Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Principles, Rather Than Personalities, Should Guide Reform Initiatives

Effective Schools Research integrates tenets of the Continuous Improvement Theory into a sustainable school improvement framework.  As a counter to Coleman’s (1966) research that extensively absolved schools of responsibility for student achievement, Edmonds (1979) began extensive research designed to investigate successful schools with large populations of low SES students.  His subsequent findings resulted in a call for equity grounded in a commitment to promoting the academic skills of low socio-economic status (SES) children to levels of mastery of basic skills.  By addressing the equitable distribution of goods within a society, Edmonds’s work was framed in socio-political terms whereby all children could be educated and the school's treatment of children was seen as a critical factor in each child’s academic success.  Edmonds believed there are six factors that schools can actually control, which can optimize academic success for poor children.  These included:
1.               strong administrative leadership;
2.               a climate of expectation that children would succeed;
3.               orderly school atmosphere;
4.               primary emphasis on student acquisition of basic skills;
5.               school energy and resources focused on basic skills; and
6.               frequent monitoring of pupil progress (p. 18).
The six factors identified by Edmonds (1979) were reinforced by Pechman and King’s (1993) identification of six essential factors for successful school reform.  These six factors included:
1.     a stable and safe school environment;
2.     the ongoing support from district staff for reform;
3.      the presence of teacher leaders within the school;
4.     the collaboration and support of the whole faculty;
5.     the acceptance and commitment by the faculty to participate in the change process; and
6.     a principal who facilitates the changes and encourages collegiality.
Additionally, Childress (2009), reinforced the six essential types of involvement to be included in any program of school reform.  This comprehensive program of school-family-community partnerships, which was initially explicated by Epstein (1995), includes:
1.     parenting--helping all families establish home environments that support children as students;
2.     communicating--designing and conducting effective forms of communication about school programs and children's progress;
3.     volunteering--recruiting and organizing help and support for school functions and activities;
4.     learning at home--providing information and ideas to families about how to help students with schoolwork and school-related activities;
5.     decision-making--including parents in school decisions and
6.     collaborating with the community--identifying and integrating resources and services from the community to strengthen and support schools, students and their families (p. 16).
            The basic conclusion of Edmonds (1979) comparative research on Effective Schools was that public schools can and do make a difference, even if comprised of students from low SES backgrounds.  As a result of effective public schools, all children can learn at high levels including children from low SES backgrounds.  Unique characteristics and processes found in schools where all students were learning at high levels regardless of SES status were correlated with student success therefore the term "correlates" has been subsequently referenced in Effective Schools Research.  These interconnected correlates include:
           Safe and Orderly Environment
           Clear and Focused Mission
           Climate of High Expectations for Success
           Opportunity to Learn & Student Time on Task
           Frequent Monitoring of Student Progress
           Positive Home-School Relations
           Strong Instructional Leadership (Lezotte, 1991)

            As a bridge between the initial work by Edmonds and more recent research related to school reform, Lezotte (1991) and Lezotte and Snyder (2011) focused upon correlates of effectiveness, processes for creating effective schools, and achievement criteria for determining the success of these efforts.  Lezotte encouraged an emphasis on dual research that focused upon the instructional features of effective teaching and the organizational features of effective schools.  Ultimately, the Seven Correlates and Six Essential Elements of School Reform formed the basic beliefs framing improvement for Effective Schools.
            The continuous improvement management approach reinforces Deming’s Total Quality Management (TQM) system, comprised of 14 points posited as “essential for business success” (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 33).  Deming’s TQM system and the “Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle” (p.34) grounds the well-documented Brazosport sustained reform initiatives.  Given its genesis in the PDCA cycle, the Continuous Improvement Theory effectively aligns well with other existing research shown to result in sustainable school improvement. 
An Effective School’s mission grounded in the seven interconnected correlates for reform would expect success regardless of socioeconomic status (SES) of its students.  Despite these findings by Comer, (1998), the relationship between SES and educational outcomes continue to be so “unquestioned that contemporary research is more likely to employ SES as a control variable than as the subject of inquiry” (Duke, 2000, p. 442).  For this reason, an effective leader needs to promote the interconnectedness of the seven correlates of Effective Schools. 
