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Helping Schools Overcome Barriers to Change (page 4)

By — The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Summary

Implementation of improvement plans is the least acknowledged, least understood, and least supported phase of the school improvement process. That doesn’t mean it is the least important, however. Due to an assortment of internal and external obstacles to organizational change, implementation is the stage where most serious improvement efforts fail. That failure is often hidden from plain view during the early months of implementation as schools incrementally scale back efforts to implement more meaningful changes—those related to improving classroom instruction—while continuing to carry out easier but less meaningful activities that are unlikely to result in substantial increases in student learning. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Work can be done at all levels—by principals, district leaders, and policymakers—to help schools overcome obstacles:

  1. Prepare all school leaders for the difficulties of organizational change by helping them understand and anticipate the internal obstacles—technical, cultural, and political—that can arise and give them tools and strategies to monitor change.
  2. Address the external obstacles by transforming the relationship between districts and schools through ensuring adequate school support at the central- office level and adequate control over budgets and personnel at the school level, and by enacting policies that give principals more time to focus on leading change and improving classroom instruction.  Neither set of changes will be easy. But if we want schools to take responsibility for student outcomes and engage in serious, “whatever- it-takes” efforts to improve learning and close achievement gaps, district personnel and other assistance providers must begin to think outside the box and engage in creative strategies to help schools overcome internal and external barriers to serious organizational change.

Endnotes

1 The Philanthropy Roundtable and Grantmakers for Education. (2004). Creating new schools: Promising strategy for change? A briefing for donors and grantmakers: May 26–27, 2004. Denver: Author. (page 1) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.edfunders.org/downloads/events/ Graba_NewSchools.pdf

2 The Philanthropy Roundtable and Grantmakers for Education. (2004). A new bet for better schools? Diversifying philanthropic strategies to improve student learning. Denver: Author. (page 1) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.aecf.org/publications/data/new_ bet_for_better_schools.pdf

3 The Philanthropy Roundtable and Grantmakers for Education. (2004). Creating new schools: Promising strategy for change? A briefing for donors and grantmakers: May 26–27, 2004. Denver: Author. (page 2) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.edfunders.org/downloads/events/ Graba_NewSchools.pdf

4 Education leaders who believe that schools face a unique set of challenges when it comes to convincing personnel of the need for change should read the second chapter of Moneyball. The author, Michael Lewis, provides a fas- cinating account of a 2001 meeting among Oakland A’s managers and scouts in which managers try very hard to convince a group of very experienced and very skeptical scouts that data analysis can help significantly improve the organization’s ability to make good draft picks. See Lewis, M. (2003). Moneyball. New York: W. W. Norton and Company. (pages 14–42)

5 The factors that frustrate efficient and effective hiring and assignment of teachers are many and complex, especially in urban districts, and some of them originate outside human resource departments. For example, negotiated con- tracts with teacher unions can prevent principals from taking steps to fill vacancies with candidates from outside the district until lengthy internal transfer periods are complete. For an excellent accounting of the multiple factors that subvert principals’ abilities to hire the best candidates, see Levin, J., & Quinn, M. (2003). Missed opportunities: How we keep high-quality teachers out of urban classrooms. New York: The New Teacher Project.

6 Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2003). Reframing organi- zations: Artistry, choice, and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (page 383)

7 Kotter, J. P. (1998). Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail. In Harvard business review on change (pp. 1– 20). Boston: President and Fellows of Harvard College. See also Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press; and Kotter, J. P., & Cohen, D. S. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

8 McCarthy, S., & Celio, M. B. (2001). Washington elementary schools on the slow track under standards- based reform. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington. (page 23) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.crpe.org/pubs/pdf/ slowtrack.pdf

9 McCarthy, S., & Celio, M. B. (2001). Washington elementary schools on the slow track under standards- based reform. Seattle, WA: Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington. (page 24) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.crpe.org/pubs/pdf/ slowtrack.pdf

10 Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (pages 42–43)

11 Education Week. (2004, September 15). Instructional leadership. Education Week, 24(3), S7. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.edweek.org/media/pdf/vol-24/ Leadership¬charts.pdf

12 Farkas, S., Johnson, J., Duffett A., & Foleno, T. (2001). Trying to stay ahead of the game: Superintendents and principals talk about school leadership. New York: Public Agenda. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.publi- cagenda.com/specials/leadership/leadership1.htm

13 Education Week. (2004, September 15). Instructional leadership. Education Week, 24(3), S7. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.edweek.org/media/pdf/vol-24/ Leadership¬charts.pdf

14 Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. (pages 17, 19) See also Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (pages 33–34)

15 Kotter, J. P. (1998). Leading change: Why transforma- tion efforts fail. In Harvard business review on change (pp. 1–20). Boston: President and Fellows of Harvard College. (pages 11–13)

