Leaders at Many Levels: Improving schools through collaboration in Ohio

May 13, 2009
   

Teaching has long been viewed as a hard-to-define skill, something that takes place behind closed doors with a gifted teacher inspiring her students to achieve beyond expectations. Research has shown, however, that students are better served when educators work together, sharing successful practices and helping each other improve.

This 2009 study by Policy Matters Ohio found widespread support for the kinds of collaboration and professional development that bring teachers together to focus on improving student achievement. Policy Matters interviewed 37 teachers and administrators in 18 districts that are part of the Ohio Improvement Process, a state initiative begun in the 2007-08 school year to create a unified approach to school improvement.

A strong majority of respondents from a pilot cohort of districts gave the Ohio Improvement Process high marks, saying it helped them focus efforts and brought administrators, teachers and others to the table to prioritize efforts. Educators in the state’s five largest urban districts, on the other hand, expressed more negative views, saying it often duplicated existing district-level efforts. Respondents from all districts said the process was time consuming and somewhat burdensome, even when it helped planning efforts significantly.

This study counters a common belief that school reform is best undertaken by a strong or heroic individual with a high level of power and autonomy. As policymakers plan new approaches to school improvement, they should ensure that teachers fully participate in school improvement efforts, and that adequate support is given to foster collaboration.

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