School Improvement, Educational Inequality, and Politics: A Conversation with Beth E. Schueler

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Beth E. Schueler, an Assistant Professor of Education and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. She studies education policy, politics, and inequality with a focus on efforts to improve low-performing K-12 schools and districts and previously worked on legislative affairs at the New York City Council.  The LtC series is produced by the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2022 AERA theme is Cultivating Equitable Education Systems for the 21st Century and charges researchers and practitioners with dismantling oppressive education systems and replacing them with anti-racist, equity, and justice-oriented systems. To achieve these goals, researchers must engage in new methodologies, cross-disciplinary thinking, global perspectives, and community partnerships to respond to the challenges of the 21st century including the COVID-19 Pandemic and systemic racism among other persistent inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems and reimagine new ways of thinking and doing in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call? 

Beth E. Schueler: The pandemic, high-profile anti-Black police violence, and threats to the health of our democracy have had me, like many other scholars, questioning whether my research priorities are the right ones to make the greatest contribution toward promoting race- and class-based equity. Recent events have only reaffirmed my belief that greater attention to the politics of education is critical to making progress toward these goals. For example, politics played a comparable, if not larger, role in shaping post-COVID school reopening plans than public health factors, with some comparisons showing partisanship to be a stronger predictor of in-person learning offerings than case rates. There continue to be substantial differences in parental preferences for learning modality by race while we know not all modes are equally effective. There are strong partisan and racial/ethnic differences in opinion over how much time should be devoted to studying the causes and consequences of racism and inequality in schools. 

In many ways, educational inequality is a product of political inequality. For instance, it is difficult to revamp Title I federal education funding formulas when those who benefit from the status quo have greater political influence than those who are getting the short end of the stick—often low-income, Black, indigenous, and Hispanic families. It is difficult to get these students appropriate resources when adults in their communities are underrepresented in elected office, at least in part due to disenfranchisement of various sorts, and when voter turnout in local school board elections is so low as to not represent the public interest. It is impossible to implement and sustain public policy that effectively mitigates social inequality if there is not the political support for those reforms. Therefore, I am doubling down on a research agenda that seeks to understand the relationship between political and educational inequality with the goal of helping justice-oriented leaders learn how to effectively navigate the politics of education to implement policies that sustainably promote equity.

One challenge for me—and I would guess other educational change scholars—has been finding the right balance between keeping my head down to make progress on this research agenda while also being open to the need to periodically rethink, refresh, overhaul or even abandon aspects of that agenda based on new learnings, awareness, or shifting trends. There is sometimes a temptation to switch course entirely based on current events but there is also a danger in doing so without thought and intentionality. After all, most of us got into this field in the first place because we care deeply about fighting educational and social inequality, so there is likely value in our ongoing projects. Successful efforts to dismantle oppressive systems require sustained attention over the long run. High-quality research takes time. A key part of the battle is about maintaining an unwavering commitment to racial and economic injustice by “putting our heads down” and doing the work, day in and day out.

“Successful efforts to dismantle oppressive systems require sustained attention over the long run.”

The challenge is to keep up that long-term persistence without getting complacent and while being open to recognizing when we are devoting our energy in the wrong direction. Educational change scholars have a responsibility to stay the course on worthy projects but also to “put our heads up” periodically to make sure we are not wasting time on low-impact endeavors, to be aware of new evidence that could change our perspective or priorities, or to recognize action or inaction we are taking that, worst case, contributes to upholding the oppressive systems we seek to dismantle. This is a difficult balance to strike because the time horizons for producing high-quality research are long while the need to fight racial and economic injustice is urgent. I cannot claim to have found the perfect balance, but I am always trying to find it and welcome constructive critique or advice from colleagues who share a commitment to equity.

LtC: Given some of your work focused on the political viability of school takeover and turnaround for low-performing schools, specifically the model in Lawrence that yielded positive results for students, what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?     

BES: Lawrence, Massachusetts represents a rare case of districtwide takeover and turnaround where things went well both in terms of the policy effects and politics. Leaders were able to generate meaningful academic gains in the early years and there was much less opposition and more support for the reforms than a stereotypical case of takeover. The public narrative around improving low-performing schools and systems has been notably gloomy in recent years. In contrast, one of the major lessons from Lawrence is that it is indeed possible to dramatically improve outcomes in a politically viable way for low-income children of color in low-performing educational contexts. 

How were leaders able to improve outcomes? Half of the gains in math and all the gains in ELA were concentrated among children who participated in “acceleration academy” (sometimes called “vacation academy”), small-group programs where talented teachers work with a small group of roughly ten struggling students in a single subject over a weeklong vacation break. I have since replicated these findings with a field experiment of a similar program in Springfield, Massachusetts. These programs have high-potential for supporting students who lost learning time due to COVID-19 disruptions and are more affordable than high-dosage tutoring programs (which tend to be highly effective but challenging to implement widely due to cost). The remaining gains in Lawrence were due to a package of reforms (and it is hard to disentangle what mattered most) involving funding being pushed from the central office to schools, greater school-level autonomy (tailored to schools based on strengths and needs), extended learning time, data use, and a focus on improving administrator and educator quality.  

How were leaders able to generate political support for reforms? Part of the explanation had to do with the context in which reforms were implemented. The public perceived not only low-performance but also mismanagement, and this led to more openness to dramatic change (a finding we have replicated with national public opinion data). The district was medium in size, allowing leaders to get their feet on the ground in all schools and tailor reforms at the school-level. The teachers union and district leaders were willing to collaborate with each other. The majority of teachers were white and came from outside the district, so there was not a lot of overlap between the teaching force and the majority-Hispanic local community, making it difficult for the union to mobilize parents to oppose reforms. 

There were also ways the leaders designed, implemented, and framed their policy choices to minimize opposition and increase support. I describe this as a “third way” approach (Schueler, 2019)—blending the favored ideas from the traditionalist and reform perspectives in education politics to overcome criticism from either side. For instance, leaders focused on bolstering academic expectations and instruction, and on fleshing out extra-curricular offerings meant to support whole-child well-being. Leaders handed over a small number of schools to be managed by charter groups and one school to the teachers union, showing a willingness to work with groups on both sides of major education policy debates. They did not formally convert any schools to charter status, however. Even those schools that were managed by charter operators retained neighborhood-based student assignment and a unionized teaching force, addressing concerns of the charter critics. Leaders replaced nearly half of the school principals in the early years of reform but only actively replaced ten percent of the teaching force and deployed notably strong pro-teacher rhetoric. They implemented a merit-based career ladder while simultaneously giving nearly all teachers a salary increase in the process. The case provides a proof point that it is possible to overcome polarized debates in education policy to implement politically viable change.  

“Lawrence provides a proof point that it is possible to overcome polarized debates in education policy to implement politically viable change.”

LtC: In some of your recent work examining the effects of state takeover of school districts nationwide, you find that takeover does not lead to improved student academic performance. Given your findings and the heterogeneity of takeover models and outcomes, why do you think takeover persists as an improvement mechanism and how might successful models, like those in Lawrence, be brought to scale in more districts nationwide?

BES: Having studied a rare positive case of state takeover and turnaround, I wanted to understand whether the Lawrence experience was an outlier. In a subsequent study, we examined the average effect nationwide of state takeover on academic outcomes and inputs. We found no evidence of positive effects and some evidence of disruption in the early years of takeover, particularly in ELA. We conclude that, despite the positive Lawrence experience, leaders should be very cautious about deploying takeover as a mechanism for improving achievement outcomes, particularly in contexts that are very different from those in which takeovers have previously been successful. More specifically, takeover appears least likely to generate academic improvements in majority-Black communities and in districts that are not among the very lowest performing in the country. 

My guess is that takeover persists (and indeed has increased as an improvement strategy over time), despite this evidence, in part because research does not provide a ton of easy answers for how to improve low-performing school systems. Given education is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, states are responsible for school district performance. Therefore, it is somewhat understandable that states would feel a responsibility to take action when a district has been low performing for many years, and especially in cases where there is evidence of mismanagement or corruption. However, again, some of the research that I have contributed to suggests that there are also political factors at play. We find that takeover is more common in contexts where states are paying a larger share of educational expenses, and in majority-Black districts regardless of academic performance. While our study does not provide definitive evidence of intentional racial targeting, it is certainly consistent with such a story. Furthermore, in work on public opinion, we find high levels of support for state takeover among members of the public as a whole, but lower levels of support among teachers and those in low-performing districts most likely to be under threat of takeover. Therefore, statewide pressures can lead to takeover despite local opposition. 

How can successful models of district improvement be brought to scale? If and when considering state takeover, leaders should pay careful attention to local contextual factors that have historically predicted the success of takeover reforms on average, including the racial/ethnic makeup of the district, the extent of academic underperformance, and the political landscape.  The contexts ripe for these types of reforms are rare and therefore state leaders should be cautious about using this authority. For instance, they should be especially careful about takeovers of majority-Black districts and districts that are not among the very lowest performing in the country. Leaders should also consider research on the most effective reforms for improving low-performing schools and districts, such as extended learning time and efforts to improve teacher quality. Many of these reforms could be undertaken in the absence of state takeover. 

