Conceptualizing school improvement: rapid change or piecemeal advancement
This symposium focuses on approaches of school turnaround. By presenting three different cases from three different countries; the USA, Germany and Norway, we aim to explore, discuss and problematize different approaches and the possible effects they have related to moving schools in intended directions. First of all, the symposium discusses how models of school turnaround are influenced by overall school governing approaches, traditions and culture in the specific state or country. Second, the project organisation, the planning, timeline and involvement of stakeholders differ, which has consequences for the implementation process and project results. Third, a feature across the three cases which is most fundamental to progress is the principals’ ability to set a compelling vision and align goals. This implies developing a sense of where the organization wishes to go, why, and how it will collectively get there, which undergirds all else that follows.
Presentations of the Symposium
School Turnaround in the US: An Analysis of the Quality of Principal-developed Quick Wins
By starting with a goal that is important, can be achieved quickly, and will provide visible improvement, the school principal can initiate change that all recognise and can support (Herman, et al., 2008). Kowal and Abledinger (2011) extend this notion, pointing out that meaningful early wins connect to high-priority goals. A quick win should be visible and indicate change while setting the stage for that change in areas critical to the context of the school.
In this paper, we analyse short-cycle, 90-day plans developed by school principals to guide their school turnaround initiatives. We examine to what extent the quick wins can be characterised as quick (i.e., can be completed within 30 days), clear, aligned, meaningful, and we discuss what appropriate quick wins look like. Investigating these questions is critical to understand what school principals most frequently try to address in early stages of turnaround.
Approximately 170 improvement plans, developed by school principals were analysed by the means of an a priori coding scheme (Inter-rater Reliability = 0.82).
Our findings suggest that the quick wins developed to jumpstart turnaround efforts are not consistently quick, clear, or aligned, and very few are meaningful and connected to larger priorities. The results indicate that progress can be made in terms of conceptualising a turnaround plan wholescale which considers all the details required for rapid improvement and connect to larger priorities.
School Turnaround in Germany: School Leadership and Coordinated System Efforts as a Key to Change
This paper identifies and discusses factors which prove to be crucial for setting a new direction in ten schools in difficult circumstances located in a large city. This school turnaround project is initiated as a public-private partnership between the school authority and a private foundation.
This paper presents findings from the analysis of quantitative and qualitative data gathered during the first three years of the project. Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) is used as an analytic technique to test latent variables and investigate relationships between latent variables and school characteristics. The qualitative analysis focuses on creating meanings and structures of organizational realities seen from multiple perspectives in the school system (Connelly et al, 1999).
Findings indicate two subcultures in the schools. First, there is a lack of consensus about core tasks and new directions in the schools, resulting in devaluing each other’s work and connecting to dissatisfaction with the work and low capacity to deal with pressure. Second, there is a group of staff who perceives the quality of their work as good, who share a common ground for their work, and have a high degree of work satisfaction. A well-functioning and strategic school leadership is a main key for change. Yet, findings show that it is highly problematic for schools to do a “turnaround” on their own. Cooperation with local authorities and coordinated system efforts are required.
School Turnaround in Norway: Leading Collective Professional Learning at the School Level
This paper investigates policy intentions of the national project “Secondary Schools in Development,” specifically examining the opportunities and challenges of initiating collective professional development in schools, especially focusing on the role of principals. The four-year project aims to change the whole school organisation by emphasising teachers’ attitudes, knowledge and competencies related to teaching, learning and cooperation. A key target is to increase the rate of students completing upper secondary school. The project includes all lower secondary schools (grades 8-10) because the key goal is to increase the rate of students completing upper secondary school. The project takes form as partnerships between the schools and 22 universities and university colleges.
Drawing on a case study approach, findings from two middle size schools are presented; one school is well established with teachers working together for many years, the other school is relatively new and with many inexperienced teachers.
Despite good intentions in terms of participation, findings show that it proves difficult to establish ownership to the project locally, and the division of roles and responsibilities, are perceived as unclear. If the school leaders lack a clear vision and direction for moving the school, there is a danger that a bottom-up approach with respect to defining areas for professional development ends up in fragmented and short-sighted improvements.