Reducing suspensions or building relationships? Reframing the problem 

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     Setting numerical goals to remove discipline disparities doesn’t get at the deeper issues.  Whenever I hear education policy wonks arguing about the topic of student suspensions, I’m reminded of the Rorschach tests I learned about in Psychology 101. Show people an inkblot, the theory goes, and the picture that jumps out at them (a [...]

Let’s be precise about personalization

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It’s a mistake to describe personalized learning as though it were a whole new educational model. To make schools more responsive to students’ needs, focus on the specifics. As a district cabinet member and superintendent, I spent countless hours in planning sessions, retreats, and other meetings where system leaders are supposed to come up with [...]

2 challenges for community schools 

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I wrote my doctoral dissertation, back in 2001, on the topic of collaborative leadership. More specifically, I focused on the need for superintendents and directors of community service agencies to work together in support of at-risk youth.   My interest in the topic stemmed from my time as a teacher of severely emotionally disturbed adolescents in [...]

Let’s be honest about local school governance

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Changing how we select school board members and approve district budgets could address long-standing challenges of local school governance. Whenever and wherever school superintendents congregate — whether it’s the national superintendents’ conference, state or regional meetings, or informal dinners — they spend much of their time sharing notes about the care and feeding of their [...]

Teacher professionalism from the superintendent’s perspective 

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School system leaders can’t do everything, but they can do a lot to make teaching jobs more professional.   If you haven’t yet read journalist Dana Goldstein’s 2014 book The Teacher Wars, I highly recommend that you do so. Goldstein, now with the New York Times, offers an engaging, thoughtful, and well-researched account of how teachers’ work has evolved over [...]

The paradox of standardized testing

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Standardized achievement tests are deeply flawed, and test-based accountability has been terribly damaging to public education. Even so, such tests have their uses. At the beginning of the school year, my kids came home with results from last spring’s state standardized tests. I was eager to see how they did, but I was also torn, [...]

Using Advanced Placement as a lever for social justice

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Encouraging and allowing students to enroll in rigorous courses is a critical first step in providing more equity in high schools.  The former school superintendent of Hartford, Conn., Beth Schiavino-Narvaez, once told me that “the public education system is the great sorting mechanism for American society.” I use that line often, as it succinctly conveys [...]

To lead for equity, learn how the system works

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It’s not enough to be passionate about social justice. School leaders can’t make positive change unless they know how school systems really work. By Joshua P. Starr I recently attended a meeting with about 40 people involved in K-12 public education at multiple levels: academics, state and district leaders, heads of nonprofit and advocacy groups, [...]

Organizing for adaptive change management

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If schools are going to adapt and improve in meaningful ways, then central office leaders must lead the way by being facilitators, funders, advisers, evaluators, and quality assurance agents. One day, when I was a district superintendent, I visited two high schools we had identified as “needing improvement.” I was there to share our strategy [...]

Culture, tweets, and change

col - Starr|

When I was transitioning from being superintendent in Stamford, Conn., to being superintendent in Montgomery County, Md., I knew that while the title was the same, the jobs were very different. Not only was Stamford a tenth of the size of my new district but the work I had led there for six years had [...]

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