Leadership Education for the 'Fortune 300' of Education: To Generate Investment in Executive Development, We Must Focus Efforts on Leaders Who Are Serving the Highest Concentration of Low-Performing Students and on Leaders of a New 'Federal" Partnership for Education, Mr. Ambach Avers

By Ambach, Gordon | Phi Delta Kappan, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Leadership Education for the 'Fortune 300' of Education: To Generate Investment in Executive Development, We Must Focus Efforts on Leaders Who Are Serving the Highest Concentration of Low-Performing Students and on Leaders of a New 'Federal" Partnership for Education, Mr. Ambach Avers


Ambach, Gordon, Phi Delta Kappan


To substantially raise student achievement, our nation must address serious problems in educational leadership. Most analysts support proposals for the initial training and professional development of all principals and superintendents across the board. This type of widespread help is needed, but in my view we must concentrate resources specifically on a small nationwide group that has the greatest potential to affect schools--the "Fortune 300" of primary and secondary education. Just as the Fortune 500 companies invest heavily in executive learning, and the military aggressively commits to the career development and training of its generals and admirals, so must we create a special university strategy for providing advanced leadership education to these top school executives.

The Fortune 300 includes the superintendents of the 200 largest, mostly urban, school districts; the 50 chief state school officers; and about 50 other national educational leaders, including some from the U.S. Department of Education and others who work for national organizations, foundations, or think tanks. (1)

Targeting dollars toward training for these leaders is a high-impact investment for three reasons. First, the 200 largest districts enroll approximately 40% of the nation's students and nearly 75% of its students in poverty. Leaders of these districts have important responsibilities for improving the nation's overall student performance. (2) Second, state-and national-level school leaders have become significantly more influential in the past decade, but typically they have had scant access to executive education in these roles. Third, during the past half-century a new "federalism" in education has developed that requires greater cooperative leadership among the different levels of school governance. Effective leadership in this environment requires shared executive education that examines the dynamics of interdependence and establishes stronger peer relationships across the levels.

The Fortune 300 leaders need an educational program with several components. First, they should engage in substantial study of the most effective leadership practices for initiating and sustaining organizational improvement. These best practices can be drawn from the fields of business, the military, technology, health, law, public policy, and education. Participants should study both generic lessons across fields and applications specific to education problems. Special emphasis emphasis should be placed on the leadership of large public agencies that operate on multiple levels in a "federal" context. Part of this component would be provided in full-time study segments (up to one month a year for two years) and part would consist of on-the-job team leadership training directed toward accomplishing an organization's strategic plans.

Second, during periods when the Fortune 300 leaders are changing positions, they need opportunities for full-time study (from six months to a full year) focused on one or more of three objectives: 1) learning effective leadership practices, 2) reflecting on lessons learned in previous assignments and studying their peers' best practices on-site, and 3) pursuing intellectual interests in the sciences, arts, or humanities. Though the latter topics may not be directly related to the practice of leadership, effective school leaders must engage in rigorous, continuing learning--the central purpose of their field.

Third, educational leaders need access to guidance and assistance in planning and arranging next career steps that are best suited to their individual strengths.

This service is particularly important for leaders who are moving from one level of government to another and enables a better match between candidates' talents and agencies' needs for sustaining reforms in jurisdictions that may have exceptionally high administrator turnover rates.

The scale and cost of this proposed effort to prepare educational leaders can be summarized this way. …

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Leadership Education for the 'Fortune 300' of Education: To Generate Investment in Executive Development, We Must Focus Efforts on Leaders Who Are Serving the Highest Concentration of Low-Performing Students and on Leaders of a New 'Federal" Partnership for Education, Mr. Ambach Avers
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