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Accountability in online charters


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This is an article about the LACK of accountability in charter schools.

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Accountability in online charters

  1. 1. Running Head: ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 1 Jeffrey Piontek Anakonia Matsumoto
  2. 2. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 2 Introduction Student Success Academy (SSA) is a free public charter school with the main campus located in Waipahu on the island of Oahu and satellite campuses located on the islands of Kauai and Maui. Virtual programs run statewide with every island represented excluding Ni’ihau. SSA was founded in 2008 with an enrollment of 237 students, mainly from Oahu. In its second year of operation, the school grew to an enrolment of 500 students with over 800 on the waiting list and expanded its virtual program statewide. Subsequently in year three, the school again doubled in size to 1,000 students statewide with over 380 students on the waiting list. This year, enrollment was limited by the Local School Board to equalize the grades and assure that every child receives the same high quality education. Student demographics include 30% of students with parents in the military, 31% of Hawaiian or part- Hawaiian descent, and the remainder being of a mixed demographic, including 44% White, 24% Asian, 9% Japanese, 5% African American, 5% Chinese, and 2% Hispanic. The school benefits from a diverse and blended population as it focuses on being a collaborative learning environment. The core program is provided in a blended environment; the students take classes online and face-to-face with the curriculum directly related to their needs and based upon formal, informal, and anecdotal assessments. The school provides a vast array of electives including hula, ukulele, Hawaiian language, 2D and 3D Video Game Design. The staff has grown from six full-time teachers and four part-time teachers in year one to currently over 45 full and part-time staff. The staff is very diverse in their background as well as in their expertise. All teachers are highly qualified in their content areas with no teachers teaching out of their license area. This is contrary to reports about this happening nationally with our curriculum provider and other curriculum providers.
  3. 3. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 3 Accountability Problem One of the contributing factors to student success in any school is parental involvement. It has been proven that parental involvement and engagement is crucial to the success of any child. Because Student Success Academy is a hybrid school, the curriculum is delivered online and the students work primarily from home on the Online School (OLS). At the K-8 level, parents are responsible for helping the students learn the content, complete their assessments, and mark progress. Students at the Student Success Academy are expected to come to the school at least once a week for the four core classes: Math, Science, English, and History, with each class 50 minutes long. Education as an investment for our society’s future has become a matter of priority nationwide and globally. With online education, parents are responsible to fulfill the “learning coach” responsibility; yet, teachers find that many parents do more than simply assist. SSA struggles with accountability in regards to the “learning coach” roles. In order for students to complete the assessments, parents (referred as “learning coaches”) must enter a password for their children and monitor them. This was designed to keep both the parent and student accountable every step of the way. SSA struggles, however, with the tendency that parents give the child their passwords and many complete their lessons and assessments without any parent involvement. Having the password also allows the student to see answer keys for various assignments and assessments. Progress checks and report cards are based solely on the progress being made by the Online School (OLS) and teachers are also finding huge discrepancies between gains made in class versus what they demonstrate online. Students come to class not knowing the content they should have learned online at home, with progress being checked off as “mastered” by their parent. Students end up being
  4. 4. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 4 overworked because either their parents are doing too much of the work for them and/or marking progress too quickly. Levels of Accountability The primary purpose of education is to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to be successful in life. Since standards are the basis for measuring how well students have learned what they need to know and be able to do well at various grade levels and academic growth, they are the foundation for the state and local curriculum and instructional alignment and assessment. Although there are various types of accountability, professional and community accountability are two key areas in this specific topic. Standard-based accountability requires collecting student data and reporting information based on the clear and defined standards for what students must know and be able to do. Student mastery of the academic content is derived from state-mandated standards: content and performance. Decisions regarding student learning and achievement, professional development, curriculum and instruction, and resource allocation should be based on both content and performance standards. The standards represent the foundation for determining student achievement (Hamilton et al., 2008). Schools are accountable for providing students with a curriculum that is aligned with state and national standards assessing student progress (American Association for Higher Education, 1996). Educational accountability calls for holding key individuals and groups responsible for measuring and improving student academic progress in online learning. There is a variety of ways in which stakeholders are responsible for student performance in online education. Online schools create assessment systems to evaluate student performance (Frye, 2008). Students are responsible for achieving mastery in individual and classroom assessments correlated with state-mandated academic content standards.