Before implementing the principle of monitor and adjust effectively, leaders must identify the problem and then lead continuous improvement systems and processes.  At least two methods can identify organizational problems.  Root Cause Analysis is a method that helps individuals learn as much as possible from adverse events or poor outcomes of processes in organizations.  It is important to know why something happened and learn how to prevent a recurrence.  A root cause is the most basic reason that a situation did not turn out ideally (Frendendall, et al., 2002).
Theory of constraints is another method for identifying organizational problems.  It evaluates multiple interactions among processes and systems that ultimately effect decisions toward implementing change.  Theory of constraints involves a thinking process that emphasizes:
1) WHAT to Change?
2) To WHAT to Change?
3) HOW to Cause a Change? (Burton Houle, 2001). 

Through rigorous analysis of a problem system, the leader can identify the core conflict.  This optimizes efficiency toward construction of a complete solution based on consideration of complex interdependencies that exist within a problematic system.  Considered and proposed changes are only elevated toward implementation after careful evaluation of the interactions that result from interrelated processes and systems.  Theory of constraints extends conventional cause and effect diagrams by constructing diagrams that show interdependencies and interactions. 
To lead continuous improvement systems and processes, the effective educational leader evaluates the Five Ts of Continuous Improvement: Theories, Teams, Tools, Time, and Technology.  The effective educational leader then ensures appropriate performance criteria are established.  Just as performance criteria is needed for leading continuous improvement systems and processes, the effective educational leader ensures appropriate performance criteria are established to monitor and adjust performance strategies. 
Too often diversity is the basis for contention rather than community building.  Effective collaboration with the community is therefore essential.  Childress (2009) advanced Epstein’s research on a comprehensive collaborative program of school-family-community partnership by highlighting the need to identify and integrate “resources and services from the community to strengthen and support schools, students, and their families” (p. 16).  Schools will benefit from four areas that form the core of their sustained, data-driven reform efforts.  These areas include:
1) Designing and delivering an evidence-based academic and instruction system
2) Designing and delivering an evidence-based positive behavioral support system
3) Increasing community and parent outreach and involvement
4) Designing and delivering an integrated, unified educational system based on a strategic plan and organizational development process.
            The lack of universal success in reform movements relates with the detrimental impact resulting from the lack of a holistic approach.  Too often reform efforts are piecemeal, despite clear evidence of success for schools that implement the seven correlates of Effective School Reform in an interdependent manner (Lezotte, 1991).  Certainly, the single thread linking the four areas that form the core of sustained, data-driven reform efforts to sustained improvement and ongoing success is the effective utilization of positive, collaborative relationships among all stakeholders actually responsible for the implementation of any strategically planned and evidence-based change initiative (Knoff, 2006).  Therefore, from an educational point of view, a district implementing a system of reform based on the six essential attributes and the five critical components of Sustainable School Reform and grounded by the seven correlates of Effective Schools is more likely to experience sustained success in its school reform initiative.
While developing the Continuous Improvement Theory, Zangwill and Kantor (1998) suggests the repeated use of the learning cycle provides a powerful method to produce improvement and additional learning.  In theory, change agents repeatedly utilize the learning cycle to observe and differentiate between techniques producing the greatest improvement.  As a result, change agents learn how to improve organizational processes with greater efficiency. 
Without combining quality principles with its school reform efforts, continuous improvement becomes less likely.  A strong leader of educational reform, making continuous improvement a moral journey, makes the efforts for followers to join the change process.  A detriment to reliance on a charismatic change agent during reform efforts, without including quality principles in the initiative, is that effort often dies and the gains are quickly lost if the leader leaves before the initiative becomes institutionalized. 
Therefore, while the interconnectedness of the seven correlates of Effective Schools requires a strong educational leader, once the reform efforts institutionalize quality principles then the likelihood for continuous improvement is increased.  In the Brazosport case study, such institutionalization analyzed, synthesized, and implemented Mary Barksdale’s successful classroom approaches into an eight-step process “similar to Deming’s Plan, Do, Check, Act, cycle” (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 48).  Likewise, Kennewick’s Targeted Accelerated Growth (TAG) loop system (Fielding, Kerr, & Rosier, 2007) exemplifies tenets of Continuous Improvement Theory and thereby proves it is effective for inclusion in the Effective Schools Framework to support sustainable school improvement. 
