Leading for Learning

In 2005-06, 8,446 schools and 1,624 districts nationwide failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) as required under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Many states are scrambling to improve student achievement before districts and schools face state and federal sanctions (Columbus Public Schools alone has 45 schools in this predicament). As this report shows, reform initiatives run the gamut--from creating "how-to" manuals for school improvement to hiring for-profit school reform specialists.

Two of Ohio's neighbors, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, have dispatched teams of consultants to provide district leaders the skills they need to turn around failing schools. The teams, typically comprised of former school leaders and educators with experience raising student achievement, evaluate district weaknesses and then teach district leaders how to implement necessary reforms. Pennsylvania's "distinguished educators" may stay in a district for up to two years. "It's like having four or five consiglieres," said Thomas Chapman, superintendent of Pennsylvania's troubled Reading district. The district has used the team to help institute data-informed instruction and an ambitious restructuring plan. And Superintendent B. Michael Caudill in Madison County, Kentucky insists his "voluntary assistance team" has helped him gain a "laser-like" focus on academics.

Yet the jury is still out on the efficacy of these costly programs. The only verifiable success among the report's case studies was found in New Mexico, which is using the Baldrige model to improve some its most troubled schools. Named after former secretary of commerce Malcolm Baldrige, the program employs rigorous data analysis to help administrators, teachers and students set and attain concrete goals. (The Ohio Department of Education also promotes aspects of the Baldrige model--see here). Nine of the 13 schools purged from New Mexico's list of most distressed schools in 2005 were Baldrige schools.

Leading for Learning does a fine job of showcasing state efforts to create innovative school leadership (sadly, few states are looking to thriving "leader-centric" charter models like KIPP). But with spotty track records of success and a limited pool of talented reformers, they may just be another case of the blind leading the blind.

Download a copy of the report here.