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?    

BES: In my view, one of the biggest barriers to educational improvement is that it is very difficult for educational leaders (or anyone for that matter) to admit that they do not actually know what works. The political dynamics incentivize certainty and on a micro-level it is hard to acknowledge that what we are doing for the kids we care about might not be best for them. However, research and learning requires an acceptance that there is something to learn. Educational change scholars can support leaders through this process by encouraging a culture of continuous learning in which it is not only acceptable but expected to admit that we don’t always know what works. This is at the heart of the research enterprise.

“Research and learning requires an acceptance that there is something to learn.

I recently partnered with an organization to study a phone-based tutoring intervention delivered in the context of Kenya while students were engaged in remote learning due to COVID-19. We were surprised when our research revealed that the well-intentioned program had actually negatively impacted math performance among some groups of students by causing them to spend less time studying with family members at home. It is therefore fortunate that the organization had the humility to rigorously study the intervention, so that it could improve its future offerings and so that the field could learn about the importance of carefully designing interventions to align with best practice and of targeting programs to groups of students most likely to benefit. These learnings should help maximize impact and minimize unintended consequences, particularly of inevitable upcoming efforts to address lost learning time due to COVID-19. My hope is that the field of educational change can play a role in encouraging research and learning in these unprecedented times. 

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future? 

BES: Two things come to mind. First, I am encouraged by the recent interest and enthusiasm around individualized instructional approaches—such as high-dosage tutoring and small-group instruction—to supporting students who have experienced COVID-related learning disruptions. It is the right time for these programs to gain traction, not only because a large and rigorous body of evidence indicates that they can improve academic outcomes in a range of subjects and grade levels, but also because these more personalized programs have the potential to support students’ social and emotional well-being and to help them reconnect with schools and teachers after a time of relative isolation. That said, we have a lot to learn about how to modify these programs for the given context and how to implement them in ways that will mitigate rather than reinforce inequality, such as through careful targeting that avoids stigmatizing students in need of support. 

The second future direction for the field that excites me is the renewed interest in civic education. Given politics shapes policy, it is paramount that schools play a role in developing students’ abilities to effectively participate in collective decision-making, particularly students from groups that have historically been disenfranchised or otherwise excluded from the political process. In my view, these civic competencies include the ability to make a complete argument supported by reasoning and evidence, the ability to critically interrogate others’ arguments, media literacy, social perspective taking, and civic engagement. I am energized to see the field thinking about how to incorporate these competencies into measures of school quality and to cultivate these skills, particularly in ways that will reduce the political inequalities that are at the root of so many of our most pressing social challenges. 

References

Brenneman, R. (2021). Poll: Calif. Voters worried about pandemic’s impact on K-12 students. https://rossier.usc.edu/poll-calif-voters-worried-about-pandemics-impact-on-k-12-students/

Schueler, B., Goodman, J. & Deming, D. (2017). Can states take over and turnaround around school districts? Evidence from Lawrence, Massachusetts. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 39(2), 311-332. 

Schueler, B. (2019). A third way: The politics of school district takeover and turnaround in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(1), 116-153. 

Schueler, B. (2020). Making the most of school vacation: A field experiment of small group math instruction. Education Finance and Policy, 15(2), 310-331. 

Schueler, B. (2020). Summer “vacation academies” can narrow coronavirus learning gaps. Education Next. https://www.educationnext.org/summer-vacation-academies-narrow-coronavirus-learning-gaps-springfield/

Schueler, B. & West, M. (2019). Federalism, race, and the politics of turnaround: U.S. public opinion on improving low-performing schools and districts. Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 19-129. 

Schueler, B. & Bleiberg, J. (In Press). Evaluating education governance: Does state takeover of school districts affect student achievement? Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Also Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 21-411.

Schueler, B., Asher, C., Larned, K., Mehrotra, S. & Pollard, C. (2020). Improving low-performing schools: A meta-analysis of impact evaluation studies. Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 20-274. 

Schueler, B. & Rodriguez-Segura, D. (2021). A cautionary tale of tutoring hard-to-reach students in Kenya. Annenberg Institute Working Paper No. 21-432. 

Robinson, C., Kraft, M., Loeb, S., & Schueler, B. (2021). Accelerating student learning with high-dosage tutoring. EdResearch for Recovery Design Principles Series.

IEN will be taking a short break as the school year begins here in the US, but we will back on September 15th with news on school reopenings around the world

Internet for all (Part 2): What can be done now?

This article is one a series of articles by Thomas Hatch looking at what can and should change in education post-pandemic.

At the same time that we try to figure out how to reimagine post-pandemic schooling in the future, there are clear, concrete steps that can be taken right now to make educational opportunities more equitable. In particular, strategies are already available that can provide internet access for many students who remain disconnected. These strategies will not work everywhere yet, but, as the World Bank reports, in combination with strategies to reach students through television, radio, WhatsApp and other means, many more students can have access to online and remote educational opportunities than have had them ever before. But how long will it take? Will the energy and funding dry up before universal access is established?

Part 1 of this 2-part post shared articles that show that providing internet access to all is an enduring problem despite the evidence that many disconnected students and families could be connected using available approaches. Part 2 brings together here a few of the many articles that highlight some of the strategies that are already available to increase internet access in the US as well a few articles from India that illustrate what is possible in other parts of the world.

In the US

Several articles in the US this summer focus on the establishment of the Emergency Connectivity Fund – designed to reimburse schools and libraries for equipment and costs incurred to enable students, staff, and patrons who lack internet access to engage in remote learning.

“internet access has shifted from an amenity to a necessity. Nothing has illustrated that shift more clearly than the pandemic… But for the millions of students and families without internet access at home, adapting to the virtual classroom became extremely challenging, if not impossible.”

For Families Who Lack Reliable Internet Access, Help Is on the Way — $7B of It,
EdSurge

Acting FCC Chair Rosenworcel Unveils Proposed Rules for Emergency Connectivity Fund, FCC

What You Need to Know About the Emergency Connectivity Fund, THE Journal

The FCC’s $7 Billion Fund to Address the ‘Homework Gap’: 6 Key Issues to Watch, EdWeek Market Brief

Beyond funding, a number of articles over the past year have highlighted both overall strategies for increasing internet access and specific initiatives designed to connect students in urban as well as rural areas.

How to Expand Home Internet Connectivity for K-12 Students Over the Long Haul, Education Week

If you build it, they will learn: Why some schools are investing in cell towers, NBC News

Philadelphia widens free internet eligibility for families with children in school, Chalkbeat

Philadelphia expanding ‘PHLConnectED’ free student internet program, KYW Newsradio

Philadelphia School District Repairing Thousands Of Chromebooks For Free As Students Return To Classrooms Next Week, 3CBS

Connecticut Gives Every Student a Computer and Home Internet to Close the Digital Divide, EdSurge

Citing remote learning needs, Cuomo calls for $15-a-month internet cap for low-income NY families, Chalkbeat

Chicago helped 55,000 students get free internet. Much work remains, Chalkbeat

In Rural ‘Dead Zones’, School Comes on a Flash Drive, The New York Times

These Buses Bring School to Students, The New York Times

Sitting on the Roof at Night for Internet: Pandemic Learning in the Navajo Nation, EducationWeek

Lessons In Leadership: How a superintendent tapped SpaceX to help close homework gap, K-12 Dive

In India

Articles over the past year in India, highlight strategies that work to connect students to remote learning through the internet, television, radio, and other means.