Stakeholder buy-in and consensus is crucial for achieving success in implementation of a change initiative.  It is an accepted tenet of change management that stakeholder buy-in builds support and acceptance of the change.  It also reduces resistance to the change initiative, which research has shown is a major reason for implementation failure (Brown & Arriaza, 1999).  Effective leadership facilitates movement toward consensus.  Consensus is the condition in which mutual agreement exists between members of a group after addressing legitimate concerns of all individuals within the group to the group’s satisfaction (Saint & Lawson, 1994).
Should educational leaders experience discomfort with risk, reluctance to encourage real experimentation will result.  While educational leaders must provide clear vision and structure, they must understand a little structure is very liberating for promoting the vision needed in the continuous improvement process.  Leaders must be humbly aware that any improvement generally exhibits modest increments of improvement.  Desired sustained progress will result from consistency, effective structure, and innovation. 
Academic press is a particularly effective variable in Effective Schools, which is the extent that “environmental forces press for student achievement on a school-wide basis” (Murphy, Weil, et al, 1982, p.22).  More than high expectations by staff alone, the academic environment experienced by students includes “school policies, practices, expectations, norms, and rewards generated by both staff and students” (p.22).  These environmental factors press students to respond in certain ways to do well academically.  The effective school leader implement school polices and enforcement practices that form the framework for classroom-level activity thereby allowing the framework to move schools from being loosely coupled to Effective Schools
Edmonds (1982) found a strong instructional leader in an ineffective school but did not find an Effective School without strong instructional leadership.  This correlation exemplifies there is utility in considering each correlate one at a time for purposes of becoming familiar with the related research.  Nevertheless, each correlate must be viewed as a necessary, but not sufficient, part of the entire school as an effective system that successfully produces learning for all.  The Effective School demonstrates the presence of equity in quality through performance or result outcomes, which reflects its learning for all mission.  Policies, practices, and procedures that holistically promote the seven correlates of Effective Schools promote high expectations for everyone involved in the school system.  Then, the students can receive this clearly conveyed message.  By contrast, a system that exhibits loosely coupled policies, practices, and procedures, especially when there is neither consensus on the school’s mission nor strong school leadership is more likely to convey low expectations.
The result of frequent monitoring and analysis means data guides instructional decisions.  However, effective use of data depends on how well educational leaders are able to guide the process.  The continuous improvement process in education should develop a building-wide culture whereby all systems, processes, strategies, and actions define “how we do things around here” Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p. 141).  Otherwise, any progress is adversely impacted.
Success is most evident through valid data.  "Data makes goals meaningful; without data, we will have only the semblance of accountability (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 54)."  Therefore, three key factors of continuous improvement are teamwork, goal setting, and data. 
When seeking school improvement, implementation of the correlates for Effective Schools is prudent based on research and best practices.  Disaggregated data helps “the district, its schools, and its teachers to evaluate their effectiveness” (Davenport & Anderson, 2002, p. 62).  As a result, an educational leader could then seek to empower a “vertically integrated team of teacher and school-level leaders including district office representatives, the community, and schools.  Empowerment of staff is an important variable that could result in development of a school culture positively impacting student learning. 
The Targeted Accelerated Growth (TAG) loop process perfected at the Kennewick, WA school district is a process not a linear model.  With any process, change resulting from the interpretation of reliable data is crucial for success based on application of correct micro-adjustments.  Utilization of diagnostic testing and professional development for the teaching staff to administer and interpret results will ensure staff can effectively use data.  This element of reform is the piece that allows well-developed, proportional increases during instructional time.  Absent data gathering and understanding how to use it diagnostically, little else within an effective process is truly possible.
District-wide continuous improvement results are optimized when administrators structure time so that teacher teams have the opportunity to meet regularly.  This strategy recognizes planning and professional development related to goal achievement is necessary to sustain the improvement effort.  If it is true that teams outperform individual efforts then "learning not only occurs in teams but endures" (Schmoker, 1999, p. 12). 
