A Readable Tale of District Reform Travels to Duval County, Florida

Article excerpt

A READABLE TALE OF DISTRICT REFORM TRAVELS TO DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA The Case for District-Based Reform: Leading, Building, and Sustaining School Improvement By Jonathan A. Supovitz 2006, Harvard Education Press Paperback, 286 pages, $29.95

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Reviewer's rating: 4 out of 4

Ever since John Goodlad proclaimed in 1984 in A Place Called School that the school was the appropriate unit of change for improving education, that approach - improve one school at a time - has dominated efforts to improve education in America. So why, after nearly 30 years of applying that philosophy, has so little changed? Because that approach, while needed, disregards the nature of school districts as intact, organic systems governed by classic principles of system functioning. It is a piecemeal approach that fails to improve entire school systems.

In The Case for District-Based Reform: Leading, Building, and Sustaining School Improvement, Jonathan Supovitz offers readers a comprehensive analysis of districtwide reform in the Duval County (Fla.) Public Schools. In this highly readable book, Supovitz weaves what we know about the theory and practice of whole-district change into an artfully constructed case study.

Supovitz' discussion of the need to build capacity for change before engaging a school system in districtwide change is of particular importance to staff developers. That capacity is created through professional development, he says. Supovitz argues that over the past 20 years, remarkable consensus has emerged about the nature of effective professional development. He discusses seven critical components of effective professional development (pp. 81-82):

1. Show teachers how to connect their instruction to specific and ambitious criteria for student performance;

2. Immerse participants in techniques of active learning;

3. Be both intensive and sustained (in other words, oneshot workshops don't work);

4. Engage teachers in concrete teaching tasks they can employ with their students;

5. Focus on subject-matter knowledge and deepen teachers' mastery of their content area;

6. Capitalize on the experiences and expertise of peers; and

7. Connect to other aspects of system change.

Although I really liked Supovitz' book, I found one deficiency - I couldn't discern whether the approach to districtwide reform that he advocates, and which he illustrates through the case study, recognizes the nature of systemic change that many experts advocate for creating and sustaining systemwide change. …