“Remote learning during the pandemic has been painful, even for children with the best computers and broadband. Imagine trying to do it all on a cheap cellphone with a 2G connection”

Think Remote Learning Is Hard? Try Using a Phone in an Indian Village, Wall
Street Journal

Jharkhand to set up gadget bank to facilitate online classes for underprivileged kids, The New Indian Express

Learning Through Radio And Television In The Time Of COVID-19, India Education Diary

Karnataka to bridge online school learning gaps by installing TV sets at 5,766 gram panchayat libraries, The Indian Express

Now Odisha turns to radio for classes, The Hindu

Community radio-based blended learning model: A promising learning model in remote area during pandemic era, ScienceDirect

Telangana schools to have chatbot to assess students work, Times Now News

Bright spots in remote learning: lessons from India and Sierra Leone, Education Development Trust

Navigating Education in 2021: From Remote Learning to Blended Learning, Central Square Foundation

Culturally Responsive Leadership, Faith, and School Reform: A Conversation with Miriam D. Ezzani

This month’s Lead the Change (LtC) interview features Miriam D. Ezzani, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the College of Education at Texas Christian University. Dr. Ezzani studies culturally responsive leadership within the contexts of district and school reform and Islamic school leadership. The Lead the Change series highlights promising research and practice and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change to spark conversation and collaboration. The LtC series is a product of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research AssociationJennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

Lead the Change: The 2021 AERA theme was Accepting Educational Responsibility and invites those of us who teach in schools of education to accept greater responsibility for the inadequate preparation of educators for work in racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse P–12 schools and postsecondary institutions. For example, when educators discipline African American students at disproportionately higher rates, misdiagnose them for special education, identify too few of them for advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs, deliver to them a culturally irrelevant curriculum, teach them in culturally disdaining ways, and stereotype their families as careless and hopeless, the schools of education that produced these professionals are just as responsible as the professionals themselves. Furthermore, if scholars who study and document these trends do too little to make our findings actionable, then we, too, are contributors to the cyclical reproduction of these educational inequities. Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Miriam D. Ezzani; Given what we know, and have known, for some time, about the need to dismantle oppressive systems within the field of education, educational change scholars have a moral responsibility to develop educational leaders who are change agents for social justice. Like many of my colleagues, we entered the field of education to make a difference in the lives of the people whom we serve, and the society in which we live. The culmination of our everyday work is ultimately our legacy, individually and collectively. One of the steps I take to heed the call is to ask myself, “What legacy do I aspire to achieve? How will I get there?” Data are leverage points for change in our lives and our everyday work. From qualitative and quantitative research, we know how systemic racism manifests in our society and specifically in schooling systems (e.g., inequitable funding, disproportionate discipline, persistent opportunity gaps, tracking, low expectations, under and over-representation of students of color in advanced academics and special education, respectively (Datnow & Park, 2018; Fabelo et al., 2011; Khalifa, 2020; Liou et al., 2016)). To date, we have yet to make good on the promise of public education, which should be defined as success for all children, no matter their race/ethnicity, language, gender, sexual orientation, faith, ableness, and/or socioeconomic status. Those in power who inherited and benefit from these systems are lashing out to maintain the status quo.

Case in point-there is strong resistance to educational change scholars and educational leaders trying to dismantle existing systems and structures of racism, such as policies that maintain tracking, unfair discipline, and policing practices in schools, which contribute to the school-to-prison pipeline. Some state legislators are adopting laws to ban the teaching of Critical Race Theory in K-12 public schools and colleges and universities. Lawmakers in Texas (HB 3979) and states such as Arkansas, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, and South Dakota filed bills that would cut funding to schools with curricula that include the Pulitzer prize-winning New York Times 1619 project by Nikole Hannah-Jones. In a powerful effort to speak truth to power, the 1619 project places slavery and racism as central to the founding and history of America. It links it to the systemic racism that plagues our country today. Yet, the existing power structure is fiercely working to stomp out academic freedom.

“The existing power structure is fiercely working to stomp out academic freedom.”

Meanwhile, on the higher education front, there are 78 institutions that have joined the Universities Studying Slavery consortium (USS). I’m proud to say my institution, Texas Christian University (TCU), is a member. The consortium is a collaboration between universities to share best practices and guiding principles to engage in “truth-telling projects” that address their institutional histories. These institutions have committed to invest resources to research and acknowledge and atone for their ties to the slave trade and racism in their institution’s history, policies, and practices. Because educational change scholars reside in higher education, yet influence K-12 public education, we have a dual responsibility. We must leverage our scholarship by forging relationships within and outside of our universities to dialogue and take action toward dismantling systemic structures that hamper the advancement of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and question leaders when they are unaware or turn a blind eye to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the curriculum or student recruitment, or faculty hiring and retention practices.

I serve on the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee at the college and university levels. In collaboration with my colleagues in the College of Education at TCU, we form partnerships with K-12 school districts to research and develop plans to enact educational change that provides access and equity for students from historically minoritized communities. With every relationship, we increase our bandwidth and opportunities to influence the field of education. Most educators do not realize inequity exists due to biases in their education. Therefore, the most powerful action we can take collectively is to design our educational leadership programs and what we teach in our classrooms to develop leaders for social justice.

LtC: Given some of your work focused on how principals can create systems and structures to support reflective and anti-oppressive practices, what would be some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?  

MDE: Formative experiences as a student at the University of Southern California, as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and as a school leader inspired my focus on underserved students vis-à-vis education reform aimed at equity and social justice. I define underserved as students who do not receive equitable resources due to racism, ethnicism, sexism, classism, ableism, heterosexism, lingualism, or faithism. My concern for these students is rooted in my personal experience. As the daughter of Yemeni Muslim immigrants, I am aware of the role, or lack thereof, that education plays in one’s life. My research foci align with a unifying goal to examine how educational leaders plan, implement, and sustain reform efforts to support equitable and socially just schooling experiences for historically minoritized students, specifically on issues of race and faith.

My recently published piece in the Journal of School Leadership highlights the work of a school principal, Ms. DiFalco (pseudonym), who instituted systems and structures that challenge systemic racism (Ezzani, 2021). We could learn from how she implemented reflective and anti-oppressive practices at Lyon Elementary School. The findings of this two-year study reinforce that social justice advocacy and action can be leveraged by data-informed leadership. Black students made up 15 percent of the school’s population but accounted for more than 80% of written discipline plans. The principal coupled quantitative data with qualitative data. She spent more than half of her time in the hallways and classrooms, monitoring teachers’ behaviors and interactions with students. She met privately with teachers to reflect their mannerisms back to them. The intention behind these coaching conversations was to help teachers understand what it looked like and felt like to be a student in their classroom and guide them through critical self-reflection. The learning of self-reflective skills was anchored in the very core values that the teachers themselves created. Her role as the school leader was to help teachers through the reasoning process to make meaning of their experiences with their Black students and also to see that their actions were incongruent with their espoused core values.

“Social justice advocacy and action can be leveraged by data-informed leadership.”

The use of reflective practice in social justice leadership offers a way to respond to oppressive practices. At the end of the day, educational change scholars and their colleagues need to develop educational leaders who practice what some scholars describe as critical activism or courageous leadership (Brooks, 2012; Singleton, 2012). Ms. DiFalco engaged in systemic professional learning focused on race, despite district leaders’ avoidance of the topic. Her act of deviance for the benefit of her Black students was viewed as renegade leadership, where the leader shifts allegiance from the district to the students. Lastly, professional learning should extend beyond the school walls to involve parents and community members. The results suggest that humanizing practices toward Black students should be pursued through professional learning within our districts/schools, in preparation programs, and through university–district partnerships – recognizing that power and “politics is an inescapable reality of educational practice” (Connery & Weiner, 2017, p. 21).

LtC: In some of your recent work, you describe how principals provide processes and supports through the educational system to challenge oppressive social structures. Given your findings on the persistence of various forms of discrimination in schools today, what do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these issues in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike?  

MDE: Further to my research on education reform, I’ve engaged in extensive data collection at schools with culturally responsive leaders. I focused on the structures, processes, practices, and strategies implemented by these leaders to make the schooling environment safe and supportive of minoritized populations. Some of these studies were interdisciplinary; thereby, providing a more nuanced focus on culturally responsive leadership. As a result, I published a historiography on an American Muslim school leader in collaboration with Kelley King, an educational historian. With another colleague, Melanie Brooks, who studies Islamic and international education, we explored (a) the complexities of faithism in a study on Islamic education in the U.S. and (b) the development of American Muslim identity focusing on organizational leadership. With a third colleague, Rachel Mun, who studies gifted education, we examined how district and school leaders attend to systemic policies and practices to change the education trajectory for students of color excluded from gifted and advanced academic programs. These studies revealed how and in what ways culturally responsive leaders advance practices and policies that support the development of critical consciousness in teachers and students.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my lines of inquiry is on reform efforts to support equitable and socially just schooling experiences for historically minoritized students, specifically on issues of race and faith. With a focus on faith, Melanie Brooks and I examined how leaders in an Islamic school in the United States engage in culturally relevant leadership to develop the critical social consciousness of their students (Ezzani & Brooks, 2019). This is important given the current intensification of supremacist, anti-immigrant, and nationalist discourse. With such ideologies taught and learned (Apple, 2019), we see these ideologies as educational problems that have critical implications for Muslim students, teachers, and school leaders. Consequently, school leaders must consider their moral responsibility to their Muslim students and arguably society regarding how we teach critical thinking, develop media literacy skills, and guide experiences that cultivate understanding and compassion rather than mistrust and hate (Banks, 2007).

Our findings confirmed the critical role of authentic dialogue, which is learner-centered, to help students recognize and seek to upend oppressive social structures (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Theoharis & Brooks, 2012). These dialogues were inside and external to their faith tradition. For example, Muslim students engaged in interfaith dialogue with Jewish students. In this way, leaders sought to raise the critical consciousness of their students by facilitating dialogue with a faith tradition often perceived to be in conflict with Islam. This is important given that American Muslim students must navigate a world often hostile to Islam and Muslims. Reflexive leadership created an environment for cultural syncretism, wherein space is made for students to both identify as American Muslims and identify with the global ummah, a supranatural community where global Muslims are viewed as equal in light of geographic, cultural, and linguistic differences. In summary, the study speaks to the daily practices and interactions of educators and students. It sheds light on the importance of raising educator and student consciousness while imparting skills on how to be actively and civically engaged. With a dearth of books on American Muslims, and even fewer on leadership and progressive Islamic schooling, Melanie and I are in the throes of writing a book based on recent data collection. The book will provide novel perspectives on formal and informal leadership practices in how a progressive Islamic school develops its youth amid the backdrop of a divisive landscape, vis-à-vis Islam and Muslims.

