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The capacity to build organizational capacity in schools

M. Bruce King and Kate Bouchard
Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Purpose Reformers, policymakers, and researchers have given considerable attention to organizational capacity in schools, especially in those schools that perpetuate or exacerbate achievement gaps among diverse student groups and reproduce social inequalities. There is an emerging consensus about key dimensions of school capacity and how they can help promote both equity and excellence in student learning. However, it is still not very clear how capacity building itself can be enhanced. This paper aims to address these issues. Design/methodology/approach This paper addresses this critical disjuncture in the school reform literature through two main purposes: summarizing the key dimensions of school organizational capacity, and synthesizing the recent conceptual and empirical work on the important mechanisms of policies and programs to inuence and support a schools organizational development. The authors recent research and practice related to one such intervention, leadership coaching for school improvement, are critically discussed. The paper explores a hybrid approach to building capacity in schools where elements of both the bureaucracy and the learning community are present. Findings Different schools clearly need different kinds of support for teacher development and building their capacity. Policies need to be exible enough to t particular school contexts, and to allow for organizations to change in ways that support teacher development for improved practices that impact student learning. The work in the middle involves some sort of uid hybrid of administrative control (instructional improvement must be the focus) and active, broad participation (in a learning community that advances the changes in instructional practices). Originality/value This paper addresses the lack of clear knowledge on how capacity building itself can be enhanced, by summarizing the key dimensions of school organizational capacity, and synthesizing the recent conceptual and empirical work on the important mechanisms of policies and programs to inuence and support a schools organizational development. The paper provides an overview of the dimensions of school organizational capacity, discusses barriers to building capacity in schools, and argues for hybrid models that combine elements of both learning communities and bureaucracies. Keywords Organizational learning, School reform, Bureaucracy, Educational policy, Equality, Leadership Paper type Research paper

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Received March 2011 Revised June 2011 Accepted June 2011

Inequalities in academic achievement across student groups and low expectations for learning that leave many students neither college nor career ready (Apple and Beane, 2007; Peske and Haycock, 2006; Noguera, 2005; Wagner et al., 2006) reveal a deepening educational crisis in the United States and other countries (Wagner, 2008). Many proposals for reform, however, skirt the issue. High-stakes accountability, school reconstitution and closings, charter and voucher schools, and similar attempts at restructuring or privatization do not engage directly with critical tasks of building organizational capacity in low-performing schools. These approaches are to a large

Journal of Educational Administration Vol. 49 No. 6, 2011 pp. 653-669 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0957-8234 DOI 10.1108/09578231111174802

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degree about something other than improving public education (Apple, 2006), and none of them promote organizational learning. In other words, they have almost no capacity to build a schools capacity. In this same period, somewhat ironically, many reformers, policymakers, and researchers have given considerable attention to organizational capacity in schools, especially in those schools that perpetuate or exacerbate achievement gaps among diverse student groups and reproduce social inequalities. With examples of successful schools and districts emerging in many parts of the world (e.g. Chenowith, 2007; Mourshed et al., 2010), we know quite a bit about key dimensions of school capacity and how they can help promote both equity and excellence in student learning. For example, there is consensus on what high quality professional development for teachers is (arguably, one critically important inuence on a schools capacity). But, weak, ineffective forms of professional development persist because the capacity of policies and programs, as well as individuals and organizations responsible for them, to inuence and support productive change remains weak. We are still not very clear on how capacity building itself can be enhanced. This article addresses this critical disjuncture through two main purposes: (1) Summarizing the key dimensions of school organizational capacity. (2) Synthesizing the recent conceptual and empirical work on the important mechanisms of policies and programs to inuence and support a schools organizational development. We rst provide an overview of the dimensions of school organizational capacity. We then discuss barriers to building capacity in schools, and argue for hybrid models that combine elements of both learning communities and bureaucracies. Our recent research and practice related to one such intervention, leadership coaching for school improvement, is presented. Capacity for high quality teaching and learning There is a relatively clear consensus that the factor with the most immediate and powerful inuence on student learning is the quality of instruction that teachers provide (Leithwood et al., 2004) and improvement efforts must focus on the instruction core (Elmore, 2000). Intellectually challenging, conceptually based, and relevant instruction is at the core of a shared vision of teaching that cuts across grade level and subject areas, and should be the focus of leadership and improvement efforts (e.g. Darling-Hammond, 2010; Newmann and Associates, 1996; Wagner et al., 2006). Individual teacher competence is obviously necessary for effective classroom practice. Teachers must be able to integrate knowledge of students, subject matter, and teaching context in planning units and lessons, carrying out instruction, assessing student work, and reecting on practice. At the same time, to promote achievement among all students from one year to the next, teachers must employ their individual knowledge, skills, and dispositions in ways that advance the collective work of their schools. The collective power of an entire faculty to strengthen student performance throughout their school can be summarized as school organizational capacity (Newmann et al., 2000). The relationship of capacity to instructional quality and student achievement is depicted in Figure 1, which is based on a synthesis of prior research on school reform

