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No Need for the Dictator Approach

Last month, McKinsey & Company released a report titled How the World's Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better. The report is a follow-up to a great study McKinsey released in 2007 called "How the World's Best-Performing School Systems Come Out on Top". These reports dedicate significant ink to the human capital strategy of professional development. Both are worth reading.

The 2007 report shows that collaborative professional development is a critical practice in high-performing schools. The new report confirms this fact, but adds an important nuance, implying that the type of professional development must match the performance level of the school system. Specifically, the study suggests that schools in the lowest category of performance must have high levels of prescription and tight control from the system leaders. The report notes that, "Systems on the journey from poor to fair, (are) in general characterized by less skilled educators, (and) tightly control teaching and learning processes. ..." This assertion seems to mean that professional development in poorly performing school systems requires dictator-like control to improve. This is in contrast to the model of teacher-focused and teacher-led improvement cited as a key practice of high performing schools. Must this be the case?

At least one distinguished expert on educational change doesn't think so. Andy Hargreaves, co-founder of the International Center on Educational Change, disagreed while delivering his keynote address at Learning Forward's 2010 Annual Conference in Atlanta. In his remarks, he cited examples of high-performing school systems (Alberta, Canada & Finland) that were not included in the McKinsey Report that featured teacher-led change throughout their improvement journey for all schools at all stages.

At Learning Forward, we advocate for collaborative professional learning as a way to increase teaching effectiveness at scale. We believe that this type of professional learning empowers teachers and increases educator efficacy, and is critically important for sustainable change. And we have seen it work. If you chart the improvement story of the Long Beach Unified School District, also cited in the McKinsey Report, collaborative professional is and has always been a key part of the district's improvement journey.

—M. Rene Islas,
Policy Advisor

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The opinions expressed in Learning Forward's PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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