US Departments of Education and Justice Issue Joint Guidance on English Learners

40 years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in Lau v. Nichols and the passage by Congress of the Equal Educational Opportunities Act (both in 1974), the US Department of Education and the Department of Justice released joint guidance today (January 7, 2015) outlining and clarifying the core compliance issues for states, local school districts and schools regarding regulations and requirements for English Learner programs. This is a very significant document as it represents the first time that these two federal departments have issued joint guidance on this topic.  This emphasizes the fact that this issue has two important dimensions, an educational component and a civil rights component.

The document lays out the essential program requirements in English Learning programs, including issues of assessment, appropriate instruction, staff qualifications, curriculum, progress monitoring and exiting procedures. Most of what is presented here is not new policy.  What is new is the joint communication involving the two U.S. Departments.  This is an indication of the importance being placed on this area at the federal level.  State departments of education and local school districts would do well to review their current programs in light of this document.

Here is a link to the guidance document:

The new guidance document clarifies key compliance and program regulations for states and local districts to:

  • identify English learner students in a timely, valid and reliable manner;
  • offer all English learner students an educationally sound language assistance program;
  • provide qualified staff and sufficient resources for instruction English learner students;
  • ensure English learner students have equitable access to school programs and activities;
  • avoid unnecessary segregation of English learner students from other students;
  • monitor students’ progress in learning English and doing grade-level classwork;
  • remedy any academic deficits English learner students incurred while in a language assistance program;
  • move students out of language assistance programs when they are proficient in English and monitor those students to ensure they were not prematurely removed;
  • evaluate the effectiveness of English learner programs; and
  • provide limited English proficient parents with information about school programs, services, and activities in a language they understand.

As the English Learner population continues to grow in Oregon and the United States, these documents serve to remind states and districts of their responsibilities and to provide parents and communities with important information as advocates for the students in our schools.

Fact Sheet in English:

Fact Sheet in Multiple Languages:

Fact Sheet in English with Parent Information:

Fact Sheet in Multiple Languages with Parent Information:

Tool Kit on English Learner Programs:

Patrick Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

Graduate School of Education

Cutting the Dropout Rate: Are We Ready for Success?

The Pew Research Center recently released an analysis of high school dropout rates drawn from the most recent American Community Survey data of the U.S. Census Bureau. The reported results raise a question of whether we are ready for success.  What’s next?

Author Richard Fry[1] writes that the national high school dropout rate has reached a record low of 7% of the 18-24 year-old population in the U.S., down from 12% in 2000.  The reduction, according to the Pew analysis, is due primarily to substantial reductions in the dropout rates for Black and Hispanic youth.  For example, since 1993, the Hispanic dropout rate in the U.S. has declined from 33% to 14%.  The Black dropout rate declined over the same period from 16% to 8%. The Black dropout rate has declined by nearly 50% just since 2000. Dropout rates for Non-Hispanic whites have also declined over the 1993-2013 period from 9% to 5%, and Asians from 5% to 4%. While Hispanic and Black youth still account for the largest percentage of high school dropouts, it is clear that more students and more students of color are staying in school and graduating.

What is particularly remarkable about the significant decline in the Hispanic dropout rate is that the overall Hispanic youth population has increased by 50% since 2000, according to the Pew analysis. Just since 2000, the number of Hispanic high school completers has increased from 60% to 79% in 2013.

Black high school completion has also increased since 1993 from 75% to 82%.  Non-Hispanic white completion increased from 87% to 89%; and Asian completion increased from 1999 from 90% to 91%.  The Pew analysis reports the Hispanic completion rate at a record high for the U.S.  Hispanic students currently make up 25% of the U.S. high school population with that number projected to be 30% by 2022. Fry cites Pew Research surveys that report high rankings for education as an important issue, along with health care and immigration policy, among Hispanics in the U.S.

The increased expectations for education attainment has also been reflected in post-secondary enrollment with Hispanic college enrollment at 18% in 2013, up from 12% in 2009.  As local college and university, state, and federal opportunities continue to expand, this number will continue to increase.  An exception to the positive growth seen in these figures is the relatively low numbers of Hispanic students completing post-secondary and earning a degree. The Census Data reported by Fry place that number at just 9% of the population aged 25-29 completing a bachelor’s degree.  This signals that current efforts among high schools, post-secondary institutions and state policy makers focusing on degree attainment are addressing the next major equity hurdle in education.

