Improve the work of your district by measuring what matters
Business of Education: Leadership by listening
Social media has been a game changer for school district communications.
Technology Road Map
Leadership is central to the latest version of the National Educational Technology Plan
School boards play a pivotal role as the main authorizers of charter schools
Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan inspires students to explore their open-end future
Pushing the Limits
School boards have constraints -- but you can and must overcome them
NSBA: 75 Years Young
The association celebrates 75 years of advocating for public education
Breaking Barriers to Reform
Poor children arrive for their first day of school at a decided disadvantage. For these children and their schools, something more is needed. It’s here that innovation, creativity, perseverance, and the sheer will to change are crucial if we’re to improve the educational achievement and the futures of these children.
Board Room to Boot Camp
You no doubt think that you’ll never be able to experience firsthand Marine Corps recruit training and find out what makes the nation’s smallest military branch so special. However, this is not the case—not for educators. The Marines offer an Educators Workshop that exposes participants to Marine recruit training.
Is School Board Unity Possible?
What is the key to unity on the school board? What is the magical component that promotes unity? The key to board unity is that, once members have aired their differences, they are able to defer to others rather than defend their point of view to the death.
Beyond Academics: Giving Students a Chance to Succeed
Teach the students, not the curriculum. That’s a maxim that great teachers – and great schools and school districts – live by. It means that, if the material is not getting through to the students – if it is not meeting them where they are – the whole educational enterprise has failed.
Preventing Leadership Churn
The demanding nature of their jobs, an aging superintendent population, and relationships with school board members all lead superintendents to leave. School boards can make the top job more manageable. Be visionaries. Put your superintendent in a position for success, and he will put your students in a position for success.
Countering Reform Resistance
I am not implying that teachers and other school personnel are fighting an insurgency against school change. But change is difficult. We resist it because it is not comfortable. Resistance to change grows until it can feel like an insurgency. Here are 28 military tactics to help the school improvement movement.
Why Keep Teacher Tenure?
Tenure – like it or loathe it – is an employee benefit, similar to salary, vacation, medical benefits, and sick leave. When tenure is removed, teachers have little incentive in an individual school or district and perpetually risk termination based on an administrator’s whims and foibles. Good teachers – smart teachers – will not take this gamble.
School District Mission Statements
Often school mission statements are merely posted in the main office and not what they should be: a set of beliefs that drive a district’s goals, hiring practices, instructional leadership, and program initiatives. Here are three simple steps districts can take to start living their own mission statements.
School Boards in the Digital Age
What will 21st century school boards look like? If contemporary school boards can engage the demands of our new digital world and learn to respond, they will model the exact behavior future graduates will need to exhibit for success in our transformed world: the ability to be lifelong learners.
As every board member knows, constituents are all entitled to their own opinions. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. Separating opinion from fact is a particular challenge in education, where emerging research can change yesterday’s facts into today’s fiction.
Should Schools Teach Penmanship?
Handwriting once occupied a central place in the school curriculum. While no one would confuse making perfectly formed letters with crafting a perfectly formed sentence, there was general agreement the second skill depended upon the first. Fluency in handwriting is inextricably linked to fluency in written expression.
School District Process Management
Houston-based American Productivity and Quality Center’s (APQC) Jack Grayson has been on a mission to translate his experience in the private sector to improve efficiencies and performance to the K-12 sector. Each of the 50 some districts APQC has worked with has achieved an average net savings of $1 million.
After Iowa’s Cardinal High School was labeled as persistently low achieving in 2009, its leaders didn’t fire everyone and start over. They didn’t close the school and privatize. Instead, they confronted the data, made significant changes in teaching and internship practices, and worked their way to improved performance.
The true test of any leader is how you respond during the most challenging times. You need to keep focused, maintain your composure, and encourage the team to believe. Motivating the team to work hard and want more requires leaders to support and genuinely care about their employees.
Mentoring New Board Members
Every organization needs new members to replace those who leave. Those boards that are successful in searching out future board members do so systematically and with purpose. They are open and transparent in their efforts. Sometimes this happens within a tangential organization like the PTA, PTO, or an education foundation board.