A school or district’s continuous improvement goals must succinctly indicate implementation steps for each improvement goal.  For this reason, the current framework widely utilized for continuous school improvement prudently encourages a school to limit the number of goal statements to no more than three.  Given the complexity of the school system, too many goals can adversely affect the level of human energy devoted to the initiative.  Displaying the limited number of continuous improvement goals allows followers and stakeholders to monitor growth through well-explicated action plans. 
Since each improvement goal requires development of a well-explicated action plan, every action plan should include evaluation to ascertain what works and what is not working.  To monitor the implementation and overall impact of the action plans on the improvement goal, effective leadership identifies the necessary data.  The leadership team creates realistic timetables for implementing the multiple action plans and improvement goals.  Gantt charts optimize project management. 
Frequent monitoring and then adjusting form the central tenet for the continuous improvement framework (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011).  Effective leaders model the image of a learner.  Therefore, the effective leader examines updated research, best practices, and seminal systems to identify potential ways to optimize the organization’s effectiveness.
Human and financial resources are important factors when the effective leader considers a continuous improvement program, development of goals, explication of action plans, and evaluation of each.  Outputs, or results, need to be the primary focus of evaluation.  The data selected for evaluation should therefore allow evaluation of outputs.  This also reinforces the core belief of continuous improvement: the next level to which a school or district aspires is just beyond the current goal. 
Without quality and commitment to the action steps, any continuous improvement plan will be ineffective for promoting positive change.  Therefore, the Continuous Improvement Framework posits the oversight responsibility of the school leadership team is an essential element of school improvement.  Given the complexity of schools, it is easy for an initiative to wane or get lost.  Lezotte and Snyder (2011) believe change efforts need champions, which means “the school leadership team and the individual correlate teams must accept responsibility to act as the champions for their change strategies” (p.140).
The Continuous Improvement Framework details a process aimed to revise the cultural mindset among staff.  Champions of a successful change initiative move onto new goals while previous followers assume more leadership roles in the process of continuous school improvement.  Therefore, the process, which is “data-driven, research-based, results-oriented, focused on quality and equity, collaborative in form, ongoing, and self-renewing,” will result in continuous school improvement based on the effective schools framework advancing the learning-for-all mission (Lezotte & Snyder, 2011, p. 140).  A data dashboard based on feedback available to teachers provides a communication loop that is essential for empowerment, ownership, and sustainability.  Therefore, understandability of data is paramount.  Professional development and effective hiring of teachers, who are well versed in data interpretation, becomes essential for sustaining a culture of learning for all, as optimized through frequent monitoring and adjustment.
            The Brazosport and Kennewick case studies prove sustained growth is possible through a systemic, continuous improvement model.  It is fair to ponder whether leadership at Brazosport Texas or Kennewick Washington would have been given the chance for success if they began their process for sustained growth in 2005 rather than 1995.  Such a debate highlights the need for district support, which needs to be in place for advancing a new principal's vision of school improvement.  Faculty also needs to be willing to say to the leader, “exhibit trust in us through your exhibition of Invitational Leadership so we can do more together!” 
            An unintended consequence of Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) pressure is expecting immediate results and two-year life spans for new school leaders.  This is counter-productive for implementing the correlates of Effective Schools.  The current state of assessment and accountability pressures does not encourage the sustained growth processes previously exhibited by Brazosport and Kennewick.  The proven Brazosport and Kennewick success processes grounded in Continuous Improvement Theory will become an aberration unless educators demand an earnest, reflective response to the question, “are we doing the right thing with the results from our high stakes testing?”
            Without combining quality principles with its school reform efforts, continuous improvement would be unlikely.  A strong leader of educational reform, making continuous improvement a moral journey, makes the efforts for followers to join the change process.  A detriment to reliance on a charismatic change agent during reform efforts, without including quality principles in the initiative, is initial effort often dies and gains are quickly lost if the leader leaves before the initiative becomes institutionalized.  Therefore, while the inter-connectedness of the seven correlates of Effective Schools requires a strong educational leader, once the reform efforts institutionalize high-quality principles, the likelihood for continuous improvement is then increased.  Principles, rather than personalities, should always guide reform initiatives.


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To cite:
Anderson, C.J. (December 30, 2015) Principles, rather than personalities, should guide  reform 
             initiatives.[Web log post] Retrieved from