The Leaderís Guide to Standards: A Blue Print for Educational Equity and Excellence
reviewed by Kim Song - 2003
Title: The Leaderís Guide to Standards: A Blue Print for Educational Equity and Excellence
Author(s): Douglas B. Reeves
Publisher: Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco
ISBN: 0787964026, Pages: 358, Year: 2002
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The relationship between standards-based learning and student learning improvement has generated a number of issues. Many teachers have been reluctant to embrace the standards-based curriculum movement as a fundamental approach to the betterment of education; instead they regard the standards as an administrative imperative. Twenty years ago it was unthinkable that we would see a major push for national and state standards. As Reeves notes at the outset, over the past decade, many public schools in the United States, and “throughout the world, have transformed their approach to assessing student performance from the tradition of comparing students to one another to comparing students to academic standards” (p. xv).
However, many educators including administrators and teachers, parents, legislators, and students have misunderstood the roles of standards in relation to the improvement of students’ learning. In his book, Reeves tries to persuade educational leaders to improve student learning and close the achievement gap by adopting standards as a guide for planning, implementing, and assessing the curriculum.
The book consists of three parts with fifteen chapters. The three parts of the book are: I) The Standards Imperative, II) Strategic Leadership for Educational Standards, and III) Leadership Roles for Educational Standards. Part I includes seven chapters; Part II, three; and Part III, five. At the beginning of each chapter, key elements of leadership are listed as a way to summarize the chapter. At the end of the book, Reeves includes thirty-four leadership tools, checklists, and forms as an appendix. Educational leaders can start using these resources in their districts immediately.
Part I, The Standards Imperative, consists of the first seven chapters. Reeves sets the tone by arguing that leaders need to make a case for standards and by explaining the role of standards for ensuring student proficiency in the content areas. Reeves also compares standards with norms and focuses on why leaders need to adopt standards rather than norms. He also explains how leaders can add values to the standards and turn them into action.
Reeves notes that a leader’s most important job is teaching, and that the essential message is standards, not standardized tests. Choosing appropriate standards and assessment strategies is essential for effective learning. The level of expectation and the clarity of a teacher’s communication with students and parents need to be linked to the standards. The author suggests that the proper responses to challenges to standards are “to take each of the arguments seriously, and equip every leader, educator, and community member with the facts necessary to respond to each allegation” rather than try “to eliminate opposition with withering criticism or to cower opponents with superior argumentative skill” (p. 94). Part I concludes with seven continuous data-driven decision making steps and with a case study designed to illustrate how standards as a means to ensure proficiency in the content areas.
Part II, Strategic Leadership for Educational Standards, includes creating ownership for standards, accountability, and assessment of leadership (Chapters 8 through 10). The leadership must ensure broad community ownership of standards. “The leader must experiment with the early phases of standards implementation and use pilot programs to demonstrate the effectiveness of standards in the district. The leader must focus on standards, not only eliminating distractions but also by devoting consistent attention, in meeting agenda and environment alike, to the district’s focus on standards” (p.125).
Since the purpose of leadership is improvement of teaching and student learning, leadership should focus on a practical set of behaviors and decisions that can directly influence student achievement. Reeves also indicates that leadership is not an ethereal blend of charisma and jargon. The author suggests that to assess a leader with fairness and effectiveness, we must first establish standards for leadership performance, which may begin with general criteria, then move onto specific ones. Reeves also emphasizes that the key to leadership assessment is “a focus on standards, not merely characteristics.” The author warns that leaders with well developed speaking skills and the ability to forge consensus may create a “Halo Effect” that is often related negatively to effective leadership performance. The author concludes Part II with a discussion of strategic leadership.
Part III, Leadership Roles for Educational Standards, has five chapters (Chapters 11 through 15). This part provides information about the roles of superintendents, boards of education, state leaders, and national leaders. When dealing with various levels of leadership, the author proves his point very well with research-based documentation and case studies to illustrate the different roles of leaders who can make a difference in K-12 student learning. The author concludes the book with a discussion of the enduring values of leaders.
I recommend this book not only to educational leaders, but also to classroom teachers, teacher educators, and pre-service teachers. When you complete this book, you may find yourself supporting standards even if you begin as one of those who object to them.