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?    

MDE: Educational change scholars and those whom we prepare, school and district leaders, are inextricably tied in the effort of transforming K-12 public education as we know it. One strand of my research agenda is the preparation of educational leaders. In a study that examined students’ perceptions of an educational leadership doctoral program, we looked at the redesign of the program (Ezzani & Paufler, 2018; Paufler et al., 2020). The program sought to prepare students to lead learning organizations, engage ethically with the community, advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and develop theory-to-practice solutions that are comprehensive and systemic. The findings provided a better understanding of changes in the program redesign, which supports broader national efforts to reconstitute the doctorate in educational leadership in ways that better prepare scholarly practitioners committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 public school systems.

“Educational change scholars and those whom we prepare, school and district leaders, are inextricably tied in the effort of transforming K-12 public education as we know it.”

As educational change scholars continue to learn more about the process of program redesign to transform the field, essential features seemed to support students when preparing them to become exceptional scholarly practitioners. For instance, front-loading a research-to-practice approach helped students appreciate complex and systemic problems of practice. We also learned that the cohort model provides a support system for educational leadership students who come to the program from various districts. The study we conducted provided a point of departure, confirming and disconfirming notions in the continuous improvement needed to prepare future leaders that can innovate and generate new ways of developing rigorous, relevant educational opportunities for students. The student’s voice is powerful evidence of program effectiveness. However, evaluating program impact would require the collective engagement of faculty to agree on how to challenge students’ assumptions, involve them in action, and find a way to assess their practices continually. Lastly, we ended by posing the following question: How are students in educational leadership applying their knowledge and skills to affect meaningful change in practice? To this end, Jimerson et al. (2021) articulated that we need to establish data-sharing agreements with school districts to holistically assess the performance of the leaders developed, and whether faculty are achieving the desired programmatic outcomes. 

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

MDE: I’m an optimist at heart. I hope that scholars in the field of educational change across the country play their part in transforming the current educational system – one cohort of educational leadership students at a time. It’s also critical that we work alongside our colleagues in teacher preparation programs so that we’re developing teachers and leaders who can abandon their fears and courageously work toward an anti-racist education system (Diem & Welton, 2020). As educational change scholars, we must rethink what and how we teach. It’s simply not enough to create one diversity course in a program or one cultural foundations class. Several exceptional programs have found ways of integrating content relevant to ethics, equity, social justice, and policy (see Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate).

“I hope that scholars in the field of educational change across the country play their part in transforming the current educational system – one cohort of educational leadership students at a time.”

We need to redesign programs to include mandatory courses that discuss the various intersections of oppression in our society rather than leave them as electives. As long as courses related to diversity, equity, and inclusion largely remain as a one-off to existing curricula (to meet accreditation requirements), we are abrogating our responsibility and contributing to ongoing inequities in our educational system. We need to address more strategically how academic programs are designed and what courses are required to meet the pressing need of developing educational leaders for social justice. However, higher education institutions also need transformation, where teaching is honored and valued equally with scholarship. Faculty will then be motivated to collaboratively revise programs in ways that meet the challenge of Accepting Educational Responsibility to defy social and educational inequities.

References

Apple, M. W. (2019). Ideology and curriculum, 4th edition. Routledge.

Banks, J. A. (2007). Educating citizens in a multicultural society. Teachers College Press.

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (2021). Retrieved from https://www.cpedinitiative.org/

Connery, C., & Weiner, J. M. (2017). Direct Democracy’s Threat to Democratic Schools: Ron Unz and the Case of Bilingual Education. in a Democracy, 6.

Datnow, A., & Park, V. (2018). Opening or closing doors for students? Equity and data use in schools. Journal of Educational Change19(2), 131-152.

Diem, S., & Welton, A. D. (2020). Anti-racist Educational Leadership and Policy: Addressing Racism in Public Education. Routledge.

Ezzani, M. (2021). A principal’s approach to leadership for social justice: Advancing reflective and anti-oppressive practices. Journal of School Leadership, 31(3), 227–247. https://doi.org/10.1177/1052684620908347

Ezzani, M. D., & Brooks, M. C. (2019). Culturally relevant leadership: Advancing critical consciousness in American Muslim students. Educational Administration Quarterly, 55(5), 781-811. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013161X18821358

Ezzani, M. D., & King, K. M. (2018). Whose Jihad? Oral history of an American Muslim educational leader and U.S. public schools. Journal of Educational Administration and History, 50(2), 113-129. https://doi.org/10.1080/00220620.2018.1448369

Ezzani, M.,& Paufler, N. (2018). Doctoral program in educational leadership redesign: Utilizing a multi-criteria framework. Impacting Education: Journal on Transforming Professional Practice, 3(2). http://impactinged.pitt.edu/ojs/index.php/ImpactingEd/article/view/70

Fabelo, T., Thompson, M. D., Plotkin, M., Carmichael, D., Marchbanks, M. P., & Booth, E. A. (2011). Breaking schools’ rules: A statewide study of how school discipline relates to students’ success and juvenile justice involvement. Council of State Governments Justice Center.

Jimerson, J. B., Atwood, E. D., Cook, K. S., Corder, P. F., & McGhee, M. W. (2021). A Retrospective Look at a Partnership-Based Educational Leadership Program Redesign. Partnerships for Leadership Preparation and Development: Facilitators, Barriers and Models for Change, 13.

Khalifa, M. (2020). Culturally responsive school leadership. Harvard Education Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. J. (1995a). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34, 159-165.

Liou, D. D., Marsh, T. E., & Antrop-Gonzalez, R. (2016). The Spatiality of Schooling: A quest for equitable classrooms and high expectations for low-income students of color. InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies12(2).

Paufler, N. A., Ezzani, M. D.,Murakami, E. T., Viamontes Quintero, J., Pazey, B. L. (2020). Educational leadership doctoral program evaluation: Student voice as the litmus test. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, https://doi.org/10.1177/1942775120976705

Theoharis, G., & Brooks, J. S. (2012). What every principal needs to know to create equitable and excellent schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Internet for all – Why not now?

How can we expect to effectively reimagine education post-covid if we do not have the capacity or the will to solve problems that, for the most part, we know how to solve? In Part 1 of this post, Thomas Hatch brings together a few of the many articles that show that providing internet access to all is an enduring problem despite the evidence that many disconnected students and families could be connected using available approaches. Part 2 will provide links to some of the approaches that are being pursued to work on the problem. This article is one in a series of articles looking at what can and should change in education post-pandemic.

What can change in schools post-pandemic? We can provide internet connections and access to devices. But do we have the capacity and the will?

Like other basic utilities, internet connections and access to devices could provide a foundation for more equitable access too educational opportunities around the world. It is no panacea, of course, as adding more connected devices does not necessarily mean that students will learn more. Further, for some time in, particularly in some parts of the developing world, radio and television – rather than internet connections – are likely to continue to provide educational access as they did during the pandemic’s school closures.  yet even in the US, the pandemic exposed that many students who could be connected are not connected, and a recent report from New America shows that many more are underconnected, with insufficient and unreliable access to the internet and to internet-connected devices. In fact, 65% of US families surveyed said their children couldn’t fully participate in remote learning because they lacked access to a computer or internet. The families most likely to lack sufficient internet bandwidth and devices? Black and Hispanic families and families living below the federal poverty line: n

  • Among families who have broadband home internet service:
    • 56 percent say their service is too slow.
    • 18 percent say their service has been cut off at least once in the past 12 months due to trouble paying for it.
  • Among those who only have internet access via a smartphone or tablet (mobile-only access):
    • 34 percent say they hit the data limits in their plan at least once in the past year, preventing them from being consistently connected to the internet.
    • 28 percent say they have a hard time getting as much time on devices as they need, because too many people are sharing them.
    • 16 percent say their mobile phone service has been cut off at least once during the past year because they could not pay for it.
  • Among those with a computer at home:
    • 59 percent say it does not work properly or runs too slowly.
    • 22 percent say it is hard to get time on it because there are too many people sharing it.
  • The proportion of lower-income families who are under-connected hardly changed at all between 2015 and 2021—despite large increases in rates of home broadband and computer access.
  • Learning at Home While Under-connected: Lower-Income Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic, New America

This brief scan of articles published this year exposes the depth of problems as well as some of the solutions that are already being pursued. But the critical questions remains: if we can’t or won’t adequately pursue problems of inequitable access and outcomes when we have viable strategies to use, when should we expect to address the problems that we do not yet know how to solve?

if we can’t or won’t pursue the problems of inequitable access and outcomes when we have viable strategies to use, when should we expect to address the problems that we do not yet know how to solve?