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Figure 1. School capacity, instructional quality, and student achievement

and educational change (see King, 2002; Newmann et al., 2000; Youngs and King, 2002). While other formulations of school capacity appear in the literature over the past decade (e.g. Bryk et al., 2010; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Fullan, 2007; Wagner et al., 2006), the framework for school capacity presented here captures important dimensions consistent across these formulations. Figure 1 indicates that student achievement is affected most directly by the quality of instruction, which in turn is inuenced by ve key dimensions of capacity. All ve dimensions of school capacity are related, and each one has the potential to affect one or more of the others. For example, teacher collaboration within professional community can strengthen teachers knowledge, skills, and dispositions for instruction. On the other hand, a lack of program coherence can weaken professional community, especially shared goals for student learning. A schools capacity includes the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of individual teachers. All teaching staff must be professionally competent in curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, and classroom management, and they must maintain high expectations for student learning. The inuence of individual teachers knowledge, skills, and dispositions on student achievement is well recognized in the literature on teacher education, teacher licensure, and professional development. Individual teacher competence must, however, be exercised in an organized, collective enterprise. This

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aspect of capacity emphasizes the educative importance of social resources in the school, which we refer to as school wide professional community. A strong school wide professional community is characterized by: . shared goals for student learning and collective responsibility to reach them; . meaningful collaboration among faculty members; . in-depth inquiry into assumptions, evidence, and alternative solutions to problems; and . opportunities for teachers to exert inuence over their work. Denitions of professional community vary in the literature, but it is clear that higher levels of professional community are linked to higher student achievement (Seashore Louis and Marks, 1998). A third component of school capacity is program coherence, which is dened here as the extent to which student and faculty programs at a school are coordinated, directed at clear learning goals, and sustained over time. Program coherence can be thought of as a measure of organizational integration. Student and staff learning can be weakened by organizational fragmentation when schools implement programs that are unrelated to each other, that address only limited numbers of students and staff, or that are ended after short periods of time. Recent research (e.g. Childress et al., 2007; Newmann et al., 2001; Payne, 2008) has demonstrated the important potential of program coherence for teaching quality and student achievement. Instruction that boosts student achievement also requires technical resources, that is, high-quality curricula, books and other instructional materials, laboratory equipment, computers, and adequate workspace. Finally, school capacity requires effective principal leadership. Principals have the authority to affect each of the previously shown aspects of capacity in positive or negative ways and to varying degrees, depending on the quality of their leadership. Our framework now acknowledges the critical importance not only of principal leadership but of distributed forms of leadership that both inuence, and are inuenced by, other dimensions of capacity (Camburn et al., 2003; Elmore, 2000; Spillane and Diamond, 2007). Capacity building rests on school leadership, and principals collaborate with teacher leaders in common efforts and enable the leadership of others (Crowther et al., 2002) rather than individually manage or orchestrate improvement efforts. For low-performing schools, or even historically successful schools that now face increasing achievement gaps across student groups, gaining traction on one or more of these dimensions has remained elusive. In the next section, we consider some important organizational barriers to building school capacity. A business world maxim holds that every organization is perfectly structured to get the results that it gets. A corollary is that substantially different results require organizational redesign, not just incentives for staff to try harder within traditional constraints (Darling-Hammond, 2010, p. 237). What are the problems and what are some redesign themes that may help make more headway in a enhancing a schools capacity to deliver instructional quality that leads to high and equitable student achievement?

