What a High-Performing District Looks Like

Successful systems are carefully designed with each element reinforcing and strengthening the other to achieve a shared vision.

Change is Needed Now

The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), NISL’s parent organization, has spent almost 30 years studying the education systems of top performing countries. This research has identified the elements common to top-performing education systems around the world. More importantly, this research found that these systems are designed as systems, with each element purposefully reinforcing and strengthening the other. These systems are outperforming U.S. districts in student learning and equity, and they are yielding these results at a lower cost.

To redesign systems to give students the results they need to compete in a changing global economy, district leaders must have a shared vision for their district. District leadership teams must also have a strong understanding of their local context and its challenges in order to begin developing strategies.

NCEE has defined eight Dimensions of Leadership needed for district leaders to create a high-performing education system:

  1. Student of Learning– Leadership teams must understand the most current research about how people learn and must model the behavior expected of school staff and students.
  2. Strategic Thinker– Great ideas will have impact only by connecting a shared vision to strategic decisions and actions. Leadership teams must have a framework within which to approach decisions in a strategic way.
  3. Advocate for Change– Leadership teams must be able to convince stakeholders that the vision is worth striving for.
  4. Builder of Teams– Districts need an effective cohort of team leaders that have a meaningful voice in the decisions that will be made.
  5. Creator of Learning Culture– Leaders need to build a culture committed to continuous improvement.
  6. Ethical Decision Maker– Moral leadership is indispensable.
  7. Communicator– Leadership teams must effectively communicate with all stakeholders.
  8. Driver of Equitable Results– leadership teams do what it takes to get results that benefit all students.

High-performing systems must also have common elements which NCEE has defined in its Nine Building Blocks:

  1. Strong supports for children and their families
  2. Resources for at-risk students
  3. World-class, highly coherent instructional systems
  4. Gateways for students through the system, set to global standards, with no dead ends
  5. Highly qualified teachers
  6. Teachers are treated as professionals, with incentives and support to continuously improve their professional practice and the performance of their students
  7. Effective system of career and technical education and training
  8. A leadership development system that develops leaders at all levels to manage such systems effectively
  9. A governance system that has the authority and legitimacy to develop coherent, powerful policies and is capable of implementing them at scale

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