Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning

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 Learning From Leadership: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning

The evidence reported in the three sections of Part Three warrants a series of implications for policy and practice.

Implications for Policy

  1. Legislation should be introduced to support internal collaboration and organizational change on the part of SEAs.
    This recommendation responds to the mandates in national and state legislation which demand that SEA staff from different offices break out of their silos and share responsibility for educational success. The process of internal collaboration and organizational change is slow in many states; it could be better supported through direct legislative and gubernatorial action.
  2. SEAs struggle with inadequate resources in their efforts to meet new responsibilities. They cannot solve this problem on their own. A response on the part of state legislatures and governors, as well as the federal government, is needed.
    SEAs have been obliged to take on new responsibilities as a consequence of the standards and accountability movement. Often they are not adequately funded or equipped to meet these responsibilities. States should acknowledge this problem and take appropriate action to enhance the SEAs‘ capacities (or to reduce monitoring requirements that are less directly connected to student learning). Testimony from SEA staff members across the 10 states suggests that state agencies do not receive enough funding to carry out their new federally mandated obligations adequately, which means that they believe that districts are not receiving needed support. Solutions may include new funding or changes in staffing priorities.
  3. State leaders should acknowledge the increasingly important role of districts as collaborators in the policy process.
    Our data suggest that state policy makers rarely incorporate the views of district leaders in the legislative and agenda-setting process (except, occasionally, through association lobbying). Given the central role that we find for the districts, both from SEA, principal, and district data, this oversight should be addressed in order to create more systemic policy initiatives.

Implications for Practice

  1. School improvement requires the participation of all leaders.
    Our findings complement those of Part I, where distributed leadership effects on student achievement were among the most significant. In most states, there are few forums for creating dialogue that might influence how people at all levels make sense of state standards, tests, and other measures of student development. When SEA staff members emphasize their role as service providers rather than compliance monitors, they are in a position to improve their relationships with district and school staff members. When legislators and key policy makers talk to district superintendents, they are more likely to tweak existing policies and develop new ones that are consistent with the various contextual features of districts and schools. As relationships improve, they have a measurable effect on district and school efforts to improve teaching and learning.
  2. Collaboration in implementation is a state’s greatest ally.
    People in many workplace settings report that when they collaborate with others, their job satisfaction is greater, they have a stronger sense of efficacy, they are more optimistic about their ability to achieve improvement outcomes, they are better able to create links to outside agencies, and they are more optimistic about meeting new demands.
  3. There needs to be increased focus on how best to meet the different leadership needs associated with variable contexts (location and demography).
    All states have more rural than urban districts; all confront the strains that differences in student demographic characteristics place on the provision of educational support services. We suggest that state policy makers need to consider that one size does not fit all when considering how the state will support school and district leaders in meeting new accountability challenges.
  4. States should do more to support the preparation and professional development of district leaders, district-level staff members, and SEA staff members.
    Although pressure on school and district leaders is increasing, the level of support (professional development and expertise) extended to them has remained constant or has declined. This is a problem that calls for additional state funding. Since the preferred policy lever in most states is mandates rather than capacity building, the solution here will require a shift in thinking at the gubernatorial and legislative levels.
  5. State- and district-level policy makers need to engage more strategically in determining how states can provide support, not just pressure, for implementation of locally defined priorities for improvement within the framework of state standards and accountability policies.
    For example, state policy makers and education agencies should find ways to disseminate creative initiatives on the part of local districts to encourage authentic compliance or even higher standards than those set by state policy, while acknowledging local differences.
  6. States need to listen to district officials as they voice their concerns about state policies. In particular, state policy makers and education agencies need to be more responsive to legitimate concerns about unforeseen inequities arising from the implementation of well-intended government policies.

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