Barriers to building capacity and rethinking the intersection of bureaucratic and learning organization Actions of educational leaders, those charged with steering improvement efforts, have historically mirrored the conventional form of school and district organization. That is, leaders managed a bureaucracy and the workforce within it, and the practice of leadership has been largely hierarchical and gendered. Leadership responsibilities were associated with specic, ofcial positions within the hierarchy and tended to focus on administrative matters rather than instructional ones. As with most attempts at educational innovation and reform, changes in leadership practice tinkered around the edges of the core technologies of schooling, teaching and learning, rather than addressing them head on. The result: Direct involvement in instruction is among the least frequent activities performed by administrators of any kind at any level, and those who engage in instructional leadership activities on a consistent basis are a relatively small proportion of the total administrative force (Elmore, 2000, p. 7). Little has changed since Cuban (1988) showed how the job of education leaders has historically encompassed three main roles the managerial, the political, and the instructional and how the rst two have clearly dominated the instructional role. Numerous reasons have been offered for why reform tinkers around the edges and fails to engage with the instructional core. Of these, the bureaucratic nature of schools and school systems is often cited, and at the heart of the bureaucracy is control and regulation. About 15 years ago, Smylie (1996, p. 9) showed that educational policy has proceeded from the theory that problems of schooling are due in large part to lack of direction, excessive discretion, and low accountability within the educational system. This theory claims that these conditions can best be corrected through external regulation and bureaucratic control. Educational policy thus tends to reduce the need for complex innovation to predictable, compliance-driven mandates. Much has been made of how the bureaucracy of US school systems, particularly state departments of education and nearly 18,000 school districts, has hamstrung reform efforts. Rule- and compliance-based approaches, hierarchy, and contrived afliation are perceived to limit freedom and initiative, curtail the spread of expertise, and neutralize the power of teachers to better meet the needs of students. The emphasis in the reform literature, contrasted to bureaucratic systems, has been on learning organizations and profession learning communities (e.g. Senge et al., 2000; Seashore Louis et al., 1995). Bureaucracy is a type of administrative tyranny and treated as a failure, while learning organizations and professional learning communities (PLCs) the desired state. There is a long-standing theme in bureaucracy critique in the social sciences that more or less assumes that bureaucracy is an antiquated or ineffective form of organization (Styhre, 2007, p. 193). Murphy and Meyers (2008, p. 87), for instance, draw on the literature of organizations in multiple elds and state, One source of mal-adaptation (of organizations) that ribbons the literature on turnaround organizations is the vicious circle of bureaucracy. Standard operating procedures, hierarchy, rigid structures,, adherence to well-established work routines do not serve rms well in addressing problems, tending to reinforce the status quo and pigeonhole challenges into compliance efforts that do little to disturb conditions which helped create the problems in the rst place. A variety of school turnaround efforts designed to remedy the shortcomings of bureaucracies have shown mixed and inconclusive results (Murphy and Meyers, 2008).

