from state to state are racing to adopt new educational accountability measures that seek, among other things, to evaluate teacher effectiveness with more rigorous, evidence-based instruments.
Leading for Literacy: CEL Partnership Helps District Smarten Up Practice System-Wide
The South Los Angeles County school district faced tremendous challenges. Less than one-third of its students read at proficiency level. Its high populations of English Language Learners and special education students were chronically underperforming: even those who could read words often had no idea what the words meant. Many of their teachers were convinced that some students just can’t learn. The teachers didn’t connect their own low expectations to the low literacy levels in their classrooms.
Ten years ago, the University of Washington Center for Educational Leadership embarked on a journey to support school and teacher leaders in the challenging work of eliminating the achievement gap – a gap that continues to divide our nation’s children along lines of race, class, language, and disability. When we began this ambitious journey, high-school seniors in the current 2012 graduating class were in second grade.
Over the course of those ten years, CEL’s leadership experts have worked with thousands of teachers, principals, and central office leaders across America. This work has been guided by an unwavering belief that student learning will not increase until the quality of teaching improves, and that the quality of teaching will not improve until our school leaders develop a clear vision, understanding, and common language for high-quality teaching and learning. Only by developing leadership expertise can they support teachers in the daily improvement of their craft.
As CEL embarks on its next ten years, we are mindful that the persistent achievement gap in the midst of severe school district budget reductions poses enormous challenges for educators. With the risk of another generation of high school dropouts being relegated to a permanent economic underclass, the call to provide equitable, high-quality learning for all students is greater than ever.
System-wide change in an education system is not easy, and it is not fast. Ginger Shattuck, who worked with the Center for Educational Leadership in a long-term comprehensive partnership aimed at boosting literacy in her underperforming district, describes the transformation as “evolutionary, not revolutionary.”
“We understood from the beginning that there would be no quick fixes, no magic bullets,” says Shattuck, who was superintendent of the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District when it signed a multi-year contract with CEL in 2004 aimed at building a new vision, language, and mission for powerful, equitable classroom instruction.