Education Researchers Identify Factors Behind Successful School Districts

Date: September 24, 2010

Most parents attribute academic excellence to what happens in the classroom. It turns out that what goes on in the principal's and superintendent's office is just as important when it comes to student success, says a Texas A&M University professor.
That connection is not so surprising to Linda Skrla, who began her career in education as a middle school English teacher.
"From my first year in the classroom, it became obvious to me how important it was to have good school leadership," says Skrla, professor of public school administration in the Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development.
Those early classroom experiences have directly shaped her ongoing research.
"The question has been what is going on with federal and state accountability policy and district-level leadership in school districts that have shown sustained progress in closing achievement gaps and raising achievement for all students," she says.
State accountability standards implemented in 1994 made it easier to measure student stprogress, creating opportunities for Skrla and other scholars to identify those schools and districts that are stronger in promoting student achievement.
"When my colleagues and I first started investigating school district success, there really wasn't a theory of successful school districts," Skrla says. "We now have developed a theory of what successful districts do and are working toward testing that theory to see if we can predict how districts will perform, based on how closely they're aligned with our theory."
She notes that the more successful school districts design their administrative, professional and instructional systems around student learning. This shift away from traditional models generally causes more decisions to be made at the school level.
Skrla is working on another project at the school level with colleagues Kathryn Bell McKenzie and Jim Scheurich. With funding totaling $125,000, the project is supported by the Sid W. Richardson Foundation.
"This grant focuses on Texas high schools that are doing the best job in raising achievement in math and science for African-American and Latino students," Skrla says.
The goal is to identify what these top high schools are doing so that their strategies can be replicated with struggling schools in the future.
"Our preliminary findings show that there is not a silver bullet or magic formula that these successful high schools are using to teach mathematics and science to their highly diverse student populations. They are using proven strategies that are available to all schools," she says. "The difference with these schools is that they have strong leadership, deep commitment to equity and clear instructional focus all aligned in a coherent effort to serve all of their students well."