A study on the principal's role in the development of professional learning communities in elementary schools that "beat the odds" in reading
v TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS i ABSTRACT iii LIST OF TABLES ix CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 1 No Child Left Behind 1 Professional Learning Communities 2 The Role of the Principal 3 Statement of the Problem 4 Purpose of the Study 5 Research Questions 5 Definitions 6 CHAPTER 2: REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 9 School Reform 9 Historical Context 9 Contemporary Reform Movement 11 Professional Learning Communities 13 Attributes of Professional Learning Communities 15 Shared Leadership 16 Shared Values and Vision 17 Deprivatized Practice 18 Collective Creativity 19
vi Supportive Conditions 20 Leadership 20 Theories of Leadership 21 Instructional Leadership Model 21 Transformational Leadership Model 24 Shared Leadership Model 26 Chapter Summary 28 CHAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY 30 Research Questions 30 The Criteria for School Selection 31 The Schools 32 Data Collection 35 Data Analysis 40 Quality and Rigor of the Study 41 CHAPTER 4: FINDINGS 43 Introduction 43 Background of the Four Schools 44 School A 44 School B 46 School C 47 School D 48 Research Question One 49
vii Shared Leadership 54 Shared Values and Vision 56 Deprivatized Practice 58 Collective Creativity 59 Supportive Conditions 61 Factors for Advancing Teaching and Learning 63 Dealing with Dilemmas and Conflicts 67 Summary of the Results for Question One 67 Research Question Two 70 Shared Leadership 71 Shared Values and Vision 73 Deprivatized Practice 74 Collective Creativity 75 Supportive Conditions 77 Factors for Advancing Teaching and Learning 78 Dealing with Dilemmas and Conflicts 79 Summary of Results for Question Two 80 CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS 83 Introduction 83 Summary of Purpose 84 Conclusions and Discussion 85 Shared Leadership 87
viii Shared Values and Vision 88 Deprivatized Practice 89 Collective Creativity 89 Supportive Conditions 90 Factors for Advancing Teaching and Learning 91 Dealing with Dilemmas and Conflicts 92 Limitations 93 Suggestions for Further Research 93 Implications for Educational Practice 94 REFERENCES 98 APPENDIX A: Principal Interview Questions 108 APPENDIX B: Teacher Interview Questions 110 APPENDIX C: Teacher Interview Categories by PLC Attribute 112 APPENDIX D: Principal Interview Categories by PLC Attribute 145 APPENDIX E: Artifacts Collected 163 APPENDIX F: Evidence of Categories from Artifacts & Observations 166
ix LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Teacher Interview Response by Invitation Round 38 Table 2. Interview Data Response Rates 44 Table 3. School Demographic Data 2008 49 Table 4. Principal Data Summary 50 Table 5. Observations 53 Table 6. Evidence of Category in Data Sources 85 Table C-1. Shared Leadership (Based on questions #2, 3, 4) 112 Table C- 2. Does not represent shared leadership 117 Table C- 3. Shared Values and Vision (Based on questions #5, 6, 7) 119 Table C- 4. Deprivatized Practice (Based on questions #8, 9, 10) 124 Table C- 5. Collective Creativity (Based on questions #11, 12, 13) 129 Table C- 6. Supportive Conditions (Based on questions #14, 15, 16) 134 Table C- 7. Factors Attributed to the Development of a PLC (Based on questions #17) 138 Table C- 8. Working Through a Dilemma to Establish a PLC (Based on questions #18) 142 Table D- 1. Shared Leadership (Based on questions #2) 145 Table D- 2. Does not represent shared leadership 148 Table D- 3. Shared Values and Vision (Based on questions #3, 4) 149 Table D- 4. Deprivatized Practice (Based on questions #5, 6) 152 Table D- 5. Collective Creativity (Based on questions #7, 8) 154
x Table D- 6. Supportive Conditions (Based on questions #9, 10) 156 Table D- 7. Factors Attributed to the Development of a PLC (Based on questions #11) 159 Table D- 8. Working Through a Dilemma to Establish a PLC (Based on questions #12) 162 Table F- 1. Shared Leadership 166 Table F- 2. Shared Values & Vision 169 Table F- 3. Deprivatized Practice 172 Table F- 4. Collective Creativity 174 Table F- 5. Supportive Conditions 176 Table F- 6. Factors Attributed to the Development of a PLC 179 Table F- 7. Evidence of Working Through Dilemmas 182