Documenting the challenges:

An Education System, Divided: How Internet Inequity Persisted Through 4 Presidents and Left Schools Unprepared for the Pandemic, the 74

The Digital Divide Has Narrowed, But 12 Million Students Are Still Disconnected, EdSurge

“In a patchwork approach born of desperation, they scrounged wireless hot spots, struck deals with cable companies and even created networks of their own. With federal relief money and assistance from state governments and philanthropists, they have helped millions of students get online for distance learning”

‘Big Burden’ for Schools Trying to Give Kids Internet Access, Education Week

Nearly a Year Into Remote Learning ‘Digital Divide’ Persists as Key Educational Threat, as Census Data Show 1 in 3 Households Still Struggling With Limited Tech Access, The 74

Millions of Students Are Still Without WiFi and Tech—Why Haven’t Policymakers Stepped Up?, EdSurge

“’We have a fiduciary responsibility to our shareholders,’ said Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas, who noted that his company is currently part of hundreds of K-12 agreements. ‘No single company can fix this with a flip of the switch.’ …As a result, districts are scrambling to figure out what happens next.”

Millions of Students Got Free Home Internet for Remote Learning. How Long Will It Last?, Education Week

S.C. Department of Education to shut down hotspots over the summer, WRDW

Broadband Mapping Across the US: Local, State, And Federal Methods & Contradictions, Next Century Cities

Student Home Connectivity Study, CoSN

Broadband Data and Mapping: Background and Issues for the 117 th Congress, Congressional Research Service

The wires may be there, but the dollars aren’t: Analysis shows why millions of California students lack broadband, CalMatters

What can change in schools after the pandemic?

“What if this is a moment when we can re-imagine education?” But “What if it isn’t? What if, despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, the conditions that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?” These are the questions that IEN Editor Thomas Hatch asks in the 2nd commentary in a series launched by Corrie Stone-Johnson and the Journal of Educational Change. These questions build on the first commentary in that series by Yong Zhao and Jim Watterston – “The changes we need post-Covid” and follows up on last week’s IEN post from Larry CubanDownsizing school reform.” Future posts on IEN will track both what changes in schools and what does not in order to reveal the conditions and constraints that have to be addressed to transform education over the long term. These IEN posts are part of a long-term project exploring school improvement efforts and educational innovations in both developing and developed contexts and follow-up on issues Thomas Hatch, Jordan Corson and Sarah Van den Berg  raised in The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin, 2021).

“We will now resume our regular programming…”

Excerpt of  a commentary from Thomas Hatch originally published in the Journal of Educational Change, August 2021 (Full commentary available at the Journal of Educational Change website)

The times are always changing. The question this year is whether we can build on some of the changes schools made in the face of the coronavirus and reimagine education altogether. Like many, I am hopeful that we can take advantage of the current moment to make at least a few meaningful steps in some of these directions.

Nonetheless, my work over the past thirty years on school improvement and school reform efforts in the US and in “higher” and “lower-performing” countries also makes me deeply skeptical. Time and again, I have seen how ambitious plans and visions fall short of their aspirations. As a consequence, although I believe this may be a crucial time to ask: “What if this is a moment when we can re-imagine education?”, I also know that we need to ask a second question: “What if it isn’t?”  What if, despite the changes wrought by the pandemic, the existing institutional structures, practices, incentives, and beliefs that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?

Is there a real opportunity to re-imagine education post-pandemic? Or will the existing institutional structures, practices, incentives, and beliefs that sustain conventional schooling remain in place?

I don’t see this as a pessimistic take. It’s imagining the future and understanding the past that enables us to take off on journeys where the exact destination is unknown. When getting ready to climb a mountain, adventurers don’t just hope that the path they envision does not lead to an impassible ledge; they don’t rely on the hope that the weather will hold. They try to imagine what might happen when they turn a corner or reach a new level, and they get prepared. When the unexpected happens, when the conditions predictably change in unpredictable ways, we need to be ready to respond and rise above.

As my colleagues Jordan Corson and Sarah Van den Berg and I argue in our new book, The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict, education systems all around the world find themselves in this situation today. Now more than ever, it’s clear that we do not know exactly what lies around the corner, and we cannot determine, with certainty, what today’s students will need as adults or what roadblocks or supports societies will put in place for helping them to get there. But we can build on what we know about why it’s so hard to improve schools, and we can imagine what it will really take to create more powerful and equitable educational opportunities in the future.

We can build on what we know about why it’s so hard to improve schools, and we can imagine what it will really take to create more powerful and equitable educational opportunities in the future.

In my commentary in the Journal of Educational Change, I explore what it will take to support real changes in schools post-pandemic by exploring three questions:

Part 1: Why don’t schools change?

Part 2: How (and why) did schools change during the pandemic?

Part 3: How can schools change post-pandemic?

My responses to those questions build on several key principles derived from my work in and studies of a variety of efforts to create more powerful learning experiences in both developed and developing contexts:  

  • First, new possibilities for schooling are most likely to take off when their goals, capacity demands, and values fit the common needs, existing capabilities, and prevailing conditions in the schools and communities where they’re supposed to work.
  • Second, this first principle leads to a corollary that seems particularly problematic for those who want to reimagine schooling altogether: the more radical our visions are for education and the more they diverge from conventional practice, the less likely they are to take hold on a large scale. However, that does not mean that it is impossible to pursue the new visions for education that Zhao and Waterston and others imagine. It means that the demands and pressures of conventional schooling make it easier to bring those visions to life in particular circumstances and contexts – ecological “niches” in a sense – rather than across entire school systems.
  • Third, this tension between the nature and extent of reform efforts, however, yields a further principle that opens up another avenue for change: There are places – “niches of possibility” – where the conditions are more amenable for transforming education. That does not mean that we have to accept every aspect of the conditions or ignore those that are deeply problematic. But we have to figure out how to challenge and work with and around the conditions in order to change them.

Schools will be transformed, over time, with changes in the conditions and the construction of the infrastructure for more powerful learning.

From this perspective, the specific vision for learning remains important, but that vision has to be accompanied by the recognition that it is not the vision itself that will change schools; schools will be transformed, over time, with changes in the conditions and the construction of the infrastructure for more powerful learning. Rather than aiming to develop a program and scale it across contexts, the focus shifts to the student level and to making sure that all students, particularly those left out and systematically disadvantaged by conventional schooling, encounter more and more opportunities inside and outside schools to engage in powerful learning experiences. Those experiences create new emergent possibilities for education that build directly on the specific conditions in which students live and learn every day.

(Full commentary available at the Journal of Educational Change website)

What will change in schools post-pandemic?

The school closures and related educational adaptions throughout the Covid-19 pandemic led to many calls for “re-imagining education,” but which changes in schools actually can be made right now? Which ones will be made in the future? To address these questions, IEN is launching a new series to track both what changes in schools and what does not in order to reveal the conditions and constraints that have to be addressed to transform education over the long term.  The series is part of a long-term project exploring school improvement efforts and educational innovations in both developing and developed contexts. The series pursue issues my co-authors, Jordan Corson and Sarah Van den Berg, and I raised in The Education We Need for a Future We Can’t Predict (Corwin, 2021). The first post in the series comes from Larry Cuban, co-author with David Tyack of Tinkering Toward Utopia(Harvard University Press, 1995), who highlights how calls for ambitious educational reform already may be “downsized” as the realities of returning to school get closer — Thomas Hatch 

Downsizing School Reform after the Pandemic

Posted originally on Larry Cuban’s blog on July 15, 2021

The silence is deafening. Perhaps other observers have noted calls for major school reforms, I have not. The pandemic’s closure of public schools in March 2020 and the partial re-opening of schools in fall 2020 and full return to face-to-face instruction in winter 2021 have grabbed mainstream and social media attention. Especially for the rapid expansion of remote instruction and the Zoom marathon that all of us are running.

No reform agenda, however, have I seen for bettering the nation’s public schools. I have yet to detect any groundswell for altering the familiar school organization, Common Core Curriculum, and existing accountability measures already in place. There is much reform talk, of course:

Consider the words from a recent report of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights of the disparate effects of the pandemic on white and minority students:

[W]e have a rare moment as a country to take stock and to begin the hard work of building our schools back better and stronger—with the resolve necessary to ensure that our nation’s schools are defined not by disparities but by equity and opportunity for all students.

Or the head of a major administrators’ professional organization:

“There are a lot of positives that will happen because we’ve been forced into this uncomfortable situation,” said Dan Domenech, executive director of AASA, the school superintendents association. “The reality is that this is going to change education forever.”

Talk is one thing, however, action another. Reform-driven policies have notably been absent from most of the 13,000 school districts spread across 50 states and territories during and after the pandemic, particularly when it comes to repairing inequities prior to and during the Covid-19 crisis.

