District-Level Leadership: Differentiated Support in Action
Welcome to Leaders' Link
Welcome to Leaders’ Link, a column devoted to school administrators. From district-level administrators to school principals and assistant principals, today’s education leaders must be inspired, courageous, and committed as well as highly skilled in curriculum, instruction, and assessment. In this space, I will provide insight into the experience of school administrators and offer leadership strategies.
In order to understand current challenges faced by administrators at both the site and district level, it is helpful to examine how the U.S. education landscape has changed in the last two decades.
High goals = high accountability
The field of education began to change dramatically in the years just prior to the 2001 passage of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. By the time NCLB was enacted, some states — California and Texas, for example – already had their own state-level testing and accountability systems in place, which were then coupled or merged with NCLB’s Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements.
The age of accountability: No Child Left Behind to Common Core Standards
Often dubbed the “age of accountability,” AYP requirements began a watershed era for educators. Media-publicized test scores could sometimes be the deciding factor in continued employment for administrators at every level, from principals to superintendents.
The pressure on administrators for their school or district to perform well on standardized tests has not abated. NCLB is being reworked as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and schools continue to strive to meet federal and state accountability measures, which are also being revamped.
Common Core Standards: Assessing students on highly demanding tasks
Introduced in 2010, the Common Core Standards (CCS) have been adopted by 45 states. The goal of CCS is to put United States schools on par with leading international school systems such as Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. American schools are currently “average” in world rankings, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), based on comparisons of scores from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
Common Core Standards are designed to prepare students graduating from U.S. schools for the globally competitive, ever-evolving professional world they will face as adults. As such, state and federal accountability systems will be based on new, common assessments of the CCS, which will assess students in more highly demanding tasks than those of past bubbled-in multiple choice tests. The new system is not simply a matter of a new set of standards that educators must begin to teach. It demands methods of instruction that may be very different from what teachers in many schools have been doing.
The challenge to meet: Demands on schools rise as resources dwindle
Meanwhile, the economic hardships of the Great Recession hit schools hard starting in 2008. While demands upon schools have risen dramatically, resources for every aspect of schooling — books and materials, technology, bus transportation, facilities, programs for students, professional development for staff, and instructional and support personnel, including administrators — have shriveled.
The impact of the economic crisis upon families has also resulted in rising poverty rates. The number of U.S. children living in poverty climbed steadily in the 2000s, reaching 22 percent in 2012. Because the negative impact of poverty upon young children’s school readiness is so extreme, and because poverty decreases the educational performance of students of all ages, the fiscal impact of the Great Recession has been far greater than the dramatic reduction of resources for schools.
This is the landscape of school leadership for today’s educators. It demands visionary educators with a wide array of expertise and exceptional interpersonal skills.
Terry Wilhelm is a district-level consultant who works with educators nationwide and is the founder and owner of Educators 2000. She has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office administrator, area service agency administrator, and adjunct professor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.
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