California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

California’s Distributed Educational Leadership Structure

Research on successful school improvement efforts indicates that leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to student learning at school.1

In California, one and one-half million middle grades students (grades six through eight) constitute nearly 24 percent of the total K-12 public school population. Focused leadership will help prepare these middle school students to gain the academic content and skills they need at a critical juncture in their educational careers. Those who attain grade-level proficiency have the skills to progress to greater academic rigor in high school. Those who do not engage in learning middle grades standards through the help of caring adults are often at risk for dropping out in ninth grade—if they enter high school at all.

It is up to leaders at every level of the educational system to give middle grades students the resources needed to become proficient in grade-level standards. However, political pressure for improved preparation in elementary schools and for graduation preparation in high schools often causes middle grades education to be overlooked. Nonetheless, the research on the need for adequate funding is clear. For example, a 2007 study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Efficiency and Adequacy in California School Finance: A Professional Judgment Approach (PDF; Outside Source) found that "...more resources are necessary for average schools to meet state standards."2

In effective schools, districts, and county offices, the overarching question educational leaders ask about every new program, idea, or decision is, “How does this decision help every student (including those who struggle) to succeed?” Leaders move programs that do not meet the vision and mission to a lower priority in decision making. In addition, these leaders model what research shows to be an effective strategy: they work in teams to form a “professional learning community” that focuses on student success and the factors that improve achievement for all students.

Information and Resources

Report Reveals the Effect of Leadership on Student Achievement
The largest in-depth study of school leadership to date, this report from the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement gathers and analyzes quantitative data confirming that education leadership has a strong impact on student achievement, as measured by student test scores. Learning from Leadership Project: Investigating the Links to Improved Student Learning (PDF; Outside Source) discusses what school leaders do to improve student achievement, how districts foster school improvement, and the relationship between state educational leaders and districts.

Leaders in many segments of society are responsible for supporting middle grades education to ensure that students are prepared to enter high school. Key players in education include the county offices of education, districts, local governing boards, school administrators, and teachers. Discussion about their leadership roles in improving middle grades education follows.

Recommendation 9 - Leadership

County Leadership

1State Policy Framework to Develop Highly Qualified Educational Administrators (PDF; Outside Source). Washington, D.C.: The Council of Chief State School Officers, 2005, 31.
2Efficiency and Adequacy in California School Finance: A Professional Judgment Approach, (PDF; Outside Source). Stanford, CA: American Institutes for Research, March 2007, 2.

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