Consider state and national testing. During the pandemic, the then U.S. Secretary of Education postponed the federally-required National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) until 2022. The current administration has called for standardized tests to be administered in the fall of 2021.

Apart from temporary suspension of nation and state tests, I have yet to hear of or read about any coalition of reformers offering concrete policies that can reduce the stark differences in funding and staffing schools in urban and suburban districts that have become, in a word, re-segregated. Progressive educators and their allies have surely called for such changes before, during, and after the pandemic’s closing of schools, but beyond exhortations, I have not noted an emerging coalition of school reformers at either the state and federal levels not only endorsing but also funding such efforts.

In fact, as Republicans have taken over most state legislatures–they now control 62 percent of them–, the appetite for funding schools and igniting school reform have shrunk considerably. Although conservative state legislators have called for more teaching of patriotism and less teaching about race, keeping schools as they are remains strong.

Progressive rhetoric for reducing inequalities in funding districts, ending disproportionate assignment of inexperienced teachers to high poverty, largely minority schools, and increasing “ambitious” teaching remains high in mainstream and social media but has yet to lead to substantial adoption of such policies, and most important their implementation in schools and classrooms.

Of course, lack of concrete reform-driven policies and their implementation does not mean that reforms begun prior to the pandemic and then put on hold have disappeared. Those reforms seeking the expansion of remote instruction have gained ground with the sudden switch from face-to-face to screens in March 2020. While surely distance learning now has a secure niche in a school district’s kit-bag of “solutions” to emergency closures, becoming more than an option for parents to choose is, well, doubtful (see here and here).

Remote instruction, then, is, by default, the coercive reform du jour. Yet frequent reports of test score decline and loss of academic skills especially among minority and poor students during the pandemic have yet to push the “pause” button on distance instruction as a choice for parents to have should they reject face-to-face instruction in school classrooms (see here and here).

With the spread of remote instruction as a school reform, what has thus far emerged from the pandemic emergency are not big-ticket, comprehensive overhaul of public schools aimed at reducing inequities among American children and youth but a shrunken version of what the past 18 months have offered.

And that is why I titled this post: Downsizing School Reform after the Pandemic.

Leadership, Improvement and Educational Change: The Lead the Change Interview with Chad R. Lochmiller

This week, the Lead the Change (LtC) interview features a conversation with Chad R. Lochmiller, an Associate Professor of Educational Leadership at Indiana University Bloomington. His research examines issues related to educational leadership, with a particular focus on instructional leadership, continuous improvement, and strategic resource allocation. A pdf of the fully formatted interview is available on the LtC website.

The Lead the Change series highlights promising research and practice and offers expert insight on small- and large-scale educational change to spark conversation and collaboration. The LtC series is a product of the Educational Change Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association; Jennie Weiner, Chair; Olga O. Fellus, Program Chair; Corinne Brion, Secretary/Treasurer; Alexandra Lamb, Series Editor; Cynthia Wise, Social Media Coordinator

Lead the Change: The 2021 AERA theme was Accepting Educational Responsibility and invites those of us who teach in schools of education to accept greater responsibility for the inadequate preparation of educators for work in racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse P–12 schools and postsecondary institutions. For example, when educators discipline African American students at disproportionately higher rates, misdiagnose them for special education, identify too few of them for advanced placement and international baccalaureate programs, deliver to them a culturally irrelevant curriculum, teach them in culturally disdaining ways, and stereotype their families as careless and hopeless, the schools of education that produced these professionals are just as responsible as the professionals themselves. Furthermore, if scholars who study and document these trends do too little to make our findings actionable, then we, too, are contributors to the cyclical reproduction of these educational inequities.  Given the dire need for all of us to do more to dismantle oppressive systems in our own institutions and education more broadly, what specific responsibility do educational change scholars have in this space? What steps are you taking to heed this call?

Chad Lochmiller: I think education scholars, particularly those who study educational change, have a moral obligation to use their research to identify and disrupt perpetual cycles of oppression, inequity, and injustice in educational organizations and practices. This obligation applies regardless of what we study or the methods we use. This isn’t always comfortable work for folks who look like me, a white, male academic, and it requires a conscious choice to focus on these issues. I’ll also be unequivocal in stating that, because of my identity, I have disproportionately benefitted from the inequitable structure of our society, its educational institutions, and our workplaces. I have benefitted because folks who look like me set up the system to reward similarity and disparage difference. This isn’t right. In our increasingly diverse society, it’s fundamentally wrong when scholars turn a blind eye toward the very system that perpetuates these cycles of inequity and has privileged their own academic rise.

This is true of public elementary and secondary schools in the United States, as well. I often recall the words of Ron Edmonds (1979), whose landmark work on schooling for students from low-income backgrounds prompted much of the debate about what constitutes an effective (and equitable) school. In his seminal work, he noted that “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us” and that “Whether or not we do it must fully depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far” (p. 23). Focusing on equity and orienting our scholarship toward issues that perpetuate injustice is a choice. It’s the choice for scholars, for journal reviewers and editors, for tenure reviewers, for hiring committees, and for institutions of higher education. It’s on all of us to take on these issues, but especially those of us who have benefitted disproportionately.

As Ron Edmunds said: “We can, whenever and wherever we choose, successfully teach all children whose schooling is of interest to us” and “Whether or not we do it must fully depend on how we feel about the fact that we haven’t so far”

Now, as I write this, I have to admit that I have not done enough to address equity issues in my own scholarship nor taken enough actions to promote equity through my research. It’s a weakness in my research and I own that weakness because of the choices that I made. It’s also something that I am working to address by choosing to situate my work with a stronger equity/justice frame. For instance, in work that I am starting on school district strategic planning, I am looking specifically at the ways districts frame equity issues as part of their overall strategy for organizational improvement. Coviello and DeMatthews (2021) just published a piece on the community-level engagement around district equity issues. I want to understand how districts prioritize equity as a strategic improvement goal and follow-up with these commitments through differential investments for historically under-served students. In other words, do they put their money where their mouth is when they say they’re investing in equity? There are clearly some districts who do. But there are also many who treat these issues like a politically convenient talking point that receives no sustained attention in their practice.

Finally, as an instructor, I also try to address these issues more focally in my classes. I teach Indiana University Bloomington’s school improvement course for pre-service administrators and have introduced research that addresses issues of culturally responsive school leadership, disproportionality, and other issues that are appropriately considered in broader conversations about district and school improvement. I’ve asked students to read Anjalé Welton’s (2013) work, “Even More Racially Isolated than Before: Problematizing the Vision for ‘Diversity’ in a Racially Mixed High School.” I use this piece to help my students see diversity as a strength from which to build their improvement efforts. This piece, along with others like it, has created some really impactful conversations in my courses. I’ve found that students are increasingly speaking about their commitment to take up difficult conversations in their schools, challenge issues related to racial diversity that confront their schools, and ultimately make the choice (as urged by Edmonds) that schools will serve all of their students.

LtC: Given some of your work focused on how new teacher evaluation policies shape principal practice and the types and scope of supports needed for them to effectively implement such policies, what are some of the major lessons the field of Educational Change can learn from your work and experience?   

CB: The adoption of new teacher evaluation policies throughout the Obama administration was the classic example of a well-intentioned policy that went terribly wrong. State policymakers who adopted the policies failed to consider the real-world impact of the policy on districts and schools. In this case, policymakers incorrectly assumed that leaders within system had the capacity to implement new evaluation practices without significantly increasing resources, providing adequate professional learning supports, or building new infrastructure to help manage data. Districts incorrectly assumed that principals had the capacity to manage new evaluation requirements without fundamentally reconsidering who should be involved in or responsible for the evaluation process. What became clear as this initiative wore on was that school leaders could handle ‘quick’ evaluations with relative ease but lacked the capacity to handle the required ‘comprehensive’ evaluations that were used with early career classroom teachers and a sample of teachers selected for review each year. As the number of teachers who required comprehensive evaluations increased, the evaluative burden simply grew too much for principals to handle. In sum, the system basically collapsed under its own weight (Lochmiller & Mancinelli, 2019).

If we step back and think about this as a broader policy issue, there are three major implications that we need to consider:  First, education policy tends to be heavy on prescription, but light on incentives for change. Policymakers tend to state what will be required of educators with the hope that this is enough. They rarely offer the same kind of detail when specifying how educators will be supported, which we know is vital for the success of any change initiative. Policymakers, including district leaders, clearly need to think more holistically. They need to consider what systems will need to be built and/or which existing systems might need to be leveraged. Instead of introducing wholesale changes in education practice, as they attempted to in the case of evaluation, it behooves them to make more modest changes that are more strategically focused. For example, some of the work done by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in the Building Teacher Effectiveness Network (BTEN) is an excellent example of districts working collaboratively to make progressive enhancements in their practice.

“Education policy tends to be heavy on prescription but light on incentives for change.”