16 Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press. (pages 101–115)

17 Davis, D., Sagmiller, K., & Hagans, R. (2001). Implementing school reform models: The Clover Park experience. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from www.nwrel. org/csrdp/clover.html

18 Hess, F. M., & Kelly, A. P. (2005). The accidental princi- pal: What doesn’t get taught at ed schools? Education Next. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.educationnext. org/20053/34.html

19 Levine, A. (2005, March). Educating school leaders. Washington, DC: The Education Schools Project. (pages 29, 66) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.edschools. org/pdf/Final313.pdf

20 Burch, P., & Spillane, J. (2004). Leading from the middle: Mid-level district staff and instructional improvement. Chicago: Cross City Campaign for Urban School Reform. (page 4) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.cross- city.org/downloads/exec_summary_final.pdf

21 Snipes, J., Doolittle, F., & Herlihy, C. (2002, September). Foundations for success: Case studies of how urban school systems improve student achievement. Washington, DC: Council of the Great City Schools. (pages 53–54) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.mdrc.org/publica- tions/47/full.pdf

22 Archer, J. (2004). Tackling an impossible job. Education Week, 24(3), S3–S6.

23 Archer, J. (2004). Weaving webs: School leadership isn’t hierarchical, researchers are discovering. Education Week, 23(27), 50–53.

24 Kannapel, P. J., & Clements, S. K. (2005). Inside the black box of high-performing high-poverty schools. Lexington, KY: The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. (page 18) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.prichardcommittee.org/Ford%20Study/ FordReportJE.pdf

25 Davis, D., Sagmiller, K., & Hagans, R. (2001). Implementing school reform models: The Clover Park experience. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from www.nwrel. org/csrdp/clover.html

26 Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap... and others don’t. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. (page 13)

27 A study in Tennessee, for example, found that two groups of students who start out at the same level of achievement can end up 50 points apart on a 100-point scale if one group is assigned three ineffective teachers in a row and the other is assigned three effective teachers in a row. See Sanders, W., & Rivers, J. (1996) Cumulative and residual effects of teachers on future student academic achievement. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Value- Added Research and Assessment Center. (page 3) Another study, using Texas data, found that the low-income students who have five years of highly effective teachers in a row during elementary school can join their wealthier peers in mastering grade-level math by seventh grade. See Hanushek, E. A., & Rivkin, S. G. (2004). How to improve the supply of high-quality teachers In D. Ravitch (Ed.), Brookings papers on education policy–2004 (pp. 7–44). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

28 Kannapel, P. J., & Clements, S. K. (2005). Inside the black box of high-performing high-poverty schools. Lexington, KY: The Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence. (pages 20–21) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.prichardcommittee.org/Ford%20Study/ FordReportJE.pdf

29 Archer, J. (2004). Tackling an impossible job. Education Week, 24(3), S3–S6. See also NewSchools Venture Fund. (2004). NewSchools Venture Fund summit 2004. San Francisco: Author. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http:// www.newschools.org/network/Summit2004.pdf

30 Roza, M., & Hill, P. T. (2004). How within-district spend- ing inequities help some schools to fail. In D. Ravitch (Ed.), Brookings papers on education policy–2004 (pp. 201–218). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.

31 The Education Trust-West. (2005). California’s hidden teacher spending gap: How state and district budgeting practices shortchange poor and minority students and their schools. Oakland, CA: Author. Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www.hiddengap.org/resources/report031105. pdf

32 Center for American Progress. (2004). The progressive priorities series. Better teachers, better schools: Ensuring a high-quality education for every child by building a stronger teaching force. Washington, DC: Author. (pages 14–15) Retrieved August 1, 2005, from http://www. americanprogress.org/atf/cf/{E9245FE4-9A2B-43C7-A521- 5D6FF2E06E03}/PPP_EDUCATION.PDF 

About the Center’s Policy Briefs

This is the third in a series of four policy briefs to be published by The Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement in 2005. The first, Establishing a Strong Foundation for School Improvement, was released in January and the second, Planning That Matters: Helping Schools Engage in Collaborative, Strategic Problem Solving, was published in April. The briefs are intended to provide fresh insights and useful advice to policymakers and school assistance providers. This year’s four-part series is structured around The Center’s emphasis on school improvement and reform as a collaborative, schoolwide cycle of activities: (1) organizing for improvement, (2) planning for improvement, (3) implementing improvement plans, and (4) sustaining improvement efforts. Each publication addresses one of those areas and builds upon the ideas and strategies discussed in the preceding briefs. Therefore, we recommend reading them in order and using them in concert. All three publications are available on our Web site (www.centerforcsri.org).

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