  5. 5. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 5 Fuhrman (1999) states that measuring student performance involves choosing a set of indicators and instruments (Fuhrman, 1999). Upon enrollment at SSA, every student completes a computer-adaptive test in Reading and Math that pinpoints the proficiency level of the student, corresponding to the specific standards of the state. The assessment gives a detailed diagnosis of student instructional needs, including instructional adjustments and measurement of student gains across the reported periods. Students at SSA are required to take this test at the start and end of each school year. Regarding the day-to-day spectrum, at SSA, the OLS is designed to allow students to progress at their own pace within a mastery/competency-based curriculum. Lessons are designed to provide core content and assessments of the learning objectives, whereas a student must achieve 85% or a higher grade point average at the end of the lesson in order to unlock and move on to the next lesson. Each lesson and assessment totals percentage points which build throughout the year to total the expected 100%. Teachers at SSA are required to monitor student percentages weekly, checking to make sure that students are completing their daily assignments and assessments. SSA struggles with accountability in regards to the “learning coach” roles. In order for students to complete the assessments, parents (referred as “learning coaches”) must enter a password for their children and monitor them. This was designed to keep both the parent and student accountable every step of the way. SSA struggles, however, with the tendency that parents give the child their passwords and many complete their lessons and assessments without any parent involvement. Having the password also allows the student to see answer keys for various assignments and assessments. In theory, professional educators in a school can and should hold themselves accountable for ensuring that all students have opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in the world that lies before them. In the context of the word
  6. 6. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 6 accountability as “an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions”, teachers at SSA feel there are huge flaws with the accountability measures for grade reporting (Merriam-Webster, 2003). Most do not feel confident with the grades they mark on student report cards while knowing the large discrepancy of OLS progress and in-class assessments. Although teachers attempt to intervene when they notice such gaps in the student’s learning by offering tutoring (online or face-to-face), there is nothing in place that holds the “learning coach” responsible aside from recommending that the child attend tutoring or re-do a lesson and assessment online. There is also nothing that holds the teacher accountable if the students do not perform at the level expected. Most of the problem here stems from a lack of genuine parent involvement. A large majority of the student population attending online schools fail to realize the family and parent commitment needed for student success. Many of these families may be compelled to sign-up or enroll their child because of the appealing marketing of curriculum companies. The situation of the parent, who may not be able to provide a computer for their child otherwise, may be influenced to enroll in an online school regardless of their lack of abilities to support their child academically. Until states provide guidance for enrollment at these schools, parents will be an integral part of their child’s success or failure but sadly, no accountability measures are in place addressing this. Adjusting Final Student Report There are the observations that children are performing well online but so poorly in class. This has the implication that parental involvement has exceeded the required level and that children rely too much on their parents for their online work but do too little on their own. As earlier mentioned, this has a very serious side effect, as the children remain inactive in the learning process, something that just propels them through the education system without acquiring necessary skill, attitudes and knowledge as required by the future.