Second, when policy aims to address practice, we need to consider whether practitioners have the capacity to accept new responsibilities. When educators don’t have the capacity to accept a new responsibility, I think it creates a policy selection phenomenon that is detrimental to policy implementation and organizational change. Prior research has described this as ‘street-level bureaucracy’ (Weatherly & Lipsky, 1977), a phenomenon that characterizes how frontline policy implementers tend to make sense of policy requirements in ways that fit their local context. In my view, policy selection relates to how educators strategically ignore policies that pose too significant a burden for them to adopt in their practice. I think it relates to Down’s (1957) notion of policy ignorance, which speaks to the costs of educating oneself about a policy relative to the potential benefits that one might derive from doing so. Educators tend to ignore (or loosely implement) policies that they think will not contribute to improved practices or outcomes. This reflects their own understanding about what constitutes good practice, and it ultimately contributes to unevenness in the implementation of policies. I think this exacerbates some of the difficulties achieving coherence in the education system, which are still not well understood.

Finally, given the increasing need to capture, analyze, and report information in education, policymakers need to consider the information infrastructure that policy changes may require. As I learned by studying evaluation policy, absent consideration of the information infrastructure, we end up with Google Spreadsheets because many classroom teachers use technology that is familiar to them or already embedded within their practice. This makes understanding the effect of a policy more difficult and presents challenges to learn how to improve the policy over time. It also misses an important recognition – technology tools can be useful in guiding educator practice. Thus, if we want to change fundamental practices, it behooves policymakers to consider how technology can be used to streamline what information is deemed important and thus sensitize what practices educators attend to.

LtC: In some of your recent work, you find that content-specific leadership practices are important not only for instructional improvement in science and math but also as a means of enhancing distributed or shared leadership practices. Given your findings, what do you see as the most needed changes to policy/practice to address these issues in the field, in educators’ daily practice and interactions with colleagues and students alike?

CB: My interest in content-specific leadership (Lochmiller, 2015; 2016) started because I saw pre-service administrators struggling to evaluate classroom teachers in content areas with which they had no previous experience. I found that pre-service principals were especially hesitant to evaluate teachers in mathematics and science because they perceived these subjects were too complex to understand. Through my research, I’ve seen that principals often avoid these subjects by delegating supervisory responsibility to other members of their administrative teams or by offering generic feedback that attends to classroom conditions but does not really promote reflection that could contribute to changes in instructional practice. My work in this area seeks to identify tools, strategies, and other supports that help administrators engage in more productive supervisory conversations and/or to help them reconceptualize the leadership function in their schools to promote more attentive supervision in mathematics and science. This includes advocating to district leaders and policymakers to allow non-administrators to participate in peer evaluation as well as creating coaching structures in buildings that provide greater support to teachers in these subject areas. Certainly, this work is also motivated because of the vast inequities that we see in access to high-quality mathematics and science instruction as well as the differential outcomes that have been reported in mathematics and science for low-income students, students of color, students who are learning the English language, and students with disabilities. So, to my earlier point, this is one area of my work where I’ve been really intentional about making connections between my research and the (in)equities in schools.

“Educators need tools. They need models. They need processes that help them identify what changes need to be made and how these changes look once they are implemented.”

LtC: Educational Change expects those engaged in and with schools, schooling, and school systems to spearhead deep and often difficult transformation. How might those in the field of Educational Change best support these individuals and groups through these processes?    

CB: My basic belief is that educators need tools. They need models. They need processes that help them identify what changes need to be made and how these changes look once they are implemented. One of the reasons that I’ve been so interested in improvement science (and Networked Improvement Communities) is that this model for improvement puts a great deal of power in the hands of educators to envision new practices, processes or structures that can fuel long-sought transformation. Improvement science is a form of disciplined inquiry that seeks to improve educational practices through the systematic application of small-scale tests of change. Networked Improvement Communities serve as social learning structure to guide largescale improvement activities focused on a common aim. In truth, I’m less interested in these ideas as an academic exercise than as a tool to help schools experiment with practices in ways that could potentially contribute to something better. I also think that this work is timely because of what we’ve experienced in the past year with COVID-19. When you take away the schoolhouse, you end up with students, teachers, instruction, and social networks. That’s the essence of schooling. So, I think it’s beneficial to explore improvement activities that marry these foundational qualities with a disciplined improvement process.

LtC: Where do you perceive the field of Educational Change is going? What excites you about Educational Change now and in the future?

CB: I think we need to think about the field in two ways. In the short term, my sense is that we’re going to see a lot of research that describes the effects of COVID-19 on different practices in schools. This will likely point to COVID-19 as a significant disruption in educational organizations, an external force for change, a crisis that necessitated management by leaders and teachers, and insights about how schools used technology to facilitate rapid educational change given the uncertainty of the moment. I’d also hope to see some critical appraisals of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities, students residing in rural communities, etc.

Once we get outside of this recovery period, I think the field is poised for some really exciting advances over the next several years. This period has taught us some important new ways of working, interacting, and organizing educational systems, including schools. These urge us to consider what schools and the school day look like, for whom this model works, and how this model might be amended to better serve students. I think this creates opportunities to raise important questions about inequities that the COVID era has made much more transparent. That’s where my excitement about the field comes from – we are living in a unique moment where we might be able to revisit our long-held conceptions of educational change so that they better reflect the diverse society that we live in. We might actually be able to make education systems work better for the students who attend them.  

References

Coviello, J., & DeMatthews, D. E. (2021). Knowing your audience: Understanding urban superintendent’s process of framing equitable change. Journal of Educational Administration, online first. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEA-07-2020-0164

Down, A. (1957). An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.

Edmonds, R. (1979). Effective schools for the urban poor. Educational leadership37(1), 15-24.

Lochmiller, C. R. (2015). Exploring principal leadership for math and science. Journal of School Leadership25(1), 24-53.

Lochmiller, C. R. (2016). Examining administrators’ instructional feedback to high school math and science teachers. Educational Administration Quarterly52(1), 75-109.

Lochmiller, C. R., & Mancinelli, J. L. (2019). Principals’ instructional leadership under statewide teacher evaluation reform. International Journal of Educational Management, 33(4), 629-643.

Weatherley, R., & Lipsky, M. (1977). Street-level bureaucrats and institutional innovation: Implementing special education reform. Harvard Educational Review, 47(2), 171–197.

Welton, A. (2013). Even more racially isolated than before: Problematizing the vision for “diversity” in a racially mixed high school. Teachers College Record115(11), 1-42.

‘Finding pathways to equity’: A Conversation with Mel Ainscow and Christopher Chapman

In their new edited book Educational Equity: Pathways to Success (Routledge, 2021), Christopher Chapman and Mel Ainscow and their colleagues, report the findings of an eight-year programme of research carried out in Scotland to find ways of promoting equity. In advance of the publication on July 15th, wespoke with Ainscow and Chapman about how the book came together and some of what they have learned in the process. Ainscow is Professor in Education at the University of Glasgow and Chapman is Professor in Education and Chair in Educational Policy and Practice at the University of Glasgow and Director of Policy Scotland. For more on Ainscow and Chapman’s work, see our conversation with them about their previous book with Mark Hadfield Changing Education Systems.

IEN: Why this book, why now?

Ainscow & Chapman: Educational Equity: Pathways to Success builds on our earlier work on the improvement of education systems. In this book we describe and analyse what happened over an eight-year period when a team of researchers from the Robert Owen Centre for Educational Change at the University of Glasgow worked within the Scottish education system to find ways of promoting greater equity. The accounts we present are unusual, if not unique, in that they involved an engagement at all levels of the system, from the offices of government ministers and officials, through to those involved in classroom activities and the many others who have a stake in the work of schools. Another unusual feature of the book is that, although individual chapters are written by particular groups of authors, it develops a single overall argument. This was achieved by intensive cooperation between members of the team, a process that included mutual reading of draft texts and occasional meetings to agree the ideas to be presented. All of this was built on a tradition of partnership working at the University of Glasgow that has grown over many years.

IEN: What’s the agenda?

A&C: Educational Equity: Pathways to Success focuses on the types of concerns facing schools and education systems across the world on a daily basis as they try to ensure the progress of all of their students. More specifically, it addresses the following questions:

  • What can be done to promote equity within education systems?
  • What are the barriers to progress?
  • How might these barriers be overcome?

With this agenda as our focus, the book presents a series of recommendations as to the actions that are needed in order to find pathways for promoting equity within education systems. We also examine the sorts of barriers that make it difficult to put these ideas into practice.

Our intention is that the information generated in relation to this agenda will be relevant internationally. With this in mind, extensive use is made of detailed accounts of practice to illustrate the argument. In this way, our aim is to make the ideas we present meaningful and relevant to a wide audience of readers, including, senior staff in schools, policy makers at the national and district levels, and post-graduate students who are focusing on using research to analyse educational improvement. Whilst the text has a strong emphasis on practice and policy, it will also be relevant to those in the research community who are focused on the improvement of schools and education systems. With this in mind, strong links are made with evidence from international research. 

