Creating More Good Schools by Strengthening School-Site Leadership and Policy Implementation [A Snippet from my Midterm paper]

In the United States decentralized education system (Kober, 2006), those who directly serve the system’s students are often too far removed from national education policy.  People in classrooms and schools are disconnected from policymakers inside federal chambers and executive departments (Chubb and Moe, 1990), and there are no functional feedback mechanisms.[1]  These disconnects aggravate education reform: school leaders implement policy ineffectively because they misunderstand the macro effects of their work, and policymakers misdiagnose because they fail to account for the “institutional realities” inside schools (Elmore, 2004, p. 203).  Focusing reform at the national level may be appropriate to develop strategy, but it is unsuited to fix American education realistically.  Progress will depend on a different set of actors.
School-site leaders and principals are on the ground actors that directly affect schools’ outcomes.  They manage overall school performance and personnel from positions that are more meaningful than policymakers and more central to command than classrooms teachers.  It has proven so difficult to create more good schools in the United States because the national agenda has underemphasized the role school leaders play in driving student achievement.  Additionally, many school-site leaders in public schools, where approximately 90% of our nation’s students attend (Mehta lecture, Sept. 8, 2010, slide 8), are ill prepared to implement the myriad of policy decisions that accompany the positions.  An accurate prescription for education will require increased national support for strong school leadership and policy implementation if reform is to reach struggling public schools that are otherwise “isolated” (Warren, 2005, p. 136) and confused by bureaucracy (Chubb and Moe, 1990). 

[1] The lack of input is observed despite the breakthrough of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 in bringing “Washington to local schools” (Cohen and Moffitt, 2009, p. 12) and the federal legislation that has followed including No Child Left Behind Act of 2001: this infrastructure “does not ensure excellent education, that depends… on how educators use it” (Cohen and Moffitt, 2009, p. 15-16).  In large part, policy does not meet the realities of practice (Elmore, 1992, p. 39).  Education is like many other fields where there is an internal misunderstanding between theories of change and practice (Argyris and Schon, 1974).

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