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This is no less the case in education research. For example, Bryk et al. (2010) have long argued that bureaucratic forms are counter-productive for schools. They state, Mechanistic forms of management (in other words, centralized decisions within a bureaucratic structure) are more likely to be effective in contexts where the core work on the job oor involves enacting standard routines and the organization operates within a relatively stable external environment. In contrast, organic forms of management are more likely to be deployed in dynamic environments where considerable uncertainty surrounds the execution of core tasks (Bryk et al., 2010, p. 68). Thus, inclusive or distributed leadership with teacher inuence and PLCs to sustain and support efforts to improve classroom instruction are advocated. As Darling-Hammond (2010, p. 238) states, The effort to create learning organizations in both business and education sectors has sought to replace the bureaucratic forms of organization dominant throughout the twentieth century. There is not so much disagreement here, but the need to push past some false choices or either/or thinking that Dewey (1938/1997) warned us against. Post-structuralism has also made clear that power and control are still and ever functioning even within high-level learning organizations and professional communities (e.g. Gunn and King, 2003; Hargreaves, 1995). Rather than the usual association of the bureaucracy as mechanical model (with functional and hierarchical structures, emphasis on and compliance to rules, requirements for specic skills and professional identities, and top-down governance), the metaphor of a biological organism may be a more helpful image. A biological organism is a type of organization, even dominated and regulated by specic rules and mechanisms (Styhre, 2007, p. 180). But it is still fundamentally open-ended, adaptive to new conditions, and becoming. Bureaucracy is better conceived as something intrinsically dynamic and capable of changing, along with a great many other things, (and so) the mechanical model is mistaken because it is inadequate and incapable of accounting for the changes bureaucracies can be proven to have orchestrated (Styhre, 2007, p. 13). In Weicks (1976) terms, the goal of transformative bureaucracies is not in a conversion from loose to tight couplings within a system. Rather, working towards establishing a exible pattern of tight and loose couplings among previously disparate levels that are transparent, frequently examined, and deliberately coordinated around shared values related to learning and growth of the organization may yield productive innovation. Thus bureaucracy and innovation are compatible, and bureaucracies are dysfunctional, not by denition, but when they are characterized by stability and rule-governed behavior. Styhre (2007, p. 92), drawing on Delueze, claims that all entities are multiplicities, and in post-bureaucracies (such as schools as learning organizations), there are elements of trust-based control. He suggests, we do not know what a bureaucracy can do (Styhre, 2007, p. 195), indicating that entry points for transformation are possible even within bureaucracies. Given this tension and this possibility, we need to explore some sort of hybrid where elements of both the bureaucracy and the learning community are reected. Importantly, the combination of elements from either pure form needs to be conceived as, and expected to be in fact, radically different depending on the contexts of differing schools and districts (Cuban, 1998). Writing from the eld of special education, Skrtic (1995) has argued for an educational adhocracy, which acknowledges and embraces

some structural elements of schools organization, but uses them to propel the learning of the organization forward. Adhocracies resist adherence to traditional, established hierarchies of authority within schools. Their strength is derived from the ways in which educators collaboratively search for novel solutions to problems that they name and enact, as opposed to central authorities identifying problems based on previously established categories, easily available for standardization. In other words, hybrids and adhocracies operate under the assumption that learning and organizing are seen as mutually constitutive and unstable, yet pragmatic, constructs that might enable a dynamic appreciation of organizational life (Clegg et al., 2005, p. 150). Schools with stronger initial levels of capacity are more likely to use reform efforts in ways that further enhance capacity (Newmann et al., 2000), and site-based, organic approaches can leave many schools (the sand schools according to Slavin, 1998) behind because they do not have the capacity to generate or sustain signicant improvements. Weak and ineffective leadership reinforces the wheel-spinning and inability to implement the best practices offered by external authorities and providers. For these troubled schools, some centralization seems absolutely required, a necessary fact. Concerns for more equitable student achievement demand some central oversight. To enhance the quality of teaching and learning on a large scale, district, state, and perhaps national policy can provide important external guidance for reform. But improvement efforts must combine centralized with more decentralized strategies, including those related to teacher learning, in order to effectively build local school capacity. Improving the instructional core is something that cannot be controlled (Elmore, 2000) and as such, is essentially a problem of learning. Put differently, One could say that organizational learning can evolve through decentralized power. This is one of the insights we take from Foucault: where there is no power there must be no knowledge, and, we can add, where there is no decentralized power there can be no organizational learning (Clegg et al., 2005, p. 155). What we can take, then, from learning organizations is that striving for concrete, stable denitions, and practices to produce improved levels of capacity, is misguided. But education policy and reform efforts do not live comfortably in this hybrid-middle. The becoming that is in organization and in learning implies a permanent non-rational movement such that, despite the best attempts of science, organization can never be known or rationally dened, yet it might learn, become and be connected with [. . .] what is between is where the real action is to be found (Clegg et al., 2005, pp. 150-2). As has been clearly shown (Bryk et al., 2010; Darling-Hammond, 2010; Elmore, 2000; Newmann and Associates, 1996; Payne, 2008), there are no easy answers or magic bullets. The work is unpredictable, and while it can be planned, it is always emerging, improvised. New competencies and new functions emerge after (at best during) the time when the organization is assembled with other elements such that there is no preformed logical order to becomings and multiplicities (Clegg et al., 2005, p. 160). In the next section, we explore how a hybrid project addresses the goals of building capacity for more equitable schools and more powerful learning for all students. Working in the hybrid zone The Wisconsin Idea Leadership Academy (WILA) is a unique partnership that bridges four organizational levels of the educational system: the University of Wisconsin-Madisons Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis,

