Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Scholars Reaching Outside Education for School Fixes

Re. my comments on COMPSTAT in my last email, Stacey Childress, former HBS professor and current Deputy Director of Education at the Gates Foundation, wrote an HBS case study on this, and here's an article about lessons from many types of organizations that can be applied to improving our schools:

Now, some education scholars, in newly published papers and a book out this month, say educators looking to turn around failing schools ought to heed lessons from leaders in other fields, such as Mr. Bratton, who have pulled off similar feats.

"There's something to be learned from what other organizations have done in the corporate world, in churches, hospitals, and police departments, and, surely, there are things that are applicable to our business," said Joseph F. Murphy, a professor of educational leadership at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., and the co-author of Turning Around Failing Schools: Lessons From the Organizational Sciences, published by Corwin Press, of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

In practice, though, most school leaders and education researchers don't refer to that wider body of research, according to Mr. Murphy and doctoral student and co-author Coby V. Meyers. "Indeed," they write in the new volume, "there is an insularity and parochialism in the turnaround literature that is as arrogant as it is ill-advised."

Mr. Murphy and Mr. Meyers are among a handful of education scholars who in recent years have begun to cast a wider net for advice on how to engineer successful school turnarounds. The need for turnaround strategies that work is more timely than ever.

…Across the spectrum, though, successful leaders in schools, police agencies, hospitals, and other organizations also brought about dramatic change by measuring and reporting progress and crafting an action plan based on the data they collect, according to experts.

One example from the broader body of work: Commissioner Bratton, a student himself of the literature on organizational management, brought in a sophisticated data-management system called Compstat that displayed maps and charts showing where crimes occurred and police-response patterns.

Using the system, the agency's 76 precinct commanders presented data on their precincts' progress at semiweekly meetings with top department officials.

Mr. Bratton's story is famous in part because his changes appeared to produce dramatic, and widely reported, improvements. Between 1993 and 1995, a time when other major U.S. cities saw crime rates rise, incidences of crime in New York dropped by nearly 26 percent.

Stacey M. Childress, a lecturer in general management at the Harvard Business School, said she uses the NYPD case study with students in the Public Education Leadership Project, a 4-year-old program jointly run by Harvard's business school and its graduate school of education.

Once they identify a successful strategy in the general literature, though, her students also examine the ways in which schools and districts have successfully adopted and adapted the same idea. After reading about the Compstat system, for instance, her students looked at case studies describing how schools in Montgomery County, Md., and Memphis, Tenn., used student-achievement data to improve schooling.

"Having a distillation of things that seem to work across multiple sectors is a great addition to the field," she said. "But you need to take one more step and take the ideas you've distilled and test those on the ground in public education to see whether or not they do adapt to different contexts."

"My guess," she added, "is that many would."


Scholars Reaching Outside Education for School Fixes

By Debra Viadero

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