The Tri-Level Solution SchoolDistrictState Synergy by znw65712


									                                                                                    by Michael Fullan

        The Tri-Level Solution                                   The part that we know less about is the role of par-
                                                                 ents and community. Societal engagement accounts
          School/District/State Synergy                          for a large percentage of the variance in student
                                                                 achievement and is the least developed of all the
                                                                 major factors in most jurisdictions. Finland, for exam-
                                                                 ple, currently leading the pack in the OECD PISA
    It has become increasingly clear that sustained school       results, has particularly strong societal engagement in
    improvement requires a system solution - one that is         the development of children and youth.
    at the same time practical and effective on a large
    scale. That solution in my view is within our grasp; it      Another important observation about the first level is
    is what I call the tri-level solution.                       that we cannot claim that school capacity, when we
                                                                 do find it, is caused by the infrastructure i.e., the dis-
    The tri-level solution focuses on total system trans-        trict or the state. What does cause it in most cases is
    formation through the conscious, deliberate, reflec-         "luck" or "serendipity". In other words, along comes
    tive actions of the state in tri-level capacity building     a great principal; good teachers are attracted to work
    within a framework of accountability.                        in this environment; they have great chemistry and
                                                                 the group gels. When school capacity is a matter of
    The school/community is the first of these levels; the       serendipity, it will never occur on a large scale (more
    district or region is the mid level; and the state or pol-   than 15-20%), nor will it last beyond the tenure of
    icy level is the third. This column comments briefly         one or two principals.
    on the first two, but the main message is aimed at the
    third level.                                                 District Capacity
                                                                 For these reasons, school districts over the past
    Capacity building is defined as actions that lead to an      decade have become engaged in district-wide reform.
    increase in the collective power of a group to improve       This has resulted, again in the minority of cases, in
    student achievement, especially by raising the bar           district-wide improvement where the majority of
    and closing the gap for all students. Capacity building      schools have experienced increases in student
    synergizes three things: new skills and dispositions;        achievement in literacy and numeracy. This success is
    enhanced and focused resources; new and focused              significant but not very deep (in relation to teaching
    motivation or commitment. One can think of capaci-           for understanding and learning beyond literacy and
    ty building at any of the sub-levels, but here I am          numeracy), and it has not involved high school
    stressing the overall tri-level capacity of the system.      reform.

    School Capacity                                              We recently set out 10 lessons of district-wide reform
    We know a fair amount about capacity building at the         from our work and that of others. Effective districts
    school level with one exception noted below. We              have:
    know for example, that developing professional learn-
    ing communities within schools makes a significant           •    Internal leaders with a clear driving conceptual-
    difference in student learning. Newmann (2000) sug-               ization.
    gests school capacity increases collective power to          •    Collective moral purpose.
    improve student achievement through these compo-             •    The right bus (structure and roles).
    nents:                                                       •    Leadership development.
                                                                 •    Lateral capacity building (schools learning from
    •    skills, dispositions of individuals                          each other).
    •    professional learning communities (the quality          •    Deep learning.
         of relationships among teachers and between             •    Productive conflict.
         teachers and the principal)                             •    Demanding cultures.
    •    program focus and coherence                             •    External partners.
    •    focused and enhanced resources                          •    Growing financial investments. (Fullan, Bertani,
    •    principal/school team leadership                             and Quinn, 2004)

4              Education Analyst - Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education — Winter 2005
               Note, again the community is least developed in this     plateaued, England is now engaged in deliberations
               work. District success is also a matter of serendipity   of how to go beyond the plateau. In my view, such
               - the right Director or Superintendent, the right        movement will require the ingenuity of the tri-levels
               Board, good people being attracted to work with each     working together (Fullan, 2005,a). After ten years of
               other. As before, we cannot claim that this district     "letting a thousand flowers bloom" with accompany-
               development is "caused" by the state. Thus, effective    ing stagnation and decline of literacy and numeracy
               districts remain in the minority, and do not last        achievement, South Australia has been pursuing a tri-
               beyond the tenure of two or so Directors and Boards.     level solution since 2001. In October, 2004 Adelaide's
                                                                               daily newspaper, the Advertiser reported in a
               State Capacity                                                      front page headline, First Class Literacy,
               This brings us to the third or state level.                            that literacy and math scores increased
               Tri-level reform requires that state                                     significantly for the first time in a
               leaders recognize that system trans-                System                decade. Ontario, beginning in October
               formation won't happen unless the               transformation             2003, is also in the midst of setting
               state takes responsibility for leading                                      out a tri-level solution.
               the way. This means that the very
                                                                 won’t happen
               top elected and selected officials:             unless the state             We can also learn from other suc-
                                                             takes responsibility           cessful jurisdictions such as Alberta
               •    immerse themselves in the                                               and Finland. All these lessons must
                    knowledge base about change,                      for                  be understood in terms of how poli-
                    capacity-building within a                 leading the way.           cies and actions alter all three levels
                    framework of accountability and                                      and their interactions to unleash the
                    as a result, start to think differently.                           moral purpose and pedagogical creativity
               •    act differently with respect to whom                            of the collectivity.
                    they appoint as leaders around them, what
                    policies and strategies they formulate, and how        Beyond Serendipity
                    they focus and enhance resources.                      We are now in a position to learn from and build on
                                                                           these efforts, but it is going to take politicians and
               •    radically redefine their relationship with the
                                                                           policy makers who embrace capacity building within
                    other two levels by being more transparent,
                                                                           accountability frameworks, and who are explicit
                    more involved, modeling and leading
                                                                           about what they are learning and why. What is at
                    capacity building at their own level, and              stake is the possibility of sustainable reform, and a
                    helping to lead and facilitate co-determined           radically different system than we now have
                    solutions across the other two levels.                 (Fullan, 2005,b).
               Of course, one could make the point that the third
               level may not be able to pursue this agenda if only         References
               elected for one or two terms. My response is that a         Fullan, M. (2005,a) System thinkers in action: Going
               capacity building agenda within an accountability           beyond the plateau.London, England:Innovation Unit,
               framework results in success that is politically attrac-    Department for Education and Skills.
               tive to the public, leading to successive opportunities
               to do even more which is additionally politically val-      Fullan, M. (2005,b) Leadership and sustainability. Thou-
               ued. Not to mention that it is the right thing to do in     sand Oaks, CA.:Corwin Press; and Toronto: Ontario Princi-
               terms of moral purpose.                                     pals Council.

               Implications for Policy                                     Fullan, M., Bertani, A., and Quinn, J. (2004) 'Lessons from
               Neither carefully orchestrated top-down strategies or       district-wide reform'. Educational Leadership. 61,6,42-46.
               site-based management has brought about large scale
               reform. What we need instead are models of co-ordi-         Newmann, F., King, B., & Youngs, P. (2000) 'Professional
               nated tri-level reform, learning from them as we go.        development that addresses school capacity'. Paper pre-
               I am involved in three such examples. After initial         sented at the annual meeting of the American Educational
               success in raising literacy and numeracy achievement        Research Association, New Orleans.

Education Analyst - Society for the Advancement of Excellence in Education — Winter 2005                                           5

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