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the States department of education, the local mid-sized urban district of over 21,000 students, and six schools. The schools are economically and racially diverse with poor and unequal achievement histories. Both the state department and the school district provide the funding for the leadership coaching positions and project management with the university. Annual funding is about $60000 per school. WILA attempts to address critical needs in K-12 education in the state. Substantive partnerships for leadership development and school improvement between the universities and state departments are needed to put important education research and theory into practice. Specically, high quality technical assistance for schools to build capacity (especially in urban schools and other schools serving poor students, students of color, students with disabilities, and non-English speaking students; or schools identied for improvement) has been limited. Efforts to build leadership and instructional capacity have tended to be short term; approaches for quick xes and reforms du jour do not lead to powerful, sustainable improvements that impact student achievement and the achievement gaps. And the reliance on external accountability systems and mandates to do the checklist of research-based practices (with the attending diversion of key resources to compliance monitoring) have only limited success in leading to powerful, sustainable reforms. WILA leadership coaches provide technical assistance, professional development, and support to principals and school leadership teams for school improvement to enhance teaching and learning. The work entails ve main, interrelated action steps: (1) Providing leadership development coaching for principals and leadership teams. Leadership development and school improvement is jointly designed and implemented by WILA coaches and school-based leadership teams. (2) Providing instructional coaching for improving student achievement for all students. Leadership coaching must lead to improved curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment the instructional core that has the most direct affect on student outcomes. (3) Creating networks of support for targeted schools. The Principal Critical Friends Group (CFG) brings the six principals together monthly with two coaches-facilitators for their own focused professional development. (4) Enhancing district level coherence and instructional leadership to support school improvement. Regular consultation and collective learning opportunities with the superintendent, deputy superintendent, and other relevant central ofce staff help establish district-level support structures and coherent programs for school improvement. (5) Building a community of practice for WILA itself. WILA leadership coaches and the liaison from the state Department meet monthly to generate a professional learning community focused on problem-based issues of coaching practice. These actions steps are designed to lead to three main outcomes: (1) School capacity: The principals and teacher-leaders instructional leadership builds a strong community of practice among all staff members that build individual and collective knowledge, skills, and expectations for teaching and learning.

(2) Powerful instruction, assessment and curriculum: A critical mass of highly qualied staff support sustainability for school improvement through effective instructional and assessment practices tied to a intellectually rigorous (Newmann and Associates, 1996) and culturally relevant curriculum (Ladson-Billings, 1994). (3) Equity and excellence: Learning of challenging content and skills is improved across student groups, especially for those traditionally marginalized in schools. The WILA framework for school renewal that guides leadership coaching appears in the Appendix (see Figure A1). As a mechanism of external support, WILA coaches act most directly to build school organizational capacity that enhances teaching and thereby improves learning for all students. The three main intervention types found most potent among high performing school systems (structure, resources, and processes; see Mourshed et al., 2010) are all elements integrated within our WILA structure. We address structural issues by creating within- and cross-school networks of professional learning and supporting district level staff as they negotiate a new leadership conguration. WILA coaches represent a shift in resource allocation and they provide consistent, continuous, job-embedded professional development, radically different from fragmented efforts available to schools in the past. Lastly, WILAs greatest impact is within the process domain; we have primarily emphasized the how of teaching and leading. Next we present one case that illustrates the work of the WILA coach and how it attempts to impact different dimensions of capacity. Southeld Elementary School Southeld Elementary School (a pseudonym) is a pre-kindergarten through grade (year) 5, school of just under 500 students. It is a diverse school with around 30 percent African American, 17 percent Latino/a, and 53 percent White students. Two-thirds of all students are economically disadvantaged, 17 percent are students with disabilities, and 9 percent are students with limited English prociencies. Typical achievement gaps exist across all student groups. Using the WILA framework as a guide, we trace the highlights and challenges of the work with the school administrator (Principal Davis), the leadership team, and staff. Excellence and equity in student learning. The default stance to low performance at Southeld had always been one of resignation. Teachers could identify many reasons for low achievement, but they located them all within the child, parent, or community, and rarely, if ever, the school, or teacher. Together with the Principal Davis, we planned how to confront this problem in the schools collective responsibility. Our coachs main role was to listen as Principal Davis wrestled with his next steps, but also to ask provocative questions, focus his concerns, and resurface them even when the pressures of bureaucratic and managerial tasks threatened to overwhelm our collective commitment. At our rst faculty meeting, he openly shared with the whole staff his disappointment with a survey that indicated low levels of teacher condence in Southeld students ability to learn. Sharing his deep dissatisfaction with this condition was a priority for Principal Davis, and revealing it to the staff demonstrated signicant growth for him as a leader. Teachers were visibly piqued; he raised the level of concern and could not unsay what he had shared. Our challenge since then has

