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By Mark Toner

The myriad challenges facing school principals in the United States have been well documented, including limited opportunities for distributed leadership, inadequate training, and a lackluster pipeline for new leaders. Recently, the Fordham Institute teamed up with the London-based Education Foundation to seek a better understanding of England’s recent efforts to revamp school leadership. This joint effort led to a white paper, Building a Lattice for School Leadership; the short film, Leadership Evolving: New Models of Preparing School Heads; a fall 2014 conference that brought together nearly forty experts on school leadership from both countries; and a new report, Developing School Leaders: What the U.S. Can Learn from England’s Model, that reflects the discussions at the fall conference. This paper:

  • Summarizes the key elements of the English system, as well as systems for training and credentialing leaders at several levels;
  • Describes how changes in leadership development reflect broader education-policy shifts and how the English system currently benefits from a combination of top-down and decentralized models; and
  • Examines potential implications for American public education and poses questions for policymakers and educators to consider.

There are obvious and significant differences between the two systems. With about twenty thousand schools, England has roughly the same number as California and Texas combined—all within a nation the size of Wisconsin.  England’s central government in Whitehall makes most of the big education-policy decisions. Given the much larger and markedly more decentralized U.S. system, direct policy transfusions are unlikely. Yet England’s view of school leadership, combined with local models of support and development, may nonetheless provide a useful roadmap away from the present U.S. system. ...

Some let the status quo roll on while others change change the narrative powerfully.

This letter appeared in the 2014 Thomas B. Fordham Institute Annual Report. To learn more, download the report.

Fordham friends,

Closing the books on the year that just passed has special resonance this time around—both for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and for the education-reform movement at large. For us, 2014 marked the first leadership transition in our organization’s history, with founding president Chester E. (“Checker”) Finn, Jr. moving into his new role as senior distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus and with our board of trustees electing me to succeed him. Almost six months into this challenge, I remain honored by the faith they placed in me and appreciative of Checker’s pitch-perfect management of the transition process.
 

For the education-reform movement, 2014 was more of a mixed bag. It was famously the year when America was supposed to, but did not, achieve “universal proficiency”—a goal set by the No Child Left Behind Act back in 2002. That nearly thirteen years have now passed without a much-needed ESEA reauthorization gives us one clue as to what went awry: gridlock in Congress and an administration incapable or unwilling to move lawmakers to act. It’s hard to make improvements in policy when the policymaking machine grinds to a halt. Unilateral—and, arguably, unconstitutional—action by the executive branch is not a durable solution.

Yet that dysfunction also offers lessons worth heeding. If statutory updates are to materialize as often as the thirteen-year cicada, we should make sure that laws are written in a way that allows states and districts the room to make tweaks along the way. Likewise, we should be careful about locking in prescriptions or mandates, because we might have...

Curator’s Note: Gadfly Bites will be off tomorrow, returning on March 13 to begin a new Monday, Wednesday, Friday publication schedule.

  1. Nicely-detailed discussion of various “safe harbor” provisions – those already in place, those currently being debated, and those still being drafted – for Ohio teachers in relation to students’ standardized test scores. Journalist Jeremy Kelley attended Fordham’s Speakers Series event on teacher evaluations and includes a number of comments from panelists Melissa Cropper (Ohio Federation of Teacherst) and Matt Verber (Students First Ohio) from that discussion in his piece. Thanks for coming, Jeremy. (Springfield News Sun)
     
  2. Kudos to Cleveland’s Breakthrough Schools for their recent award of a $1 million grant from the Haslam family’s 3 Foundation. "They're making great strides and they're making it quickly," said Dee Haslam in announcing the award. “We really like to help those organizations that are making a difference." Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Speaking of Breakthrough Schools, it was announced this week that Breakthrough and Cleveland Municipal School District have reached an agreement on new building leases for three charter schools in the network, including an extension of the first-of-its-kind-in-Ohio arrangement of a charter school sharing space with a district school. Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  4. Speaking of Cleveland charter school buildings, Menlo Park Academy – a charter school for gifted students – announced recently that it has acquired a huge new building on the west side of the city in which to move and expand. Some fascinating details in this piece from a local business publication, including the illustrious history of the building in the garment industry and some discussion of property crime statistics in the schools old vs. new locations. Best wishes to MPA on its capital campaign! (Freshwater Cleveland)
     
  5. Tired of hearing praise of
  6. ...

The charter reform bandwagon, Akron gets techy, more

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