Thursday, January 07, 2010

This Strikes me as Strangely Familiar

James H. Lytle, professor at Penn GSE, analyzes Arlene Ackerman's "theory of action" in Philadelphia for The Notebook:

  • How does this theory shape the principal’s role as school leader? The teacher’s role in the classroom?
    In the School District of Philadelphia paradigm, the roles of principal and teacher are to implement central office policies and directives.

  • Who is/will be accountable? 
    As the chart indicates, most decisions affecting instructional programs, time utilization, staffing, resource utilization, and performance/accountability standards are made at the central office. Principals and school faculties are responsible for effectively implementing the strategies, and are currently the accountable parties – the ones who will be sanctioned if their schools don’t perform to standards (School Targets).

  • At what point has there been consultation with principals and/or teachers on the determination and nature of the activities?
    As the chart suggests, virtually every component of the “reform” agenda has been centrally determined.

  • What incentives and sanctions are being used to encourage implementation of the activities?
    The incentive system appears to be driven by rewards (principal bonuses) and sanctions - reconstitution, principal removal, school categorization (low-performing, in need of improvement, corrective action, Renaissance, etc. – in part dictated by NCLB), and charter school conversion.

  • Where is the thinking? the learning?
    As is evident from the chart, the “thinking,” that determines organizational strategy and operational conditions is centralized at an executive and legislative level (local, state, and federal). The effect is to reduce professional judgment and diminish capacity and adaptability at the school level, that is, the level where the organizational services are provided.

  • What’s missing in the PELP framework? Are there blind spots?
    The most obvious shortcoming is that the framework does not take into account “emotional intelligence” and “relational trust,” two research-based notions that have a direct relationship to successful educational reform. A simple explanation would be that effective leaders, whether in central office or schools, need to be aware of their own emotions and of how their behavior affects those around them, and build trust with teachers, students, and parents.

  • What outcomes does the District’s “theory of action” foretell? Does the research on effective schools, school improvement, and school change support the approach being taken?
    A direct answer would be no. Deficit-framed, high stakes accountability, remedial approaches, with significant sanctions and minimal rewards, do not work for the long-term, either in schools or the corporate sector. They erode the trust and willingness-to-risk which behavior change requires, foster low expectations, limit adaptation at the school-site level, and portend long-term morale problems, including high employee turnover, and declining organizational performance.

1 comment:

Claus von Zastrow said...


Lytle has lots of credibility as the former superintendent of Trenton and an all-around good guy.