What Happens When Students are More Successful?

Going a bit deeper into the 2013 American Community Survey data points to key indicators that make this improvement in high school completion particularly encouraging.  Looking at overall Educational Attainment for the U.S. in the ACS 2013 data[2], 85.3% of current 18-24 year olds have attained high school graduation or higher compared to 81.1% of the population 65 years of age or higher.  Thus, more young people entering the work force are better educated at a younger age than their retiring counterparts.  Increasing the educational level of the workforce increases opportunity for individuals, as well as, benefits employers with better educated, adaptable and talented employees able to adapt to new challenges. This helps sustain growth in the economy through higher employee earnings and more business innovation as older workers retire.

As the table below indicates, the relationship between the level of educational attainment and poverty remains clear in the current census data as it has historically.

Poverty Rate for the Population 25 years and over for whom Poverty Status as Determined by Educational Attainment

Less than high school graduate 27.7%
High School Graduate 14.6%
Some College or Associate’s Degree 10.9%
Bachelor’s Degree 4.8%

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census, Educational Attainment, 2013 1-year Estimates

The data indicate a 13.1 percentage point reduction in the poverty rate for completing high school and a 16.8 percentage point reduction in poverty for some college.  The most dramatic differences in poverty status are between adults who have a bachelor’s degree (4.8%) and those with less than a high school diploma (27.7%), implying that individuals are almost 6 times as likely to be in poverty without a high school diploma as a person with a bachelor’s degree.

This also translates into increased earnings for young people entering the workforce.  Looking at the table below, there is clear benefit to median earnings in the most recent 12 month period based upon educational attainment. At each increase of level of educational attainment, median incomes increase.

Median Earnings in the Past 12 months (in 2013 inflation-adjusted dollars)

Population 25 years and over with earnings $35,597
Less than high school graduate $20,149
High School Graduate (includes equivalency) $27,350
Some College or Associate’s Degree $32,387
Bachelor’s Degree $50,050
Graduate or Professional Degree $65,565

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census, Educational Attainment, 2013 1-year Estimates

A key variable in this complex mix is the growing cost of higher education.  The burgeoning levels of student loan debt in post-secondary education coupled with reductions in state and federal aid and increasing tuition costs have raised important issues of access and opportunity for a student body made up from families with fewer personal resources.  A key to maintaining the benefits to society of a well-educated population is to keep the cost of education affordable.

Are We Ready for College to be the New Normal?

We find ourselves in a place that is not unlike other stages of U.S. history. Although it has taken constitutional amendments, treaties, court cases, law suits and, even, the presence of federal troops, the American public education system has been a gateway through which individuals have found access to opportunity.   However, our targets are changing.  For decades, especially since the anti-poverty movements of the 1960’s, the emphasis on equal educational opportunity, and the school reform policies of the last 15 years, we have been primarily focused on student completion of high school as an over-arching system goal.  Although the Pew analysis does not indicate that we have completed that mission, it is clear that significant progress has been made.

It is well established that increasing educational attainment benefits both individuals, via increased opportunities and earnings; and society in general, via increased productivity and economic growth, as well as, reductions in costs for social services.

However, these recent data signal a new and ambitious target.  The demand for more access to higher education services by an increasing number of high school graduates from diverse backgrounds is shifting the historical focus from high school completion to post-secondary completion. The new normal is moving to post-secondary completion as the system target in both career and technical education and in traditional academic degrees. However, the Pew data adds a critically important dimension to this scenario.  The increase in post-secondary demand and attainment will be impacted by increasing numbers of students of color, students of different languages, cultures and ethnicities.

Two implications suggest themselves: first, enlightened state policy and targeted investments are needed to open more post-secondary opportunities to an increasingly diverse population including tuition support; and academic, social and cultural support for diverse and first generation students.  Second, the institutions of higher education themselves are challenged to create degree programs; instructional methods; faculty cultural competence; and degree pathways among high schools, community colleges and 4-year institutions targeted to the success of an increasingly diverse group of students who are setting their sights beyond high school completion.

Historically, elementary and secondary schools have been challenged with adapting to new languages, cultures, races and ethnicities entering the American system through the local public school.  Although improving those outcomes remains a challenge, the Pew analysis compels us to consider what happens to an increasingly diverse student population when they graduate from high school and seek post-secondary education? The aspirations and futures of individuals, as well as, our collective well-being will be significantly impacted by how we answer that question.