IEN: What did you learn in working on this book that you didn’t know before?

A&C: The research was carried out in Scotland during a time of intensive efforts to improve the national education system. Building on the much-quoted adage, ‘the best way to understand an organisation is by trying to change it’, our analysis of these experiences led us to conclude that there is massive untapped potential within Scottish schools and their communities that can be mobilised to address the challenge of equity. It also describes how local pathways can be created in order to make use of this potential. The book shows how university researchers can contribute to the development of such initiatives. In particular, it illustrates the kind of relationships that have to be created amongst practitioners, policymakers and academic researchers for this to happen. Where this works, it can lead to the development of new, context-specific knowledge that can support change processes.

successful educational change requires the coming together of different perspectives in a process of social learning and knowledge creation within particular settings

In these contexts, we saw our role as being that of ‘engaged researchers’. This involved us in stimulating professional dialogues, within relationships that were concerned with the joint production of knowledge. In this way, our aim was to make direct contributions in the field, whilst at the same time drawing lessons that will have wider implications. All of this leads us to argue that successful educational change requires the coming together of different perspectives in a process of social learning and knowledge creation within particular settings. Researchers who get involved in such processes must expect to face many difficulties and dilemmas. Consequently, they have to develop new skills in creating collaborative partnerships that cross borders between actors who have different professional experiences. They also need to mobilise personal support in dealing with the pressures this involves. Hence the value of working as a team.

IEN: What’s happened since you completed the book? 

A&C: As we write, further significant barriers exist within education systems across the world in relation to the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. We argue that these new challenges point to the need for an even greater emphasis on the sorts of approaches presented in our book. There has therefore never have been a more important time for people to get together in order to ensure high quality educational opportunities for all children and young people. With this in mind, members of our team are currently working with colleagues in various parts of Scotland and in a number of other countries to take this thinking forward. We are particularly excited by a new project we are carrying out in the city of Dundee. Known as Every Dundee Learner Matters, the initiative involves a two-year strategy to improve the quality of education for all children and young people. This builds on the established reputation of Dundee as a hub of innovation and creativity. This led it to be recognised as a UNESCO City of Design the first in the United Kingdom to be awarded the honour, which puts it in the company of Berlin, Beijing, Buenos Aires and Montreal.

The guiding vision is of a high performing system that is at the forefront of developments to find more effective ways of ensuring the progress of all students, particularly those whose progress is a cause for concern. Central to this vision is a system that is driven collectively by school leaders and involves practitioners at all levels in taking shared responsibility for improving the quality of education across the city. Using a design-based implementation research approach, the strategy is guided by a series of design features based on lessons that emerged from the research described in the new book. Underpinning these features is a significant adjustment in the way that decisions are made regarding efforts to promote educational change. This approach has significant implications for the roles of local authority staff. It requires them to adjust their ways of working in response to the development of improvement strategies that are led from within schools. Specifically, their task will be to monitor and challenge schools in relation to the agreed goals of collaborative activities, whilst senior staff within schools share responsibility for the overall management of improvement efforts.

Local authorities task will be to monitor and challenge schools in relation to the agreed goals of collaborative activities, whilst senior staff within schools share responsibility for the overall management of improvement efforts.

IEN: What’s your hope for the future and what do you hope this book will contribute to it?

A&C: As we take our work forward – in Scotland and other parts of the world – the impact of the pandemic continues to be a major concern. At the same time, we are conscious that schools have demonstrated remarkable flexibility in response to these unprecedented challenges. This has meant that they have had to find different ways of carrying out their core business of teaching and learning. At the same time, many schools have developed new ways of working with other agencies in supporting families and local communities. The logical implication of these developments is that much of the best expertise regarding ways of providing support in the new context lies amongst practitioners. Therefore, in moving forward with the recovery of education systems, use must be made of this largely untapped knowledge through the sorts of collaborative processes reported in this book. If this thinking is to be implemented, however, there are significant implications for national policies. Put simply, there is a need to foster greater flexibility at the local level in order that practitioners and other stakeholders have the space to analyse their particular circumstances and determine priorities accordingly. This means that policy makers must recognise that the details of policy implementation are not amenable to central regulation. Rather, these should be dealt with by those who are close to and, therefore, in a better position to understand local contexts and develop pathways to success.

What Do We Know About School Leadership in Lower and Middle Income Countries?

Global School Leaders (GSL), recently released the results of a survey of school leaders from programs run by country partners in India, Kenya, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  This week Sameer Sampat shares some of the background and key results from that survey (with the full results of the survey available on their website). Sampat has also discussed the evolution of GSL in two previous IEN posts – Supporting school leadership around the world and the context of leadership & the evolution of the India School Leadership Institute.

Strong school leadership impacts student outcomes, and this relationship is more important during a crisis. School leadership training can be cost-effective if it is delivered using best practices. However, there are limited programs focused on working with school leaders in lower and middle income countries (LMICs). As a result, the evidence base on this issue is sparse relative to the central role that school leaders play in a school’s functioning.

My organization, Global School Leaders (GSL), aims to play a catalytic role in developing evidence on school leadership in LMICs. In order to do this, we have been scaling school leadership training programs while strengthening our monitoring, evaluation, and research systems to contribute to the larger ecosystem of learning on this issue. We have worked with over 3,500 school leaders, impacting approximately 920,000 students.  Our primary countries of focus are India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Kenya. During COVID, we have expanded to work in Peru, the Philippines, Uganda and Nigeria.

Why survey school leaders?

In 2020, we conducted a thorough review of the evidence on school leadership in LMICs. One of the key questions that emerged from that review is: “What are the key leadership practices that impact student learning for students from marginalized backgrounds?”

In order to deepen our understanding of this question, we have developed a set of High-Leverage Leadership Actions (HLLA) that synthesizes key leadership practices identified by our review and our experience training school leaders. We then developed a consultative process with a group of 10 education leadership researchers, our Academic Advisory Council, whose work is rooted in LMICs, to further refine this list.

These focus areas are not intended to be a complete framework of practices for school leaders. Instead, they serve as actions that 1) impact student outcomes and teacher performance 2) are trainable 3) are relevant across contexts.  The six High-Leverage Leadership Actions we have identified are:

  1. Create a positive school culture that reflects high expectations
  2. Build teacher skill through observation & feedback
  3. Understand effective teaching practices
  4. Set school goals, create plans, and monitor progress
  5. Promote teacher leadership
  6. Disrupt inequitable patterns

In order to understand the quality of school leader practice in HLLA areas and the amount of time school leaders give to HLLA areas, we developed a set of school leader, teacher, and student surveys.

We piloted this survey toward the end of 2020 with our partners from India, Kenya, Malaysia, and Indonesia.  Each of our four partners identified one school leader training program that started in early 2020. From this group of 180 schools, we randomly selected 10 schools from each partner. From each selected school, we surveyed the school leader, 5 teachers, and 20 students in grades 5 or 8. Our sample was thus 40 school leaders, 200 teachers, and 200 students. We ended up collecting data from 34 School Leaders, 116 teachers, and 145 students. The biggest gap in data collection was that our India partner was unable to collect teacher or student data.

What did you learn from the survey?

Overall, three findings from the study stood out:

1. The belief that all students can learn, and that teachers are critical in this process, is not universal.

In our sample survey, we saw that the percentage of teachers who believe that “all students can learn” is lower than the percentage of school leaders who believe the same. While 74% of our school leaders believe that all students can learn regardless of familial background or educational experience, only 48% of teachers agree.

While 74% of our school leaders believe that all students can learn regardless of familial background or educational experience, only 48% of teachers agree.

2. School leaders are providing teachers with limited opportunities to grow professionally.

Less than 40% of teachers reported receiving monthly short observations of at least 5 minutes from their school leader. Further, only 12% of school leaders reported conducting monthly observations of 30 or more minutes. Less than 50% of teachers reported their school leaders doing monthly in-service activities related to improving teacher skills and only 16% of teachers stated that they had opportunities to learn from their colleagues.

Less than 50% of teachers reported their school leaders doing monthly in-service activities related to improving teacher skills

3. School leaders use little data for decision making.

In our sample, less than 20% of school leaders reported using learning data to make curriculum changes, and only around 25% reported using data to incentivize teachers. Even though student absenteeism was identified by both teachers and parents as the biggest hurdle to student learning in their schools, only 62% of school leaders reported tracking student attendance. While almost all the school leaders reported having a school improvement plan that included student learning targets, in a majority of cases, these are not updated or reviewed regularly.

Less than 20% of school leaders reported using learning data to make curriculum changes, and only around 25% reported using data to incentivize teachers

Moving forward, we plan to conduct yearly follow up with this group of schools to see how their practice changes over time. We also will continue to test and refine our understanding of key actions leaders need to perform to impact students and improve our ability to measure these actions. We believe that understanding the detailed actions and choices school leaders make can have a substantial and sustained impact over the quality of education students receive.