Book Reviews

High Student Achievement: How Six School Districts Changed into High-Performance Districts

by Gordon Cawelti and Nancy Protheroe

Reviewed by William G. Keane
Associate Professor of Leadership, Oakland University, Rochester, Mich.

Much of the recent research about school improvement has focused on the individual building as the locus of change. This book, building on the recognition that studies of district practices are rare, attempted to identify school districts where all or most schools in the district “demonstrated significantly improved student achievement over the last five years.”

Authors Gordon Cawelti, former executive director of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and a superintendent in Tulsa, Okla., and Nancy Protheroe, a veteran researcher with the Educational Research Service, sought to identify high-achieving school districts and record the actions that led to remarkably rapid improvement in student achievement in most district schools. Nominations provided by regional education laboratories, chief state school officers and state education agency assessment officials identified only four districts where standardized test scores in most schools had increased by at least 20 percent: Brazosport Independent School District, Clute, Texas; Twin Falls, Idaho, School District; Ysleta Independent School District, El Paso, Texas; and Barbour County School District, Philippi, W.Va.

Because no large urban school districts were nominated, the authors added two that had demonstrated significant improvement in many schools—Houston, Texas, and Sacramento, Calif.

Though the chosen districts have different demographics, superintendent leadership styles and improvement strategies, they all are driven by a common focus on increasing achievement. The authors summarized what they see as the six characteristics of these districts’ effectiveness. Leading the list are the superintendent’s beliefs, classroom expectations and a focus on results.

The authors freely admit that most of the gains in these districts were recorded at the elementary level and all of them concentrated on improving test scores as a key measure of their success—an educational goal that some may wish to challenge.

(High Student Achievement: How Six School Districts Changed into High-Performance Districts by Gordon Cawelti and Nancy Protheroe, Educational Research Service, 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22201, 2001, 104 pp., $36 softcover)