Patrick Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

[1] U.S. High School Dropout Rate Reaches Record Low, Driven by Improvements among Hispanics, Blacks, Pew Research Center, published online, October 2, 2014, at

[2] American Community Survey Fact Finder, #S1501: Educational Attainment, U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 1-yr Estimates

NEW OCR Guidance on Equal Education Opportunity

Catherine E. Lhamon, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education,  today released an important policy position statement regarding district-provided access to rigorous courses and other educational resources.  In this “Dear Colleague” letter, the Assistant Secretary lays out in considerable detail how disparities in access for students of color, disability or national origin to high quality courses, learning opportunities, quality facilities and other provisions of quality educational opportunity will be treated as evidence of discrimination by the Office of Civil Rights.

OCR will look at three guiding questions:

1. Did the school district treat a student, or group of students, differently with respect to providing access to education resources as compared to another similarly situated student or group of students of a different race, color or national origin (a prima facie case of discrimination)?

2. Can the school district articulate a  legitimate, nondiscriminatory, educational reason for the different treatment? If not, OCR could find that the district has intentionally discriminated on the basis of race.  If yes, then

3. Is the allegedly nondiscriminatory reason a pretext for discrimination?  If so, OCR would find the district has intentionally discriminated on the basis of race.

OCR will investigate the quality, quantity and availability of educational resources and determine if disparities exist among students receiving these services.  School districts will be given an opportunity to explain any differences based upon an educational reason that is legitimate and non-discriminatory.  If the district cannot provide such an explanation. OCR may find that the district has intentionally discriminated based on race, national origin or disability.

The letter recognizes that expanding access to and participation in educational opportunities may require additional investments, including staffing, facilities, modifications for language proficiency and for students with disabilities.  However, the Assistant Secretary clarifies that limited funding does not “preclude the duty to act under Title VI;” and OCR may look at how categorical federal funding is allocated to expand participation of different populations in advanced educational opportunities.

The letter is complex and should be read in detail.  But the position of the U.S. Department of Education is clarified in this position.  Disparate levels of participation in and access to the educational resources of a school district by race, nationality, language of origin or disability will be looked at as a potential civil rights violation.  Districts would do well to initiate their own examination of how students gain access to educational resouces within the framework outlined in this important policy statement.

Here is a link to the full letter released today:


Patrick Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy


Teacher and Administrator Input Sought for Research on Reading Material Selection in Oregon

Dr. Susan Lenski, PSU Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, specializes in middle and secondary school literacy and reading programs. She is currently engaged in a research project on the process of selection of reading materials and instructional programs in schools and school districts in Oregon.  These are very important policy decisions for school districts, and we are using the GSE Policy Blog to alert readers to an opportunity to provide your input into the research on this important topic.  Here is Dr. Lenski’s letter:


Greetings Oregon educators,

We need to hear from you. We represent a group of 34 literacy teacher educators from 14 colleges and universities across Oregon. We are conducting an online survey to find out the reading instructional practices and materials being used in Oregon schools.

Currently Oregon instructional materials laws (ORS 337 & OAR 581 Division 11) state “only basal instructional programs may be adopted by the State Board of Education.”  Publishers of basal instructional programs must pay a fee if they want to have their materials reviewed by the Oregon Department of Education before they can be included in the state’s approved textbooks and materials.

As a group of teacher educators we are interested to see if there is interest from Oregon educators to revise the current instructional materials laws to allow more than “basal instructional programs” to be included on the Oregon department of Education’s approved textbooks and materials (ORS 337 & OAR 581 Division 11).

By participating in this online survey, your voice can make a difference in the future of how Oregon chooses its instructional materials.  Please click on this link ( and fill out the survey.  It should take 5 to 10 minutes.  It will be time well spent!

Please forward the link to your colleagues to participate, as well.

Thank you,

Sue Lenski, Portland State University

USDOE Proposes Overhaul of School Improvement Grant Program

The good news in 2010 was that the U.S. Department of Education was going to put a major new investment of federal funding on the table for school improvement. Under No Child Left Behind, schools that had been identified as needing to improve did not have access to funds to support their improvement efforts. The School Improvement Grant (SIG) program was born. The lowest performing 5% of schools (Priority School) and the lowest performing 15% of schools (Focus School) were eligible based upon state assessment data.