1 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION The importance of quality education and the urgent need to improve schools and raise student achievement are evident in the words of Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education (2009), “More than any other issue, education is the civil rights issue of our generation and it can't wait— because tomorrow won't wait—the world won't wait—and our children won't wait.” No Child Left Behind The national education act, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), has caused accountability and assessment to become the most popular buzzwords in reading education. The federal legislation contains clear achievement guides in terms of student reading standards and objectives and expected proficiency levels for students at particular grade levels. Due to NCLB requirements, most states in the U.S. depend on a single achievement test to hold schools and districts accountable for their student reading performance and as the driving force for improving student achievement (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004). Stakeholders measure schools by web-based school report cards focused on the percentage of students meeting proficiency on state reading tests and AYP (adequate yearly progress) lists published in statewide newspapers. The focus on state reading standards and accountability systems is shaping local decisions and policies in ways that are unparalleled (Leithwood et al., 2004). The high- stakes, negative consequences resulting from not meeting the targeted percentage proficiency on state reading tests include public ‘black listing’, ear marking of funds, and
2 possible school take over. As more and more schools and districts struggle to meet high standards, an anxiety builds in the education community (Vatthauer, 2008). Professional Learning Communities As educators seek answers on how to improve student achievement, an increased emphasis on research-based school reform has emerged. Research findings clearly point to the benefits of schools functioning as professional learning communities (PLCs) that lead to school reform. Louis, Kruse, and Raywid (1996) advise, “When schools attempt significant reform, efforts to form a school-wide professional community are critical” (p. 13). A PLC is defined as a group of educators committed to working collaboratively as they engage in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2006). Schmoker, (2006) summarizes the research, “The use of professional learning communities is the best, least expensive, most professionally rewarding way to improve schools. . . . Such communities hold out immense unprecedented hope for schools and improvement of teaching” (p. 4). The benefits and impact of PLCs are numerous. Louis and Marks (1998) found that when a school is organized into and operates as a professional community, the following occurs: 1. Teachers set higher expectations for student achievement. 2. Students can count on the help of their teachers and peers in achieving ambitious learning goals. 3. The quality of classroom pedagogy is considerably higher.
3 4. Achievement levels are significantly higher. The Role of the Principal Research studies identifying the critical role of the principal in creating the conditions for school improvement have been replicated for decades. Early studies on school effectiveness cited that effective school factors could not be brought together nor sustained without strong administrative leadership (Edmonds, 1979). More recent research on effective schools recognizes strong building leadership as a key element in student reading achievement (Taylor, Pearson, Rodriguez, & Peterson, 2005). Leithwood et al., claim (2004), “Leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school” (p. 7). Principals make an important difference in school effectiveness (Hallinger & Heck, 1996); as leadership improves, so does student achievement (Waters, Marzano, & McNulty, 2004). Experts in school reform highlight the importance of the principal’s role in the transformation of schools into professional learning communities. Newmann & Wehlage (1995) state, “How can schools become professional communities? Success depends largely upon human resources and leadership. The effectiveness of a school staff depends much on the quality of leadership” (p. 37). Louis, Kruse, & Marks (1996) add, “The principal plays a critical role in the development of professional learning communities, forging the conditions that give rise to the growth of learning communities in schools” (p. 19).
