Despite Some Progress, School Districts Have Far to Go in Becoming Performance Driven

Lisa Petrides, Ph.D., President, ISKME, 650-728-3322 (ext. 21), <a href=""></a>

 San Francisco, CA,  June 29, 2005 — Many school districts are seeking to improve student success by adopting “performance-driven practices,” but are facing large hurdles in doing so, according to a recent report prepared by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education (ISKME) in collaboration with NewSchools Venture Fund.

The report, Anatomy of School System Improvement: Performance-Driven Practices in Urban School Districts, examines 28 school districts that were identified as being on the leading edge in being performance-driven, which involves focusing their programs and systems on improving student achievement through continuous learning practices embedded in their improvement strategies.

“This report shows that, while there is no one unique path to success, there are clear actions that districts can take to shift from focusing on ‘inputs’ to focusing on results,” said Joanne Weiss, Partner and COO of NewSchools Venture Fund.

The study found that districts that were more successful in adopting performance-driven practices were setting clear, rigorous, and measurable student achievement goals, aligning organizational resources to achieve those goals, providing training for teachers to gather and analyze progress information regularly, and assisting teachers and principals in creating action plans to improve results.

However, the report also found that none of the school systems studied fully embodied all of the key attributes of a performance-driven organization, and most have far to go.

For example, all the 28 districts reported the adoption of clear goals for student achievement. Yet:; list-style-type: square; list-style-position: inside; ">
  • Fewer than half (12) had processes in place that allowed district and site leaders to regularly review the cost-effectiveness of academic and professional development programs.
  • Fewer than half (12) had incentives in place to bring and keep teachers or principals in low-performing schools or in critical needs areas.
  • Although almost all of the districts reported that the recruitment of qualified teachers was a high priority for them, only one-third (9) had developed explicit recruitment strategies.
  • Only six districts reported that superintendents had access to data that they could break down in meaningful ways from their desktops.
  • Only a few districts had linked human resources and payroll systems to finance and budget systems.

“We found that becoming more performance-driven requires a districtwide effort that includes budget and curriculum choices, better teacher support, and formative assessments that provide teachers with actionable information they need when they need to know it, rather than after the year is over,” said Lisa Petrides, co-author of the report and president of ISKME. “There is not a one-size-fits-all model. Districts tend to begin this process in one department and expand into other parts of the organization. And there’s still a long way to go, even for those at the leading edge.” The study also found that:; list-style-type: square; list-style-position: inside; ">
  • One of the largest challenges is transforming the culture of the district. The key factor, in most cases, is the extent to which administrators, principals, and teachers are willing to explore the effectiveness of their own practices.
  • Professional development is a crucial tool because it is the primary means that district leaders have to engage principals and teachers in change. Many districts are moving toward embedded, “at-elbow” support for teachers, such as investing in on-site master teachers and curriculum specialists rather than off-site trainings.
  • Districts are seeking to reduce functional isolationism by reframing individual roles across the organization. This includes empowering principals in instructional areas, and bringing teachers together to analyze meaningful assessment outcomes. ·
  • External factors—such as parental involvement, NCLB requirements, state testing regimes, and collective bargaining agreements—play a strong role in affecting internal practice. The complex historical and political context may provide insight into where district leaders can begin to advance performance-driven practices and how far they are able to go.

Some of the key internal hurdles that districts are facing in adopting performance-driven practices include:; list-style-type: square; list-style-position: inside; ">
  • Discontinuity of leadership;
  • Fragmentation and lack of coordination across departments and functions;
  • Antiquated technology infrastructure and lack of access to timely student achievement data;
  • An organizational culture that traditionally has not been geared toward the sharing and analysis of student achievement results; and
  • Fiscal constraints that limit reform opportunities.

The research was based on interviews with 112 senior-level administrators at 28 districts. NewSchools Venture Fund is currently planning a follow-up study that will explore the findings in greater depth among a larger number of districts.

Anatomy of School System Improvement was made possible by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The report can be downloaded at:

The NewSchools Venture Fund ( is a national venture philanthropy fund working to transform public education for underserved children by supporting education entrepreneurs who create high-quality education ventures, and by providing thought leadership across traditional education boundaries to ensure that results-oriented, systemic change is accomplished.