  7. 7. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 7 Framework for Diagnosing Problem Diagnosing a problem simply means providing a solution or rather remedy to a predicament. Though there are many methods of solving a problem, Clarke and Estes have come up with an efficient framework to work out problems that are likely to be encountered in a school setup (Clark & Estes, 2008). As it is the case with many other schooling institutions, there are many challenges that face such organizations, sometimes to the extent that they are put in the jeopardy of collapsing. In order to diagnose performance gaps and hence achieve the set goals, Clarke and Estes suggest establishing the root cause of the problem before searching for the remedy. After the cause has been identified, it should be established how much effort is required to achieve these changes. The three major causes of performance gaps as explained by Clarke and Estes are people’s skills and their knowledge, the motivation they have in achieving those goals, and the barriers that exist within the organization, such as inadequacy or an absolute lack of the adequate tools and equipment (Clark & Estes, 2008). Knowledge and Skills It is the expectation of all the children and parents that, after completion of the education system, the children shall be ready to complete in a global economy. In order to be successful, they are expected to show competence by high performance and manifestation of knowledge and skill, the failure thereof can hurt the companies they are working for (Clark & Estes, 2008). It is for this reason that parents is dissuaded from performing all tasks for their children, even those that they are required to perform by themselves. The ability to effectively measure knowledge and skills is prevalent in the curriculum as many assessments are lower level, simple memorization types of questions. These questions allow students to show what they know but do not take them to the higher levels where they need to explain their learning or understanding of the concept. At SSA, when students take online
  8. 8. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 8 assessments and those scores are gauged with end of unit assessments at school with the teacher, there are dramatic differences in student performance. This leads the teacher to question who or how the child is completing the work at home. This could stem for learning coaches not realizing the detriment they are causing the student by providing answers, or students not receiving the extra support needed by their teachers. Motivation Motivation refers to both the internal and external factors that propel one towards achieving a certain goal. Normally, children will tend to be reluctant in searching for knowledge, as they will rely on their parents to carry out tasks, even the small ones for them (Clarke & Estes, 2008). This makes them lose the morale for studying and their brains do not develop as they are put into less exercise of facing challenges. There are three crucial aspects that motivation is involved in. Firstly, children set goals that they want to achieve at the end of certain duration. Secondly, they gather efforts that propel them towards the attainment of those goals. And thirdly, there is the involvement of the mind in the learning process. This therefore encourages growth in all dimensions, including physical, mental, and psychological. At SSA, there is the concern of who is actually completing the work at home or how the work in being validated is an issue. Due to time constraints, issues of availability while the student has to take an assessment may lead the learning coach to provide their password to the child. When a child has this password, they can bypass and skip lessons or even approve the lesson as complete. This common practice is a concern as it challenges the SSA staff to actually validate the ability of that child until they complete an in-class assessment with the teacher. If one has the ability to bypass the system, one would commonly be less motivated to push oneself knowing the “easy route” with the password therefore losing intrinsic motivation.
  9. 9. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 9 Organizational Barriers Organizational barriers refer to the lacking or inadequate tools within the organization (Clark & Estes, 2008). It is, however, important to note that this problem does not exist in the SSA. Learners are provided with appropriate leaning materials, which they are expected to use in doing their assignments. The reason as to why it is important to use this framework in analyzing the accountability framework in this particular instance is because the framework helps establish whether all the parties involved (administrators, teachers, learning coaches) are receiving adequate support to achieve preset goals. In addition, it assesses whether the teachers have the necessary knowledge and motivation in carrying out the activities set ahead by the organizing committee. Responsibilities of a Learning Coach Before introducing the responsibilities of a learning coach, it is important to note that a learning coach is a person who helps learners, especially those who are taking online lessons. As such, a learning coach is entrusted with certain responsibilities. Each of these children should also be given a chance to discuss the learning programs or opportunities that they feel are suiting them. This will give them a better understanding of the requirements for their learning in the SSA hybrid model. Another responsibility of a learning coach is to help the child set their goals and targets and to assist them in attaining those targets. In addition, the learning coach should be willing to seek assistance for their child in areas of need. A learning coach should design and developing individual action plans with their child. They should support their child in acquiring and developing portfolio evidence for their key skills (Jeynes, 2011). Since at SSA teachers are highly qualified and fully trained, there is feasibility and transparency, which promotes the reputation of the school. Although it seems apparent to the administration that the majority of new learning coaches are not fully prepared to accept the responsibilities, many have expressed that they
  10. 10. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 10 have not been given adequate resources or training upon acceptance. As a result, parents are left to fend for themselves to seek the best practices, techniques and skills to “coach” their child through their learning. The learning coach mentor program, which was implemented at SSA the first year it was open, was designed to address this issue but few parents took advantage of the program. Performance Indicators The first performance indicator that will be used to investigate the level of parent involvement regarding their children and their schoolwork is to conduct a “learning coach survey.” All families will be given the survey to complete at the end of the school year. Survey questions would include: 1. Do you attend meetings at school to meet with the teacher to discuss your child’s progress? 2. Do you effectively use the materials offered (tangible and online) to assist your child with their learning? 3. Do you believe that the teachers are justified to say that children should not be fully assisted by their learning coach regarding the completion of assignments? 4. Did you receive help in learning how to navigate through the online course as well as accessing the learning coach resources available? If so, who did you seek help from? 5. Do you normally follow the teacher’s advice on how to help your child with their learning? 6. Do you communicate with your child’s teacher frequently by reading and responding to emails and phone calls? If so, how often on average per week? 7. As your child’s learning coach, what do you struggle with the most? Please be specific.