4 Statement of the Problem One of the most noteworthy changes triggered by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is that it has redirected education dialogue, placing student learning at the core of the administrator’s role (McCarthy, 2002). As the accountability movement has increased momentum, it has given rise to a new schema of principal leadership with a greater level of accountability for school improvement and the reading achievement of students. Specific details about and actions leaders can take to help their school experience student reading achievement gains are lacking in the professional literature. At best, the available evidence allows us to infer some broad actions that successful leadership might take. However, additional research is needed to define the practices that are successful in putting such actions into place. The research evidence regarding the principal’s role in school effectiveness is multifaceted, ill-defined, not easily confined to empirical research and more contradictory than might be understood from casual reading of the professional literature. (Hallinger, Bickman, & Davis, 1996). The major limitation in much of the research is that it does not identify leadership practices that are successful in improving effectiveness in school and classrooms. This concern is supported by Leithwood et al. (2004) stating, “Research is also urgently needed which unpacks how successful leaders create the conditions in their school which promote student learning” (p. 22). The findings of research often inspire principals, but infrequently point to explicit action that can be taken at the school level (Hill, 1998). Leithwood et al. (2004) continue, Research needs to focus on a more fine-grained understanding than we currently have of successful leadership practices; and much richer
5 appreciations of how those practices seep into the fabric of the education system, improving its overall quality and substantially adding value to students’ learning (p. 14). Purpose of the Study Increasing student reading achievement is at the forefront of the accountability movement, and in turn, school reform. Research shows that students attending schools operating as a professional learning community have a decreased dropout rate, lower absenteeism, larger academic gains in reading, math, and science than traditional schools, and smaller achievement gaps between students from different backgrounds (Hord, 1997). The purpose of this study is to identify the everyday decisions and actions of elementary principals that elicit and support the development of professional learning communities in schools. It is hoped that the findings of the study would offer elementary principals specific, practical recommendations for transitioning from traditional schools to PLCs so that their students may learn at higher levels and educators feel that their profession has become more rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling. This study addresses practices of successful principals related to reading in schools that are “beating the odds”. These schools are at or above the district mean proficiency on the MCAII and have higher ELL and poverty levels than other elementary schools in the district. Research Questions This study addressed successful practices of principals in schools that “beat the odds” in reading through the investigation of the following questions:
6 • What are the actions practiced by elementary school principals related to the development of professional learning communities in schools that have “beat the odds” in reading? • What are the practices and procedures related to the development of professional learning communities in schools that have “beat the odds” in reading? Definitions The following terms and definitions will be used in this study: Professional Learning Community (PLC): Educators committed to working collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve. Professional learning communities operate under the assumption that the key to improved learning for students is continuous job-embedded learning for educators (DuFour, DuFour, & Eaker, 2008, p. 469). Best Practice: Evidence-based practices refer to an instructional practice that has a record of success. There is evidence that when this practice is used with a particular group of children, the children can be expected to make gains in reading achievement (Gambrell, Morrow, & Pressley, 2007). Reader’s Workshop: An organized set of language and literacy experiences (typically, a teacher led mini-lesson, student reading, teacher-student conferring, and student sharing) designed to help student become more effective readers. Student reading could be in the form of independent reading, guided reading, or literature study (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001).
7 Guided Reading: A small group of students with similar reading strategies work with the teacher to learn more about reading. The teacher selects a text at an appropriate level, introduces it, and provides supportive teaching that helps the group understand what reading is and how it works (Fountas & Pinnell, 2001). Measures of Academic Progress (MAP): A computer-based assessment created by Northwest Evaluation Association. MAP dynamically adapts to a student’s responses as they take the test. If a student answers a question correctly, the test presents a more challenging item. If the student answers a question incorrectly, MAP offers a simpler item. In this way, the test narrows in on a student’s learning level ( http://www.nwea.org ). Rasch Unit (RIT): The RIT Scale is a curriculum scale that uses individual item difficulty values to estimate student achievement. An advantage of the RIT scale is that it can relate the numbers on the scale directly to the difficulty of items on the tests. In addition, the RIT scale is an equal interval scale. Equal interval means that the difference between scores is the same regardless of whether a student is at the top, bottom, or middle of the RIT scale, and it has the same meaning regardless of grade level ( http://www.nwea.org ). RIT Band: RIT band is also referred to as RIT Score Range. RIT scores are represented in ranges of 10, for example 151–160, 161–170, etc. . . . Each band has identified skills in each subject area (math, reading, language arts, and science) as well as each goal area or strand within the subject area assessment. In addition, signs, symbols, and vocabulary terms have been identified for each RIT Score Range ( http://www.nwea.org ).
8 SMART Goals: Setting a goal that's Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound has an impact on professional and personal performance (Locke & Latham, 1990).
9 CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE School Reform Historical Context Historical benchmarks, political initiatives, and educational reform movements are interwoven throughout America’s past. Since the 1700s, the United States has advocated for free universal education for all its children. The 19 th century’s industrial revolution saturated the education world and the factory model became the norm for school district organization. The factory model called for centralization, standardization, and hierarchical top-down management. Teachers taught the prescribed curriculum with the required materials, and followed the specified schedule. Students were sorted and selected based on their aptitudes and economic resources. In 1919 the Progressive Education Association was founded as a stark contrast to the existing factory model. Led by John Dewey, progressive educators objected to the growing national movement that led to academic education for the few and a limited vocational preparation for the majority. The cornerstones of progressive education were child-centered and social reconstructionist approaches. Students’ interests shaped the curriculum and social and hands-on learning replaced rote learning. As the progressive movement gained moment, it became increasingly under attack from traditionalists. With the launching of Sputnik in 1957, many blamed the laissez-faire programming of public schools for the United States falling behind Russia in the race to space. During the Cold War, anxiety increased and progressive education was largely abandoned.