Data-Driven School Governance
So how do you read the data? What are the tricks and techniques to find the answers you need? Your answers are found in training – and not just for you and your fellow board members. Your staff needs to understand how to look at data to fix campus problems.
Using Testing Data Right
One of today’s most popular education trends is the use of “formative” assessment. Unfortunately, much of the assessment occurring in schools is decidedly uninformative. The reason is a failure to provide the time, leadership, training, and collaboration essential to ensure that the formative assessment is successful.
Succession Planning for School Leaders
Succession planning should not be a system of preparing one person in an organization to become the next leader. Instead, it should be more about preparing the entire organization for an eventual change in leadership, similar to the way succession is carried out in the private sector.
Humble School Leaders
Hundreds of school boards will lead their communities in superintendent searches this year. They will look for command presence, charisma, and political prowess. However, one important quality often is left off the list: leadership humility. Superintendent humility has strong implications for the classroom -- leadership humility is linked to higher math and reading scores.
Keep Public School Public
We educate children for a number of reasons, but ultimately to preserve our democratic republic. If our democratic experiment is to survive, we must teach our children the moral, ethical, and political obligations of living in a free society. If public schools serve no other purpose, they should serve this one.
Making Lasting Reform Work
If your district’s leaders remain convinced that everyone must have buy-in before they can change, then your schools will remain firmly ensconced not only in the 20th century, but further back in the Pleistocene era. Here are three new ideas for replacing the stagnation of buy-in with the hope for effective change.
Essential Research Questions for School Boards
Every board member has heard the claims “Research shows that …” and “Studies prove that …” But how do educational leaders and policymakers know if the research is sufficient to validate a policy decision? Here are four essential questions every educational leader should ask when confronted with research claims.
Common Core Myths
Most states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. But while the Common Core’s intent is to provide more consistent educational opportunities for students, the reality is that the implementation of the standards is wildly different from one state to the next. Here are five myths about their implementation.
Strengthening Leadership in Hard Times
Districts are coping with dramatic reductions in revenues while demands for services, particularly for special education and disadvantaged students, are rising. Here are five responses boards can consider as they cope with new financial realities: generate new revenues; lease rather than buy; give employees benefit options; consolidate services; and win back students.
Education Vital Signs: Leadership
Education Vital Signs collection of reports on Leadership.
Offering Alternatives to Your Parents
Parents love choices. Proliferating brands, color palettes, communication media, and electronic options are only a few of the manifestations of our collective desire to be in charge of our choices. Not surprisingly, board members now face a significant increase in demands for school choice.
Complexity in the Board Room
Board members should be wary of any expert claiming to render the complex too simple. Confront complexity with the critical thinking, rational judgment, and sense of fairness your constituents and students have a right to expect. Heed Albert Einstein’s admonition: everything “should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
Including Students in School Reform
Each year, we rush to implement yet another round of new programs and strategies designed to improve achievement scores on standardized tests. Unfortunately, we are poised to repeat our mistakes unless a key group – perhaps the most important group – is invited to the table: our students.
Is School Board Reform Coming to You?
Why are pundits and think tanks putting school boards in their gun sights? For some, the role and effectiveness of school boards is guilty by association with a system that’s allegedly failed. Thankfully, school board members have a strong foundation upon which to stand. People want local control of their schools.
School Governance Councils
A new and largely parent-led initiative to improve the education of public school children has resulted in the creation of school governance councils, which could help districts as they focus on improving student achievement. The potential downside is they could become another state mandate that will possibly erode local school governance.
Allies for Change
Because loss and challenge are painful experiences, resistance is inevitable. However, board members and leaders should distinguish between skeptics – resisters who demand evidence before accepting change – and cynics, for whom no amount of evidence is ever acceptable. Wise leaders will value the skeptics and banish the cynics.
The stakes in teacher and leadership evaluation are enormous. Take some time to get it right. While linking pay to performance seems obvious to many advocates, the devil is in the details. Here are some potential landmines that boards should consider before adopting a performance pay policy.
