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Reviewed by:
  • District Leadership that Works: Striking the Right Balance
  • Donna Tortu-Rueter (bio)
R. J. Marzano & T. Waters. (2009). District Leadership that Works: Striking the Right Balance. Bloomington, Ind.: Solution Tree Press. 164 pages. ISBN: 978-1-935249-19-1. $24.95 paperback.

Authors and Purpose

Robert J. Marzano and Timothy Waters, co-authors of District Leadership that Works: Striking the Right Balance, are world-renowned authors, researchers, and leaders in education with sixty-three years combined in public education. Marzano is also co-founder and CEO of Marzano Research Laboratory in Centennial, Colorado, and senior scholar at Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) in Denver. Waters, in addition to serving as president and CEO for McREL since 1993, spent twenty-three years in the K-12 system as a superintendent, assistant superintendent, high school principal, assistant principal, and teacher. Both men are leaders in research and the applied practice of that research into programs and tools for K-12 teachers and administrators.

The purpose of District Leadership that Works is to establish the fact that there is a direct relationship between district leadership and student achievement. Marzano and Waters conducted a study to answer two research questions, the results of which are the contents of the book. The book's primary audience is school district administrators, but K-12 teachers would find the study enlightening as well, with insight and ideas that can apply to individual classrooms, if not a district-wide initiative. Many educators may already be familiar with Marzano's previous works, as he is a leader in educational research and instruction.

Summary and Organization of Book

The book contains seven chapters, with chapter 1 addressing the direct relationship between district leadership and student achievement. It begins with a description of the study, which sought to answer two basic questions:

  1. 1. What is the strength of relationship between district-level administrative actions and average student achievement?

  2. 2. What are the specific district leadership behaviors that are associated with student achievement? (2)

The researchers used a meta-analysis in their study to investigate the answers to these important research questions. They synthesized research regarding school district leadership, with special attention given to the relationship between [End Page 90] district leadership and student achievement. The purpose of this meta-analysis is to take that information and then use it to provide guidance for educators.

However, this meta-analysis is more than a quantitative analysis of previous research. Rather than simply reporting via a quantitative summary of the literature, Marzano and Waters use a perspective from Hunter and Schmidt in 2004 not only to gain the most accurate representation of the district leadership/student achievement relationship but also to correct for sampling error, measurement error, and other artifacts in the research that could affect the study results. Following this explanation of the methodology of the study, the researchers then discuss the correlation between district leadership and student achievement. In addition, they delineate specific leadership behaviors and the ways in which they positively affect student achievement. The chapters that follow explain these leadership behaviors.

In chapter 2, the authors present the idea that, based on the proactive stance discussed in chapter 1, there is support for school districts and schools to be tightly coupled relative to student achievement, as opposed to loosely coupled. The authors cite research pointing to the highest-performing school systems in the world and their tightly coupled organizations as proof of the success of this organizational model. In organization theory, tightly coupled organizations typically have defining characteristics including the fact that they are self-correcting systems, have consensus on goals, disseminate information, and have the ability to address predictable problems. Contrarily, Marzano and Waters present educational systems in general as loosely coupled, rather than tightly coupled, systems. They assert that school districts operate independently and allow teachers to operate as independent contractors without uniform behaviors in every classroom. They assert that loosely coupled districts and schools are not focusing on high student achievement system-wide and, as a result, resort to site-based management. The authors then go on to depict site-based management as a decentralized and inconsistent administrative structure with too much...


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