The bad news in this was the use of the funds came with significant restrictions on how they could be used. For a school to be eligible, they had to agree to adopt one of four improvement models identified by the U.S. Department of Education. These are:

· Closure: Close the school and move impacted students to nearby higher performing schools

· Restart: Close the school and reopen it under the management of a charter school provider

· Turnaround: replace the principal and screen and rehire no more than half of existing teachers

· Transformation: Replace the principal, alter the instructional program and evaluate teachers in part on the basis of student performance.

In addition, grants are limited to three years, including one year for planning and professional development. This significantly limited the amount of time for program improvements to be implemented to demonstrate measurable results, or to provide sufficient time for program changes to be fully implemented.

These restrictions made it difficult for districts to apply for badly needed funds if they did not intend to close the school, or convert it to a charter, or to replace up to half of their staff. Oregon districts have developed good proposals, but it is also clear that broadening the way these funds could be used would be helpful.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Education has begun that process of adding more flexibility to the use of these funds. A proposed set of new regulations for SIG grants has been posted in the Federal Register and are open for public comment and input until October 8th. This is a very good opportunity for anyone interested in improving the SIG program to learn more about the proposed changes and to provide feedback and comments to USDOE.

Here are some of the major proposed changes:

  • · Allowing five-year SIG awards;
  • · Adding improvement models identified by the State;
  • · Adding evidence-based, whole –school reform strategies;
  • · Allowing rural districts to modify one SIG intervention model element;
  • · Expanding SIG targets to include educational outcomes in preschool and early grades;
  • · Inclusion of family and community engagement throughout the grant period;
  • · Adding support for local district monitoring and supporting the implementation;
  • · Requiring the local district to review performance of any external providers and to hold them accountable for performance;
  • · Eliminate the “rule of nine” which currently restricts districts with more than nine eligible schools from using the transformation model in more than half of them;
  • · Aligning the teacher and administrator evaluation criteria in SIG to that which is being used by the state in the current ESEA flexibility requirements. This simplifies the application process and criteria for districts.

The intent of these changes is to make SIG funding more flexible, less restrictive and, most importantly, more realistic in its timelines for developing, implementing and monitoring implementation of meaningful school reform strategies.

You can get complete information and submit a formal comment on the proposed changes and submit a statement if you wish at the link below:

Information on SIG grants in Oregon is available at:

Pat Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy

The Real Crisis in Public Education

Dr. Ramin Farahmandpur is a Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy.  Dr. Farahmandpur appeared as a Guest Columnist in the Opinion Section of The Oregonian on September 14, 2014.  His comments are reprinted here with his permission. 


The Real Crisis in Public Education: Guest Opinion

By Ramin Farahmandpur;

The Oregonian; September 14, 2014

With all eyes on the governor’s race this fall, incumbent John Kitzhaber is touting his record in reforming public education.  The good doctor has misdiagnosed the patient. Oregon’s education system suffers not from a poverty of policy, but from a poverty of investment.

Years of budget cuts in K-12 education have given Oregon one of the shortest school years in the country.  Disinvestment has caused the explosion of class sizes—also one of the nation’s highest.  Inadequate investment has led to layoffs of teachers, librarians, custodians, counselors, administrators and other school personnel.

Oregon’s higher education system fares no better. Its restructuring by the governor’s misnamed Oregon Education Investment Board has failed to resolve the many challenges students, faculty and administrators confront. Soaring college tuition; growing student debt (now estimated at $1.2 trillion nationally); the overuse of adjunct and part-time faculty; and cutbacks of student services, especially for first-generation and low-income students, are a few of the many issues higher education faces.

It is hard to imagine how we will be able to reach the aspirational goals of the governor’s 2011 education reform policy. Dubbed “40-40-20,” this reform calls for an unrealistic 100 percent high school graduation rate and 80 percent post-secondary degree attainment by the year 2025. Because this goal does not include more funding, it must be said: We cannot wish our way to excellence.

Within Salem’s political circles, there are few debates about adequate funding. Drowned out are the voices of teachers, parents, students and community advocates who care about children, a growing number of whom are hungry, homeless and hurting.

If we believe that education is one of the pillars of a healthy democracy, then it is our responsibility to ensure that educational opportunity is extended to all. As education philosopher John Dewey once noted, what the best and wisest parents want for their own children must be what the community wants for all its children.

Oregonians should demand that our civic leaders and politicians wake up. Our prosperity depends on a well-funded public education system, not on a numbers game focused on churning out a threshold quantity of diplomas.  It is only with the cooperation of our citizens, unions and private businesses working together that our system will flourish.

