Strategic Management of Human Capital in Education: Improving Instructional Practice and Student Learning in Schools
reviewed by Amy Jones - March 23, 2012
Title: Strategic Management of Human Capital in Education: Improving Instructional Practice and Student Learning in Schools
Author(s): Allan R. Odden
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 041588666X, Pages: 264, Year: 2011
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If we know that the quality of the teacher in the classroom is the primary driver of student performance, followed by the leaders ability to attract, train and retain talent, then what needs to happen at every level of the school and school system to ensure the highest performing teachers are in place? Allen Oddens book Strategic Management of Human Capital in Education: Improving Instructional Practice and Student Learning in Schools studies this question. He looks at every strategic decision made regarding selecting talent, including recruiting, training, hiring, inducting, deploying, developing, retaining and strategically managing staff. Ultimately, he delivers a thorough guide to developing or improving how a school, district or state thinks about its biggest resourceits staff.
Oddens work is deeply pragmatic and coherent. I valued the focus on Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) as a lever both for instructional improvement and bottom up performance management. PLCs are not only viable given constraints that most schools face, they create coherent school structures focused on the cycle of continuous improvement, or what Odden calls teacher led performance management. Odden explains the components of effective PLCs including necessary external supportsbut also the potential pitfalls, especially misalignment between performance data and instructional strategies. He acknowledges that a misused PLC can lead to referrals for students for interventions rather than a closer look at instructional root causes, and any school or system struggling with high referral rates to special education would be wise to take note. Readers who did not already understand the connections that a strong PLC structure has to curriculum design, assessment, leadership pipelines, and retention of top performers will benefit from the connections this book forms.
Most books on this topic focus only on school level or district level actions. Oddens work creates coherence by including what districts and states must provide. Furthermore, it addresses operational and instructional components, including HR data monitoring, district-mandated summer trainings, early hiring, bumping seniority policies and staff reduction, and multi-tiered licensure plans to ensure teachers are fully developed prior to receiving tenure. This book tackles timely and controversial issues of using student data to assess teacher performance and of performance-based pay. Although many may disagree with some of Oddens suggestions, they are cogently argued, aligned to the goals and outcomes articulated, and stretched my thinking on this issue. Ultimately, he delivers what seems to be a balanced and pragmatic approach using multiple measures, that is useful to study as schools and districts react to Race to the Top policies. The book outlines a suggested core evaluation programusing a measure of teaching practice (like Danielsons Framework for teaching or others that clearly articulate the skills and levels of performance), plus minimum three (optimally four to five) formal teaching observations, work samples and ongoing, regular informal observationswhat Odden calls walkthroughs. He then links this to the other measures that would have to be in place for these practices to impact teacher development and student achievement meaningfully. Most importantly, he links this also to the performance evaluation of principals.
If you are hoping to use this book as comprehensive one-stop shopping, then you should know Strategic Management of Human Capital in Education is about breadth not depth. It will, however, provide an incredible framework, useful in identifying gaps in your school, district or states current approach to human capital. Furthermore, it will typically highlight a district, city, organization or researcher that has developed a model program or tool as a launching point for further research. That said, several sections of this book left me with unanswered questions. Odden posits that many hiring managers ask poor questions that do not provide information linked to key teaching competenciesan important suggestion for schools looking to improve hiring practices. Although he references one tool for doing so, a bit more information on why certain questions or performance tasks work/fail, which if any of the competencies are most easily developed vs. which are prerequisites for the work, and when should there be standardized questions or screening tools across a district is needed. Some answers are alluded to in other parts of the book, but none answer these questions directly. This book addresses the systems and structures to improve staff performance, but those implementing the plan must bring solid instructional expertise in order to ensure results.
At times the organizational structures of the book are unclear. For example, if the book had been organized by levelsschool, district, stateprincipals would not have to wade through chapters on topics that may be outside their sphere of control (i.e., compensation) to get to highly relevant chapters like Strategic Management for Principals. This also means that at times the book feels repetitive, while at other times you are yearning for more information. That said, it is an important and timely work. I plan to use the ideas with groups of school and district-level leaders considering how to implement the evaluation components of Race to the Top to improve teacher performance while also aligning curriculum to the Common Core Learning Standards. Rooted in improving student achievement, the book shows how strategy for developing people overlays with strategy for developing rigorous college ready curricula. I hope Oddens next book extends the ideas presented on teachers to the challenge of developing, evaluating and retaining principals.