Mo-Yun Lei, Stanford Educational Leadership Institute (650) 724-3362; e-mail molei@Stanford.EDU
Learning from business management to create better schools
The nation's education system must do a better job of developing leaders if schools are going to meet the needs of 21st-century America, Anthony Alvarado, chancellor of San Diego schools, said Oct. 23.
"You cannot manage a school into better performance, you have to lead it," he said.
Alvarado, a nationally known leader in education, discussed the importance of improving school leadership at the opening of a daylong symposium titled "Developing Educational Entrepreneurship: Redesigning Schools for the 21st Century."
The event was organized by the Stanford Educational Leadership Institute (SELI), a new joint partnership between the School of Education and the Center for Social Innovation at the Graduate School of Business.
"The purpose of leadership is to lead instructional improvement," Alvarado said. "When all is said and done, the primary factor that determines student achievement is the quality of instruction. We are not knowledgeable and skilled enough, and we are not sufficiently managing high-quality systems that could routinely deliver improved instruction. That's the name of the game."
The symposium, which attracted more than 250 educators, philanthropists, scholars and policymakers, also focused on the role of educational venture philanthropy in developing new school models, the elements of successful schools and issues related to school redesign.
SELI Director Mo-Yun Lei said the institute's goal is to bring together the knowledge and experience of the worlds of business and education to improve school management and design. Supported by the Goldman Sachs Foundation, SELI originally was conceived by education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and James Phills Jr., acting associate professor of organizational behavior and co-director of the Center for Social Innovation.
"This conference is important because it gives us an opportunity to design a leadership curriculum that combines both the elements of general management and leadership with the specific knowledge that is necessary for educators," Phills said.
The event featured presentations by Reed Hastings, president of the California State Board of Education; Arlene Ackerman, superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District; and other leading figures who support entrepreneurship in education.
According to Alvarado, many school systems are dysfunctional because competing influences take the focus away from instructional achievement. "Principals and teachers are forever running this way and that," he said. "The ability of the system to keep out the noise and allow [them] to concentrate on the core [mission] is important. We don't do a good job of it."
Schools have much to learn from the business world in dealing with personnel issues, he added. "We believe that all kids can learn, therefore all adults can learn. But lots of folks in leadership roles do not have the capacity to lead institutions. I cannot emphasize the problem we have with sitting principals who cannot critique teachers; who cannot analyze instruction and give positive feedback. We don't do a good job of making tough decisions about personnel."
Pointing to his experience in San Diego, Alvarado said the school system is focused on developing leaders. The district works with the University of California-San Diego to identify outstanding teachers who are then released from teaching full time to participate in a yearlong leadership academy. "It's producing new principals of a totally different ilk," Alvarado said. "It's [producing] a different kind of leader who understands that instructional improvement is what they have to do."
Despite the program's success, Alvarado said few school systems nationwide put adequate funding into leadership development. "If you looked at the budgets of almost any school system in America, you probably couldn't find the leadership development resources that everyone rhetorically argues is a crucial part of the system," he said. "Those two things do not jibe."