Researchers collected data through in-depth interviews with central office administrators, school principals, and representatives from outside organizations involved in the central office transformation effort. They also observed how the central office transformation unfolded in real time as well as reviewed various documents.
This report examines the daily work of central office staff members in three urban districts that shifted their focus from basic services and compliance to improving classroom instruction. The three districts—Atlanta, New York City and Oakland, Calif.—posted student achievement gains that they attributed in part to radically transforming the work of their central office employees.
The study looked inside central offices to understand more specifically what central office administrators were doing as part of their transformation process. The researchers found that their work involves the following five dimensions:
Central office transformation is a far cry from central-office-administration-as-usual. This approach to reform:
This study suggests that district leaders, policymakers, and others interested in districtwide teaching and learning improvement need to move beyond old debates about whether schools or the central office should be driving reform and understand that improving teaching and learning districtwide is a systems problem. They also need to understand that true reform requires changing what people in central office know and can do. It also takes a continuous improvement approach.
Central offices and the people who work in them are not simply part of the background noise in school improvement. Rather, school district central office administrators exercise essential leadership, in partnership with school leaders, to build capacity throughout public educational systems for teaching and learning improvements.