Align the Design: A Blueprint for School Improvement

by Nancy J. Mooney and Ann T. Mausbach, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Va., 2008, 202 pp. with index, $27.95 softcover

Michael Fullan writes about how education terms travel easily but the effective practices behind them do not, and he cites professional learning communities as the -classic example.

Alignment is another one. If districts have explicit mission and vision statements, data analysis strategies, school improvement plans and supervisory practices in place, they believe their district is aligned. Is it? As the authors of Align the Design: A Blueprint for School Improvement contend, it depends.



Nancy Mooney and Ann Mausbach are school administrators with years of experience. In this text, they have assembled descriptions and examples of core processes that are central to a school’s blueprint for improvement. They address establishing a clear mission and vision, collecting and interpreting data for better decision making, using school plans as the driver of improvement, reshaping professional development around how adults learn and differentiating supervisory techniques to monitor implementation.

Each core process has a set of what the authors call “power tools,” strategies such as walk-throughs, pacing conferences and data consultations, which they have found particularly effective. The authors frame each section with essential questions and include reflections from the field — sharing actual memos they used during their administrative tenure — and touchstone texts, foundational references on which the concepts are based.

Very little is new here. Maybe that’s what we can expect because alignment is about fitting existing pieces together more effectively. One critical element is missing, however. The fatal flaw is the lack of clear articulation of exactly what the core processes should be aligned around — that is, a clear set of rigorous student content and performance standards that must serve as the centerpiece against which all processes are measured and evaluated. Without this powerful center, all the alignment actions in the world lack significance for student learning.

Reviewed by Ronald S. Thomas, associate director, Center for Leadership in Education, Towson University, Baltimore, Md.