  11. 11. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 11 The survey results will be crucial to determining parent satisfaction in regards to learning coach training, resources, and overall school-to-parent support. The gesture of the survey will also allow families to feel a sense of ownership in the direction of the school and allow for their opinions and suggestions to be heard and considered. The power of these longitudinal surveys will help to guide the program development and provide historical data. The problem however, is there is a problem with transiency in the program and the data becomes less valid as one loses respondents. The ideal research would be to conduct cross-sectional surveys at the same time to gather additional data and validate the data (Magnusson & Bergmon, 1990). Another performance indicator to hold parents accountable would require anyone that specifies himself responsible for the child’s learning to complete the official SSA Learning Coach Training Course upon acceptance. This course, developed by the curriculum provider as well as teachers and administration, would include: an extensive overview of the curriculum, materials and resources, seat time working with the OLS, marking attendance and progress, completing learning coach aspects of the student monitored assessments, daily schedule management, and creating parent cohort support groups based on location. The training course would be a total of 12 face-to-face hours, working directly with the learning coach parent trainer. Currently, new families that enroll with SSA are not given their username and passwords until the start of school. As a result, they are not given ample time to familiarize themselves with the OLS and struggle to keep up with the demands of the coursework throughout the entire first quarter. Most are not completely comfortable until the end of the second quarter nears. With the training course, parents would set up their accounts prior to the start of school and have ample time to navigate through the OLS and gain confidence. Upon completion of the course, the learning coach will need to complete and pass an
  12. 12. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 12 assessment, which would ensure they understand how to fulfill online responsibilities. A certificate of completion would be presented after achievement is mastered. Another performance indicator of a school-wide “Family Accountability Plan” (FAP) would also be adopted and implemented at SSA. This plan would be a point-based system designed to hold both the student and learning coach accountable for student achievement. The rubric below would be given to all families that clearly outlined all mandatory responsibilities throughout the school year, with points assigned to each responsibility. On-Boarding and Training Point Value Minimum Expectations Recorded Initial Learning Coach Training 1 Point Learning Coach must attend (and student, if applicable) Libra Forde Attendance, Progress and Behavior Learning Center Attendance 1 Point per day absent (excused OR unexcused) On required LC day *Discretion of teacher Homeroom Teacher Blackboard Connect Attendance 1 point per week for not attending Students must attend a minimum of one Blackboard Connect Session per week Homeroom Teacher Weekly Progress 1 point every two weeks *see progress chart: Student must be at expected progress by end of each week (points given at 2 week checks) Homeroom Teacher / Learning Coach *may not be applicable for those with IEP’s High School Academic Probation 1 point per class where grade average falls below a 60% If student carries average of 60% or below for more than three weeks, points given each week thereafter and student must attend F2F and/or virtual tutoring. Teacher Discretion. Homeroom Teacher / Core Teacher /
  13. 13. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 13 Insubordination / Behavior Point value by teacher/staff discretion Includes In-class, student/teacher relationship, peer/peer relationship, etc… Faculty/Staff Communications and Conferences Initial Parent/Teacher Conference (F2F) August 3 points if missed In-Person as scheduled by Teacher Homeroom Teacher / Learning Coach Semester Parent/Teacher Conference (F2F) January 3 points if missed In-Person as scheduled by Teacher Homeroom Teacher / Learning Coach End-of-Year Parent/Teacher Conference (F2F) May 3 points if missed In-Person as scheduled by Teacher Homeroom Teacher / Learning Coach Any Additional F2F meeting requested 1 point if missed In-Person as scheduled by Teacher Homeroom Teacher/Learning Coach School and State Required Testing Initial Scantron Assessment (Fall) 3 points (grades 4-12) Completion of 2 content areas (reading, and math) When scheduled Scantron Assessment (Spring) 3 points (grades 4-12) Completion of 2 content areas (reading, and math) When scheduled HSA (Session 1) 3 points Completion of the 2/3 content areas (reading, math, and science) if applicable At closing of testing window – testing schedule arranged by Homeroom Teacher HSA (Session 2) 3 points *May not be applicable HSA (Session 3) 3 points *May not be applicable If a child receives six points, a letter is sent home letting them know that if the child receives nine points, a parent meeting will be required with the administration. This meeting will involve closely evaluating the child’s lack of progress as well as the needed areas for improvement. It will also remind the parent of the learning coach responsibilities. If they are not met, the child’s progress will be directly affected. Once a child receives twelve points, the