What we do not need are superfluous bureaucratic layers that have taken decision-making power from communities and concentrated it in the hands of the state.

At a time when the rhetoric of education accountability has dominated public debates, should we not expect comparable accountability from our leaders in the Legislature and the governor’s office? After all, they serve the public interest. They, too, must acknowledge the predicament of public education for what it is: a crisis of disinvestment and underfunding.

Ramin Farahmandpur, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy in the Graduate School of Education at Portland State University.


Do Superintendents Matter?

The Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution released a report yesterday on the impact of superintendents on student achievement.

The results are challenging; and, at first look, lead one to conclude that the role of the superintendent is superfluous to improving student achievement.  The results are based on analysis of longitudinal student performance data in North Carolina and Florida.  The statistical impact on student achievement attributed to superintendents is quite low, i.e. explaining only 0.3% of the variance in 4th and 5th grade test scores in the state of North Carolina. Student data from Florida was not used in the student achievement analysis. (See page 5 of the Brown study for details on the data set.)  The data in the study suggests that teachers, classrooms, schools, principals, and the school district as a whole have statistically higher impacts on student achievement than does the superintendent. The study attributes characteristics of the district, such as, civic commitment to schools, school board leadership, press scrutiny, economic development, family social services, and so on, as having an impact on student performance in ways that are independent of the superintendency, i.e., they would happen regardless of who is in the superintendent’s role. However, no specific data analysis of individual superintendent characteristics is provided, and there is no recognition that the superintendent is a substantial contributor to the factors that the authors identify. The primary measure in the report is an examination of student performance data in school districts in the two states following the replacement of one superintendent with another and/or acceleration of student performance growth over the tenure of the superintendent. The study found that superintendents, in general, in these two states had an average of only three to four years in the role.  To oversimplify, they found no difference in student performance when superintendents change. This is a fairly direct challenge to the concept of superintendent leadership and bears careful examination.

It is always a challenge to precisely identify the consequences of leadership behavior. This is true in any complex organization where the direct relationship between a CEO and the performance of the organization’s employees or the accomplishment of its goals is a hard connection to make. The study of leadership behavior has become a lucrative field for authors to present their particular views on how the leadership of the CEO can transform the organization and its culture.  The focus is on identifying behaviors, both motivational and managerial, that contribute to an organization’s accomplishment of its goals.  Authors Chingos, Whitehurst and Lindquist raise a good question: what is the evidence that the superintendent impacts student achievement?

Does a CEO matter to an organization? Is a CEO actually worth the substantial salaries they receive? Answering this question is normally based on some understanding of what a CEO actually does, i.e., what actions, goal setting functions, policies, budget appropriations, personnel practices, management strategies, Board relations, and so on are attributable to the CEO?   The question for analysis is not whether there is a CEO and how long that person has been in place. The question is what actions are taken to support the overall success of the organization? In the case of the Brown Center report the authors do not attempt to identify specific leadership behaviors. Instead, they look only at length of service of the superintendent, glossing over the fact that both elected and appointed superintendents are in the same sample, i.e., politicians vs. professional educators;  and they only looked at 4th and 5th grade student achievement data in one state as their measure of impact on student achievement. No analysis of differences in leadership behavior is provided.

This is methodologically weak in that no attempt is made to identify specific actions of superintendents that did or did not contribute to the positive effects of the teachers, principals, schools and districts that the report highlights. By not asking the right questions, the study draws a conclusion, i.e., superintendents don’t matter, without actually collecting and reporting information on any actions taken by superintendents. The authors looked at superintendents from 67 districts in Florida and 115 districts in North Carolina and the time period of the analysis captured a total of 434 individual superintendents. Student achievement data analysis was restricted to 4th and 5th grade results in North Carolina only. Narrowing effectiveness on student achievement to only 4th and 5th grade data in one state inappropriately narrows the definition of leadership impact.