10 In 1983, a quarter of a century after Sputnik, President Reagan’s National Commission on Excellence in Education released its report titled A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. The report added intensity to an already growing sense that American schools were failing, “The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people” (p. 5). A Nation at Risk served as a catalyst for an eruption of school improvement initiatives throughout the United States. The initiatives collectively became known as the Excellence Movement. The Excellence Movement can be summarized as “more”—more homework, more days to the school year, and more hours to the school day. Unfortunately, more of the same resulted in student achievement remaining the same (Alsalam & Ogle, 1990). The lack of student achievement gains was blamed on the excellence movement’s top-down structure with increased mandates and lack of input from educational professionals. In response, in 1989, President George Bush met with the nation’s governors and created Goals 2000 aimed at setting high standards for America’s schools. The goals included kindergarten readiness, graduation rates, competency in core curriculum areas, global competiveness, drug and violence free schools, and increased parental involvement. Goals 2000 established high standards, but local control was allowed to determine the best path to meet the standards. Undergirding Goals 2000 was the assumption that educators would embrace the flexibility in achieving the standards which would then lead to a much needed overhaul of the education system. Thus, the efforts became known as the Restructuring Movement. As a product of the movement, most
11 states and districts in the 1990s adopted some form of outcome-based education (OBE). A state would create a committee to adopt standards, and choose a performance-based assessment to assess whether the students knew the required content or could perform the required tasks. Unfortunately, the movement did not result in increased discussion amongst educators on teaching and learning. The standards of Goals 2000 were not reached by the year 2000. Student achievement was not impacted and another failed reform movement came and went. Contemporary Reform Movement The 21 st century brought yet another education reform in the United States with the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002. The legislation was created by the President George W. Bush administration and passed congress with strong bipartisan support. NCLB increased assessment requirements, mandating annual testing in reading and mathematics in Grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Student test results were disaggregated by race, poverty, and special education. NCLB required schools to attain adequate yearly progress (AYP) on state tests as a congregate and in each subgroup. If schools do not make AYP, they receive sanctions such as mandatory district funding for transporting students choosing to transfer to better performing schools and mandatory district funding for student tutoring beyond the school day. The law included annual increases in the percentage of students achieving proficiency on the state assessments until 2014, when 100% of students are to be proficient. No Child Left Behind is clearly an ambitious reform movement, but not all educators agree with the positive influences of the act or that the AYP process has or will
12 improve student reading achievement and improve schools. Concerns have emerged that NCLB has had a negative impact on students, the teaching profession, and the quality of instruction. The stakes associated with the assessment may be for the student in the form of retention or denial of graduation. There is evidence that high-stakes tests are prompting a rise in dropout rates, especially for black and Hispanic students. Schools face the high-stakes front-page headlines of their results and possible ‘black listing’ for inadequate progress. Administrators may be transferred or reassigned if scores are not high enough (Hoffman, Paris, Salas, Patterson, & Assaf, 2003). High-stakes tests are driving good teachers, who entered the field because of intrinsic rewards, right out of the profession (Hoffman, et. al., 2003). As high-stake assessment results are used for teacher pay raises or reprimands, stress and the intensity of teacher’s work is at an all time high. Too often teachers work in isolation and increasingly feel frustrated and burnt-out with imposed curriculum and accountability demands (Fullan, 2001). Accountability, through annual testing, drives schools to focus on improving test scores and education professionals look externally for answers. “Districts seek the best programs to teach reading and the most effective professional development providers for their teachers’ inservice. Publishers of test preparation materials provide schools with resources needed to improve student scores” (Cobb, 2005, p. 472). Classroom curriculum narrows to tested content at the expense of untested content. Teachers instruct specific subject matter and formats used on the test rather than fundamental concepts or principles (Hoffman, et. al, 2003).