Making Lasting Change in Schools
The appetite for change is great, but leadership literature on systems change can be overwhelming. Before you launch your next systems change initiative, reflect on what worked – and what didn’t – the last time you attempted systems-level change, and consider these five shifts as ways to improve your probability of success.
More Than Test Scores
What should school boards do when the price to be paid for federal grants and the penalties to be avoided by state sanctions are focused exclusively on test scores? Redefine accountability from test scores to a comprehensive reflection of the work of students, teachers, administrators, board members, parents, and communities.
Mentoring New Administrators
My excitement about being hired as the superintendent of a suburban school district passed quickly when the school board president told me that I would be responsible for the orientation of five new administrators. Realistically, how much time would I be able to give them?
Time Management for Board Members
New board members often think they can, or should, “do it all.” Working longer—but not necessarily smarter—is one trap new board members can fall into. Keeping an eye on the big picture, veterans say, requires you to embrace the three Ls: leadership, learning, and love (for the children, especially).
How to Avoid Operational Distractions
Boards micromanage. They allow themselves to be distracted by day-to-day operational issues. The irony for these boards—worn down by an endless cycle of meetings, fuzzy goals, and week-to-week crisis management—is that all of their effort counts for little.
One of the more popular sports in education is the blame game. But what if a school district made a commitment that extended from before elementary school to beyond college? That vision is a reality in Colorado’s Aurora Public Schools.
Leadership as Art
We don’t lead the easy way at my school. The process is often a work in progress, as is the product. Collaboration and input are big and important words in our leadership model. With a lot of careful navigating, this ship sails well for us, even if the ride gets bumpy.
Making School Reform Work
School renewal is a building-by-building proposition. Any school staff can be its own turnaround specialist, and any school board can help with its school improvement plan. It is a matter of dedicating the entire school staff to the needs of the students who walk in every morning.
Small District Transformation
A Dairy Queen. A restaurant. A convenience store with gas pumps. That’s about it for downtown Skidmore, Texas, home of the Skidmore-Tynan Independent School District. But in its most recent assessment, the Texas Education Agency rated the high school “exemplary,” and that kind of success extends throughout the district.
Mapping Suburban School Reform
Montgomery County (Md.) Public Schools long had a reputation as a top-tier system, but district leaders knew they had problems ahead. Demographic shifts showed the district’s population was rapidly changing. By 1999, the minority and low-income population comprised nearly half of the student body, resulting in a growing achievement gap.
Meeting the Urban School Challenge
How did Cincinnati raise the achievement of its poorest, most disadvantaged children – and do it for two years? Several elements contributed: a reform-minded superintendent, a steadfast school board, principals and teachers who believed the reform effort was real, a central office “shepherd” – and some federal stimulus dollars helped as well.
The Work of School Boards
School reform is possible. Low-performing schools can turn around. Student academic performance can improve, no matter what obstacles exist to learning. And local school leaders can make all of this happen. The decisions of local school leaders are ultimately what push forward student reform and raise student academic achievement.
Underperforming schools can make dramatic improvements through the collaboration of school boards, senior leadership, building-level administrators, teachers, and community members. The same approach is also important when high-performing schools challenge themselves to ever higher levels of success. This “good to great” progression is taking place at Wisconsin’s Hudson High School.
Humanizing Human Resources
Whether you are in a large district, in which the human resources department is comprised of many individuals serving specific functions, or in a small one, in which the superintendent is the human resources department, employees seek personal, timely, and accurate information. And it’s your job to provide it to them.
School Board Training
Board members can take deliberate steps to accelerate their expertise. The answer is not to ask board members to spend more time in meetings or public comment hearings. Instead, boards must reallocate how they invest their time now and 1. digitize, 2. prioritize, 3. monitor, and 4. specialize.
Why Shanghai Scored So High
The gap between China and the rest of the world will not be closed with new curricula or advanced technology, but with a dramatically changed culture in which teachers, administrators, and even school board members are treated with the dignity and respect that educators receive in the world’s best-educated nations.