  14. 14. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 14 parents will be given the chance to request a hearing with the administration and the child’s teacher to review how the points were accumulated or the parents will be asked to reconsider whether SSA is the right educational placement for their child. The FAP is to emphasize that without a total commitment from the learning coach, the child and SSA has a less chance to succeed. Solutions to Accountability Problems In order for real change to occur, effective leadership is most important in any organization. “Effective [leaders] must lead their school through the goal-setting process in which student achievement data is analyzed, improvement areas are identified and actions for change are initiated” (Schmoker, 2003). The “focus of change” needs to be on target as “leaders can act like effective leaders, but if they fail to guide their schools toward making the correct changes, these changes are likely to have a diminished or negative impact on student achievement” (Waters, Marzano & McNulty, 2003). The three performance indicators including the “learning coach survey”, “learning coach training course” and the “school wide family accountability plan” are the first steps to allowing administration to gauge the level of engagement with the families. Learning Coach Survey In response to the first performance indicator that families will be asked to complete a “learning coach survey”, the results will allow administration to gain an honest evaluation regarding the learning coach trainings and support, parent resources and school structure and overall support. The survey specifically is designed to find out whether learning coaches feel supported in guiding their child’s learning, engagement level between teacher and learning coach, how effective school wide communication is, and their level of commitment regarding fulfilling the learning coach responsibilities. The results will most likely also establish whether learning coaches take the greater part in the online work. This data will mean very
  15. 15. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 15 acute constraints as they end up being so reliant on their learning coaches for content they should have learned independently at home. The school will be tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that learning coaches and students know their roles and take full ownership of their requirements. Depending on the survey results, it will be determined the kind of action to take in educating the parents on the need to allow children have some work to do individually. Though there are many advantages associated with parental involvement in school learning, there should at least be a regulation of what and how the parents should be involved in helping the children with their assignments. To have a clear picture of the advantages associated with parental involvement, it is important to briefly pinpoint some of the benefits associated with it. To start with, there is the attainment of higher grades as the learning coaches emphasize to their children the importance of taking their studies seriously as well as helping them with their homework (Callison, 2004). Another benefit is that children have a perfect learning environment with learning coaches more likely to provide a more conducive environment for learning (LaBahn, 2006). With the help of the data that will be acquired from the learning coach survey, it will be of paramount importance to educate parents and convince them that though they are required to help their children with their assignments, it is important for them to allow children to perform learning tasks on their own. This does not only help children develop diligence in children, but it also improves their competence hence preparing them for their future life (Hornby, 2000). This is achieved by allowing them to be self-directed learners. The research will be an eye opener to parents to make them realize that what matters most in education is not how a child is considered punctual in completing assignments but how well he or she understands the content of what is being taught by the teacher.