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been to confront that dissatisfaction in constructive ways as we work with teachers. As a result of our critical conversations, primary questions we ask ourselves (Principal Davis, the leadership team, and the WILA coach) are, How can we ensure that all of our actions work towards improving the status of teacher efcacy? and, How can we make sure Southeld is a place where teachers believe all students can learn, and have the resource to be able to facilitate the learning? Staying anchored to these questions has been difcult, but they have served as touchstones for us even as our challenges become increasingly thornier as time goes on. The school (and district for that matter) now confronts the issue of effectively including students with disabilities in mainstream, general education classrooms. Powerful instruction, assessment, and curriculum. At Southeld, we are addressing issues related to powerful instruction, assessment, and curriculum systemically through the structure of monthly grade-level meetings organized around the continuous processes of assessing student work, planning instruction to address what we see, and reecting on approaches tried. To address our concerns that whole school professional development lacked opportunities for specicity and immediacy of feedback on instructional practice, the leadership team decided to gear professional development to grade levels. Principal Davis and the coach have developed a plan that calls for a mix of structured protocols for teachers to engage in as well as less formalized discussions of student work. When he introduced the concept, Principal Davis met with signicant resistance from individual teachers and the teachers union. The resistance was overt as teachers publicly challenged him, and subtle as teachers quietly yet steadfastly refused to meet in grade level groups to discuss data. As we discussed ways to meet this challenge, we decided that he would personally address teachers and grade levels that chose not to meet, rather than send an e-mail, or ignore it, as was a past practice. Directly, and personally, confronting the refusals has proven effective as Principal Davis believes they were a tactic to derail the initiative. To reinforce Daviss commitment and skills, we rearranged his schedule so that he and the coach can facilitate the meetings at grade levels where less initiative is shown (with the goal of fading that support), and also participate at the grade levels that demonstrate more progress toward goals. Further, while the leadership team was instrumental in suggesting the change towards grade level work, they have been far less involved in guiding those meetings. Aligned with our goal of increased organizational capacity, we will strive for far greater participation, inquiry, and reective dialogue from the leadership team. We will not consider grade level meetings as a way to work towards powerful instruction, assessment, and curriculum a sustainable practice until broad collaboration in planning them occurs. School organizational capacity. Principal Davis and the WILA coach have identied the level of schools organizational capacity as a central area of concern. When we began our work at Southeld, Principal Davis shared his reservations about collaboration, explaining that he did not see strong potential for partnership with teachers due to apathy and low morale. Consequently, he alone had been largely responsible for creating Southelds School Improvement Plan (SIP), and collaboration consisted of little more than a cursory rubber-stamping from the leadership team. Early Release Days (the time allotted by the district to engage in professional development) were occasions that often found Principal Davis alone scrambling to cobble together various district-level personnel to address some aspect of the SIP. Incoherent, fragmented, and disconnected from teachers work, Principal Davis was