What's the Future of NCLB?
Many of the new GOP members of Congress will take a skeptical view of heavy-handed intervention from the Department of Education. That could help school districts that feel burdened by mandates attached to NCLB and school improvement funding. But the biggest issue will be how to handle the federal budget.
Deciding with Data
Heartfelt beliefs and tear-jerking anecdotes can trump the best evidence during the public comment period of a board meeting. Board members must select not the most popular but the most effective winner of the debate. You can make this difficult choice when you limit your decisions to those based on evidence.
Sound Grading Policies
I don’t know of a more controversial topic in educational policy right now than student grading. Articles about grading policy attract angry and emotional responses from parents, teachers, administrators, and citizens. If your district is considering an overhaul of grading policies, here are practical guidelines for the board to follow.
"What Went Right in School?" Readers Tell Us
Recently, NBC’s “Today Show” asked viewers to write in with stories of what went wrong in school. We decided to go in a different direction and ask about what was right. Here is an edited sample from the more than 40 responses we received.
Writing Boosts Achievement
There are no silver bullets in education. But writing – particularly non-fiction writing – is about as close as you can get to a single strategy that has significant and positive effects in nearly every other area of the curriculum. Nonfiction writing is the backbone of a successful literacy and student achievement strategy.
Don't Wait -- Take Action
There’s a clarion call for a shake-up in public schools. Dramatic improvement in student learning is needed across the board in public schools today, not because most schools are inherently broken but because the demands of today’s global economy are so much higher than what those schools were designed to deliver.
Education Goes to the Movies
Filmmakers have turned their cameras toward the nation’s schools, with at least eight documentaries that examine the challenges of educating America’s children released in the past year. They have a hard-hitting message to share: There are bad public schools out there. And charter schools are the future of school reform.
What Type of Superinendent Do You Need?
Like a chess grandmaster, The Fixer superintendent always is several steps ahead of everyone in the room and has a bias for action. The alternative to The Fixer is The Multiplier. The Multiplier superintendent is willing to share intellectual and emotional ownership of new strategies with teachers and administrators.
Find Out What Your Public Wants
In a democracy, people are entitled to their opinions. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts. Here are some practical guidelines for board members in evaluating competing claims for what the public really wants from our educational system.
Focusing on Leadership Essentials
Now, more than ever, leaders must focus on the essentials, the core strategies that have the greatest impact on student learning and educational equity. Abundant evidence suggests that a few strategies have a disproportionately large impact on education. The “big six” are feedback, efficacy, time, nonfiction writing, formative assessment, and expectations.
Early College Program Saves Parents Money
As tight as school budgets are around the nation, family budgets often are strained even more, particularly when parents are looking at the costs of college. But at Metropolitan School District of Wayne Township in Indianapolis, Ind., students can earn two years of college credit at no cost to parents.
Performance Pay Is Coming
Performance pay is coming. We offer five practical ideas to make pay for performance work: evaluate teachers not on data alone, but also on their response to data; use a transparent and objective system of evaluation; honor your contracts; assess leaders and policymakers, not just teachers; and, avoid unintended consequences.
Making Teachers More Effective
The Gates Foundation has committed $100 million over seven years to help Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools dramatically strengthen teacher effectiveness. It’s an exciting and ambitious project that also has involved the board from the get-go.
Successful School Reform
Why do some school reform efforts work when others don’t? We identified six features of early success, key ingredients for any district’s reform recipe. They are: suitability, superintendent leadership, reform champions, retaining focus, advancing through stages, and communications. Including the six key ingredients will help ensure your reform’s success.
Open School Board Meetings
In the past decade, with the explosive growth of e-mail and texting, school board members have more opportunities than ever to run afoul of their state’s open meeting law. A walking quorum (staggered meeting) can take place by e-mail, where such “meetings” can occur in minutes – possibly violating state law.
Grading Your Leaders
Evaluating the superintendent is one of the most important jobs of school boards. Unfortunately, this essential task is frequently flawed. In a national study I conducted of more than 300 evaluations, I found that the higher the administrator ranked, the more likely it was that evaluations were ambiguous, politicized, and rendered too late to improve leadership performance.