13 Professional Learning Communities Political reform efforts call for structural changes to the education system. Structural changes such as increases in standards or testing are visible to the public at large and implementation can be verified. A much more complex change is required to bring about school improvement and increased student achievement. A mechanism promoting school improvement is a professional learning community. Joyce and Showers write of the cultural change associated with the development of a PLC, “We have come to realize over the years that the development of a learning community of educators is itself a major cultural change that will spawn many others” (1995, p. 3). To the degree that schools’ professional cultures are robust, instructional improvement is more likely to take place. Studies show that a sense of professional community is correlated positively with desirable student outcomes (Newman & Wehlage, 1995). “Community leads us to critically examine the values that play out in schools, the nature of the affective space we create for children and our actions as educators” (Furman-Brown, 1999, p. 10). Professional communities enhance teacher professionalism which has been documented as a necessary precursor in efforts to promote more challenging academic work for all students (Bryk et al., 1999). In a PLC, collaboration is a systematic process in which teachers work together to analyze the impact of professional practice in order to improve results for their students, their team, and their school. Professional learning communities allow people to talk across grade levels, departments, and schools within a district. This simple, powerful structure starts with a group of teachers who meet regularly as a team to identify essential and valued student learning,
14 develop common formative assessments, analyze current levels of achievement, set achievement goals and then share and create lessons to improve upon those levels (Schmoker, 2006, p. 176). Reflective discussion, open sharing of classroom practices, developing a common knowledge base for improvement, collaborating on the design of new materials and curricula, and establishing norms related to pedagogical practice and student performance are hallmarks of a professional culture (Louis & Marks, 1998). Collaborative conversations make public what has traditionally been private—goals, strategies, materials, pacing, questions, concerns, and results (DuFour, 2004). Teachers ask questions about their practice and view teaching in a more analytic fashion (Bryk, Camburn, & Louis, 1999). Engaging in discussion with colleagues about their work and examining the assumptions basic to quality practice lead to deepened understandings of the process of instruction (Schmoker, 2006). The very essence of a learning community is a focus on and a commitment to the learning of each student. When a school operates as a PLC, staff members hold high levels of learning for all students as both the reason the institution exists and the primary responsibility of those who work within it. Dufour (2004) summarizes research in the field, a professional learning community flows from the assumption that the core mission of formal education is not simply to ensure that students are taught, but to ensure that they learn. It is a shift from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning (p. 8). In a PLC, educators are hungry for evidence that students are acquiring the knowledge, skills, and dispositions deemed most essential to their success. Schools systematically monitor student learning through formative assessments and respond
15 immediately to students who experience difficulty. A coordinated directive strategy that is timely and based on intervention rather than remediation is the response when students do not learn. Undergirding a professional learning community are shared norms focused on student learning and collective responsibility for school processes and improvement which provide a structure that directs professional behavior (Bryk, et. al., 1999). These behavior guidelines are internally developed and agreed upon, rather than externally imposed. Three core practices characterize adult behavior in a school-based professional community (Bryk et al, 1999, p. 753): (a) reflective dialogue among teachers about instructional practices and student learning; (b) a deprivatization of practice in which teachers observe each other’s practices and engage in joint problem solving; (c) peer collaboration in which teacher engage in actual shared work. A PLC is a school-wide culture in which teamwork is “expected, inclusive, genuine, ongoing, and focused on critically examining practice to improve student outcomes” (Waters, et. al., 2004). School administrators and teachers build a collaborative culture in which they work together and embrace accountability for the learning of all students. Attributes of Professional Learning Communities Researchers (Hord, 1997; Louis & Marks, 1998) have identified characteristics of a school-wide professional community: shared leadership, shared values and vision, deprivatized practice, collective creativity, and supportive conditions. The five identified attributes were used to guide this study. A more in-depth description of each attribute follows.
16 Shared Leadership Shared leadership is also referred to as distributed, decentralized, collaborative, democratic, and participative leadership. The principal accepts a mutually respectful relationship with teachers to share leadership, power, and decision making (Hord, 1997). In shared leadership, efforts to influence members of the organization are carried out by more than one person. Distributed leadership adopts a set of practices that are possessed by people at all levels rather than a set of personal characteristics found in people at the top (Leithwood et al., 2004). The relationship fashioned between principals and teachers leads to shared and responsive leadership in the school, where all develop capacity and are “all playing on the same team and working toward the same goal: a better school” (Hoerr, 1996, p. 381). Decentralization of authority allows decisions affecting the school to be made by the educators nearest the students who are learning and the community. Leithwood, et al., cite the benefits of this approach “Through increased participation in decision making, greater commitment to organizational goals and strategies may be developed” (2004, p. 29). Distributed leadership increases the occasions for the school to capitalize on capacities of more of its members, enables members to benefit from the range of their individual strengths, and develops greater awareness of interdependence and how one’s behavior affects the school as a whole. Louis and Kruse (1995) cite the supportive leadership of principals as a necessary precursor to the development of a school-wide professional community focused on student achievement. An “inclusive, facilitative leadership style that encourages teachers