Characteristics of an Effective School District

By Jon Saphier -- July 2014

Professions with rigorous professional standards have the following nine characteristics (see my Bonfires and Magic Bullets article to learn more):

  1. An acknowledged knowledge base of professional practice
  2. Rigorous training and certification of members
  3. A workplace culture of consulting and collaboration
  4. A systematic enculturation of new members
  5. Required and continuous learning regularly built into the work cycle
  6. High public accountability
  7. Internal maintenance of high standards of practice
  8. Responsibility for client results
  9. Members who make autonomous decisions guided by a canon of ethics

The only districts I know that have made progress toward creating these characteristics are those where there have been a:

  • Desire on the part of the union leadership to play an active role in the education of students;
  • Persistent commitment from the school district leadership and the school board to foster High Expertise Teaching, and;
  • True partnership in decision making between the union and the school administration.

When these conditions are present, one sees significant progress made on other initiatives that influence teaching such as teacher leadership, parent involvement, and community connections. Large and moderately well funded districts like Montgomery County, Maryland can achieve these conditions on their own. Small districts can foster the required collaboration of union, administration, and school board, but must pool their resources with a number of surrounding districts in order to mobilize sufficient funds for assistance.

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