dissatised. As we discussed possibilities for changing this system of practice, we began to envision professional development that engaged teachers in collaboration, was organized around instruction, and was created and facilitated by members of the schools leadership team. As a result, Principal Davis and the coach now serve more as coaches rather than a creator-implementer with regard to professional development. While we have not yet realized this goal, we have experienced some successes. During recent professional development days, teachers from the leadership team facilitated the sessions while Principal Davis and the coach were active participants; a sea change from the practices of the past. External support. WILA coaching is the main source of external support to the school in a largely dysfunctional district. But it would be a mistake to assume the coaching exhibits high levels of capacity, so how can the coaching work itself be advanced? One of the most signicant strengths of the WILA model has been the monthly meetings of the six WILA coaches, the project director, and the State department of educations liaison. The organization of our meetings has varied. Occasionally, we have utilized traditional formats such as round robin sharing of updates from our schools. Sharing aloud, in a condential setting, has provided a safe space to challenge coaches assumptions and question hasty judgments. However, while WILA sharing is safe, coaches are not free from scrutiny. The appeal to push your thinking is regularly made; and we are pushed! Coaching colleagues have questioned other coaches approaches, strategies, and assessments in critical, thoughtful ways. After nearly every meeting, at least one coach sends out resources (book titles, articles, web sites) that pertain to our recent conversations. Constant, diligent engagement with professional development, curriculum, and instructional approaches supports our effectiveness. Coaches have also engaged in rigorous collaborative work, such as role-playing, goal envisioning, designing district-level professional development, and engaging in various problem-solving protocols. While we share strong ideological agreements focused around issues of equity as indicated by the WILA framework, there have been instances of difference and dissent. Rather than serving as an end-point, this has provided fertile areas for growth for us. The trust we have developed within our group has allowed opposition to ideas to encourage rather than daunt us. The diversity of experiences within WILA propels and strengthens our work. While our experiences are diverse, we are grounded and guided by a commitment to equity and excellence. As John Goodlad (1983) argued almost 30 years ago, the individual school is the key unit for educational improvement and that is the level at which WILA concentrates its efforts. However, the work in the schools is also critically important to informing ongoing discussions with district central ofce. Successful district leadership establishes a compelling vision for teaching and learning to guide professional development and other supports for teachers and schools. Successful districts also establish a system wide approach to improving instruction (Bryk et al., 2010; Childress et al., 2007). To support district wide improvement, WILA coaches lead ongoing, half-day professional development with central ofce staff focused on these essential questions: (1) What is Teaching for Understanding? (2) What does it look like in the classroom? (3) How do we help and support school leaders to advance practices for Teaching for Understanding?

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At both the school and district levels, attempts to strike the most productive balance or combination of decentralized and centralized initiatives, school-based development and getting to scale, are a persisting dilemma. The critical challenge for districts is to promote both school reform and systems coherence. Summary and conclusions The work of Wisconsin Idea Leadership Academy (WILA) attempts to addresses one of the critical tensions around school reform, framed alternatively as external control vs internal commitment, bureaucratic vs decentralized management, top-down vs organic/democratic decision making. Clearly, for historically troubled schools, some pressure from the state and district is required. However, without the on-site, context-dependent assistance to generate the school-level buy in and capacity, little of what matters most will improve. Michael Fullan (2007, p. 46) captured this dilemma noting that different leadership strategies are needed for different circumstances, The need for external intervention is inversely proportionate to how well the school is progressing. In the case of persistent failure, dramatic, assertive leadership and external intervention appear to be necessary. In the long run, however, effectiveness depends on developing internal commitment in which ideas and internal motivation of the vast majority of organizational members become activated. While WILA is a state-supported intervention providing external assistance to troubled schools, it seeks to build the internal capacity of each school for improved teaching and enhanced and more equitable learning. We conclude with four action themes from the WILA work, revealing ongoing tensions that demonstrate how complicated the work is. (1) Find and work from strengths (and there are strengths even in low-performing schools) but get to the weaknesses of the instructional core as soon as possible. As illustrated in Southeld, a signicant amount of time and effort has been spent laying the groundwork, or foundations, for improvement. Low capacity schools clearly cannot take on the complex work of reform without these, in order to jump-start the real work of improving the instructional core. (2) Simultaneously tear down and build up. Old and useless structures need to be eliminated but changes in practice and culture must happen at the same time. Similarly, positive relationships are built while constructive feedback and critical reection are nurtured. The technical assistance and professional development at each school must be consistent with four important characteristics of best practice to enhance school capacity (e.g. Newmann et al., 2000): it is sustained and focused; involves leaders and teachers collaboratively in active learning, inquiry, and reective dialogue; addresses knowledge and skills related to curriculum, instruction, and assessment; and relates to key contextual factors of the particular school. (3) Focus external pressure and help on the school but push up to the district. School-level improvement need not wait for the system to get its act together (Weiner, 2003) but can in turn cultivate needed development at the top. As school-level capacity increases, external coaches and school leaders become clear on what policies and practices from district leaders need reform. The work to move the district to become more of a learning organization could entail