  16. 16. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 16 Learning Coach Training Course The requirement of the learning coach training course would be to ensure that the learning coaches are fully prepared to take on the responsibilities required to be a successful learning coach and will improve accountability in multiple ways. First, the learning coaches will become more versed in the OLS and therefore more comfortable with grading, procedures and attendance. Secondly, the ability to hold the parents accountable will be instrumental as one consistent excuse parents used was “I was never informed or knew how to do it.” Finally, the collaboration between the learning coach and the teachers and administration will increase, as they will be talking the same language of accountability. Having each learning coach complete 12 hours of direct instruction with the school’s learning coach trainer would provide the learning coaches ample practice time navigating online through the curriculum, asking questions and gaining overall familiarity. Family Accountability Plan The point-based family accountability plan will allow SSA to hold both learning coach and students accountable. Upon enrollment, the FAP guidelines and contract given to all families will be read and signed. The FAP allows SSA to clearly articulate parent and student expectations. It requires the teacher to keep records and document communication attempts, testing and class attendance and conference meetings. This will allow SSA administration to hold families accountable and the student’s status at the school will weigh heavily on the level of commitment of both parties. Parental interaction with their child’s schooling with a consistent message as to their significance in the process allow family attention to learning to increase and gain focus. The FAP holds all parties responsible for student success accountable: Family, Student, and Teacher/Administration. “As teachers enlist the support of parents in learning, in different ways at different points in time, they are
  17. 17. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 17 reminded of the advantages of such alliances, and the child’s learning increasingly becomes the focus of their interactions with parents. The cumulative effects of more frequent and higher quality interactions among teachers and parents are a great reservoir of trust and respect, increased social capitol for children, and school community more supportive of each child’s school success” (Redding, Langdon, Meyer & Sheley, 2004). Since SSA is a charter school, as a “school of choice”, more flexibility is given regarding our policies, procedures, and expectations. SSA is able to offer Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) to families that are not willing or cannot abide by school policies and requirements. Student choice and excellence is at the core of SSA and with the implementation of the FAP, it will allow for the increased accountability of families toward excellence. In the case where a parent is not engaged as the learning coach, the FAP will allow for administration and teachers along with the Local School Board to facilitate meetings whereas the parent will become accountable for their child’s learning. In the case where a parent refuses to become accountable and be an active partner in their child’s education, SSA administration will pursue the educational neglect charges against the family. Conclusion In summary, it can be inferred that though parental involvement in education is important, it is crucial to ensure that parents do not interfere with the intellectual development of the child by doing too much work for them. With the nature of SSA, parental involvement is key to student success since so much of the learning requirements falls on the learning coach. There should be a balance on what the teacher, the child, and the learning coach, take part in. Indeed, the child should carry out most of the activities while the parent should only guide the child on what he or she is to do. The parent survey data if valid and free from bias will gauge the ability to provide a consistent high quality experience for all the
  18. 18. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 18 students at SSA, while in school and at home. It will provide an effective feedback loop and ultimately allow administration to hold parents accountable for their child’s lack of success at home. There are needed elements for the success of the child. As the child strives to excel in his or her studies, both the teacher and the parents should provide an environment that favors learning efforts of the child. The SSA administration has built an assessment and accountability system one student at a time; the rationale was based upon the need for greater accountability and will allow for teachers to personalize learning opportunities and learning environments, ad the school to watch each student’s efforts and accomplishments over time. The issue of the parent/family accountability is one at the crux of the success of SSA and to date has not fully flushed out how the program can hold parents accountable for their child’s actions, their actions and ultimately for their child’s success and has to be the expectation of all who work, attend and are partnered with the school. Because SSA has developed their own accountability structure, they can decide whom to hire and where to assign the staff within the scope of the supplemental agreement with the union. Unfortunately, this does not hold parents accountable. This ideal is why charter schools exist and can be more creative and innovative than the traditional brick and mortar school. Unfortunately, those who control budgets decide how to hold schools accountable and ultimately decide the fate of such schools.
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  21. 21. ACCOUNTABILITY FLAWS 21 Parent Engagement on Student Learning Outcomes. Harvard Family Research Project. Cambridge, MA. Stecher, B., Epstein, S., Hamilton, L. S., Marsh, J. A., Robyn, A., McCombs, J. S., Russell, J., & Naftel, S. (2008). Pain and gain: Implementing No Child Left Behind in three states, 2004-2006. Santa Monica, CA: RAND. Waters, J. T., Marzano, R. J. & McNulty, B. (2003). Balanced Leadership: What 30 years of Research tells us about the effect on leadership on student achievement McRel Policy Brief. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.