Does this professional development scenario sound familiar? A teacher attends a professional development session. Unfortunately, there’s no time to meet with her colleagues to work out the kinks. Over time, strategies from the session are forgotten and no real change occurs. But what if the scenario unfolded this way? …
Using Technology to Connect
Teachers, students, and parents are all using social media to stay connected. Most school board members, however, have been slow to embrace this new medium. You need to be aware of this disconnect and integrate this powerful communications tool into your governing life. If you don’t, you are missing an opportunity.
A Steep Decline
The “good” news on state budgets is that it could have been worse: The federal stimulus package kept many states and school districts from falling off a financial cliff, as programs and personnel were spared. The “bad” news is that, as stimulus funds are rapidly spent, the cliff is approaching again.
Too often, what passes for leadership development at the district level has been nothing more than an assortment of unaligned and ineffective activities. Yet many school districts persist in this haphazard approach to leadership development. This is puzzling, as there has never been a more critical need for school administrators.
Your Leadership Partners
Perhaps the most overlooked participants in the debate over school reform are the 53 state and territory school board associations in the United States. Every school board association, no matter how big or small, has a significant legislative presence in its state capitol. Their member districts provide a powerful grassroots base of support.
Anne Bryant and Dan Domenech Talk Leadership
What follows is an exclusive interview with NSBA Executive Director Anne L. Bryant and AASA Executive Director Daniel Domenech. It is also a snapshot of the conversations and collaborations that regularly occur between the pair.
School Boards:What Does The Future Hold?
These days, it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see the challenges facing school boards in the years ahead. More mandates are on the way. More charter schools are on the horizon. And everyone will expect school boards to keep raising achievement despite gut-wrenching cuts in state education funding.
Understanding Special Education Terms
Special education terms and jargon can be quite confusing to school board members, especially those new to their role. To help board members understand special education jargon we have provided and defined a list of relevant terms and acronyms, “The ABCs of Special Ed.”
Changing the Grade
A revolution is occurring in Adams County School District 50. If it succeeds, the district will overturn a public school icon: the grade level. Starting this year, elementary and middle school students are being grouped by level, not age, and the reform moves to the high school next year.
Helping Employees Cope With Stress
Educational leaders can do three things, none of which costs money, to help address employee stress: They can make better decisions about the use of time, ensure that employees get the mental health care necessary to deal with stress, and communicate clearly and consistently with every stakeholder in the community.
Growing Through Adversity
Elkhart, Ind., once was known as the nation’s recreational vehicle capital, manufacturing RVs by the thousands. In recent years, however, the town has had one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates. Student achievement languished, and as the economy grew worse, many expected student results to plummet. Instead, the opposite happened.
Q and A with Rod Paige
Buses, lunch counters, swimming pools, and drinking fountains were the battlegrounds of the ‘60s-era civil rights movement. Today, according to former U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige, that battleground is the classroom -- a place where too many African-American students are failing to achieve their potential.
The Profession of Governing
Upon entering school board service, most of us are anxious to learn all we can about education and management. When we stand for election, we highlight experience in education and management, and voters believe we are better prepared because of that background. This all seems quite logical. It is also quite wrong.
What Can Schools Learn from Business?
If school boards want to improve their schools, then all they need to do is to model the business practices of Corporate America. There’s no escaping this simplistic formula for school reform. As with most panaceas, there’s a fair bit of truth -- and no little rubbish -- in such thinking.
Getting Support from Employers for School Leaders
It’s hard for any professional to juggle board duties with the ever-increasing demands of today’s jobs. And while it appears the vast majority of employers don’t mind and may even actively encourage employees to volunteer for public service, some make the lives of school board members anything but easy.
How School Leaders Cope with Stress
Maybe it was the federal stimulus funds, a slowdown in job losses, or an uptick in the stock market that has lightened the mood in the country. But, as analysts have warned, the United States isn’t in the clear yet. No one knows this better than the three educators profiled here.