serious risk, as well as compromise the ongoing focus on the school level. But this approach seems to have better chances of building more active and meaningful involvement in building capacity for systemic and sustainable reform than historically failed attempts that avoid the hybrid zone. (4) Coaching is a helpful metaphor for the kinds of external assistance needed but coaches and other sources of external assistance must draw on many leadership styles (afliative, authoritative, coercive, democratic, pacesetting; see Goleman, 2000). The work is with and on adults, and as with students, must be appropriately exible and differentiated. Just over ten years ago, Judith Warren Little (1999, p. 234) was instructive, Reform might more productively be seen as a problem of learning than as a problem of implementation. That is, the progress of reform appears to rest in crucial ways on the capacity of teachers, both individually and collectively. In turn, the problem of learning for capacity building requires effective teaching that too often is ignored in policies for school turnaround, high stakes accountability and compliance, and market-driven approaches. Teacher development through enhancing individual and collective capacities cannot be fashioned independently of its members. Thus leadership takes center stage, both at the school and from the district, in ways that further the work of the members of each school. A school community must genuinely make their model or approach to reform and improvement its own, and policy should assist schools in this endeavor. The implication here is that schools clearly need different kinds of support for teacher development and building their capacity, but state and district policies still tend to reect a one-size-ts-all approach, which can diminish commitment and overall capacity. Policies need to be exible enough to t particular school contexts and needs, and allow for the time it takes for educators to learn new approaches and for organizations to change in ways that support teacher development for improved practices that impact student learning. The work in the middle involves some sort of uid hybrid of administrative control (i.e. instructional improvement must be the focus) and active, broad participation (e.g. in a learning community that advances the changes in instructional practices) (see Courpasson and Clegg, 2006). This echoes recent work at the district level that emphasizes the paradoxes of organizational learning from experience, trial-and-error learning, and learning under conditions of ambiguity (Honig, 2008). Previously, we discussed the persisting problem of educational inequality and its implications for the extent of centralization in district efforts to improve teachers and schools. This equity concern encourages one further notion for rethinking leadership. If teachers capacity focuses their individual and collective power to enhance achievement for all students, leadership must purposefully support these efforts. In a stratied society, with economic and cultural resources unequally distributed across racial/ethnic and socioeconomic groups, educational leaders can work to minimize the impact of power and privilege and the schools role in reproducing these inequalities. Pierre Bourdieu (2003, p. 14) has encouraged academics and researchers to enact a scholarship with commitment and take scholarly knowledge into action. He said, We must design new forms of organization capable of bringing together researchers and activists in a collective work of critique and proposition, leading to new forms of

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mobilization and action. Nothing can be truer in education where we know what to do but getting there is the complex, murky waters of action and praxis. At some level, the work can only be done by doing it, realizing the transformative potential of practices (Strike, 2010). With the Wisconsin Idea Leadership Academy, we are attempting to bring four levels of that system together to act more like a hybrid organization of learning, with elements of centralized bureaucratic enactments of power, that will build school capacity for meaningful reform. As Bourdieu suggests, its both critique and activism that are needed to confront the social injustices reproduced in schooling. We are now familiar with high performing teachers, schools, and systems of excellence and equity; the challenge for widespread reform still remains ahead.
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Appendix. Wisconsin idea leadership academy (WILA)

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Figure A1. Framework for school renewal

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