In addition, unmeasured differences in achievement are attributed in the Brown Center report as “Student” differences without definition.  “Controls” are measured differences, such as, race/ethnicity. In Figure 4 (Page 10) of the Brown Report the authors claim that 90.8% of the variance in 4th and 5th grade math achievement in North Carolina is attributed to student variables (52% “Student” and 38.8% “Control”). The authors describe the “Students” variable, accounting for 52% of the variance in the data, as “all unexplained variance including measurement error.” (Page 10) By calling this “Student” variance and not “unexplained” variance, a reader can inaccurately conclude that the combination of student level variables explains most of the variance. This attempt to define school outcomes as the result of differences in students is inconsistent with the significant amount of research on quality schools and districts that demonstrates the characteristics of high performing schools that successfully address student level variables. The Brown Center data attributes only 4% of the explained variance to teacher differences which is a significant departure from other research.  They attribute only 0.3% of the explained variance in test data to differences in the superintendent. However, the majority of the variance is being attributed to unmeasured variables assuming that the unmeasured variables have nothing to do with the superintendent. Is it not possible that the Brown Center report simply did not ask the right questions?   For example, a superintendent may exert leadership around issues of a race-based achievement gap and you would not, necessarily, see that influence attributed to the superintendent in this type of data collection.  If parents become more engaged, if local community-based organizations become more collaborative partners, if teachers begin to focus on racial disparities in more effective ways, etc., this study would not attribute those differences to the superintendent because it did not ask that question.  Attributing unmeasured variance under a “Student” category is misleading and likely inaccurate. At a minimum it reflects that many questions were left unasked in this analysis.

In contrast, consider the 2006 study by Waters and Marzano of the Mid-Continent Educational Laboratory.[1]  It is interesting to note that this well-known study was not even mentioned in the Brown report.  The Waters and Marzano work is a meta-analysis of 27 studies of superintendent leadership behaviors and their impact on student achievement. The analysis looks at studies that involved 2,817 school districts and the achievement scores of 3.4 million students. Fourteen of the 27 studies had specific student achievement data for analysis of district leadership impact on student data. The study found a .24 positive correlation between district leadership and student achievement (p<.05). This explains as much as a 9.5 percentile point growth in student achievement attributed to leadership characteristics of superintendents. The analysis looks specifically into the types of leadership behaviors that contribute to positive student outcomes and identifies statistically significant predictors.  Waters and Marzano identified five statistically significant factors:

  • The goal setting process (Average r = .24, p<.05)
  • Non-negotiable goals for achievement and instruction (Average r = .33, p<.05)
  • Board alignment with and support of district goals. (Average r = .29, p<.05)
  • Monitoring the goals for achievement and instruction (Average r = .27, p<.05),
  • Use of resources to support the goals for achievement and instruction. (Average r = .26, p<.05)

Particularly relevant to understanding the Brown Center report is a sixth finding in the Waters and Marzano study that found that the degree of autonomy provided to principals to lead their schools within the context of clear district goals, expectations and supports for teachers was positively correlated to student achievement. (r=.28, p<.05)  In other words, there is a positive impact on student achievement when superintendents focus on hiring high quality principals and teachers, when they empower them to focus on the mission of the district at the local school level; when there is support for innovation and provision of district supports for professional development and innovative practices; and where high levels of achievement by all students is a clear, measured, district-wide expectation.  Therefore, the evidence in the Brown Center report showing the positive role of teachers, principals and school level factors may, in fact, also be seen as evidence of district level leadership that has created the conditions for this level of impact to occur, i.e., clear policy, high expectations, personnel practices, budget alignment.  This “tight-loose” management style may be very effective as a district strategy, but the Brown Center report would see these as effects attributed to teachers, principals, and buildings independent of the superintendent.

By not asking the question of specific leadership behavior, the Brown Center report concludes:

In the end, it is the system that promotes or hinders student achievement.  Superintendents are largely indistinguishable creatures of that system. (Page 14)

This is a misleading and inaccurate representation of the role of district leadership in creating conditions for success. The issue is not whether the superintendent is treated as an independent variable from teacher, principal and school effects.  On the contrary, the issue is how the superintendent influences, supports and contributes to the effectiveness of these variables.  If teachers are effective, what leadership behavior supports that effectiveness?  If principals are effective leaders, what steps did the superintendent take to support those administrators?  If the Board is demonstrating effective leadership, what steps did the superintendent take to foster and collaborate with that vision?  If the system has invested in effective strategies and practices, what budgetary practices were used to support those elements?  The Brown Center report does a disservice to understanding the impact of district leadership by not looking at specific leadership behavior in the successful districts they identified.

Pat Burk, Ph.D.

Department of Educational Leadership and Policy


[1] Waters, J. T., & Marzano, R. J. (2006). School district leadership that works: The effect of superintendent leadership on student achievement. Denver, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning. – See more at: