Research Magazine > ARCHIVE > Fall
93 > Article
Setting Schools Free... To Succeed
by David L. Hart
It seems everyone has a theory on how to improve education
Not everyone, however, gets to take that theory from the drawing board to the
classroom -- and see it work.
Education professor Carl Glickman got that chance, and you can measure some
of his success by the 20 schools waiting to join the Georgia League of Professional
"We're already twice the size we thought we were going to be this year," Glickman
said of the program he established at the University of Georgia College of Education. "We
are never going to be able to keep up with the demand."
Starting in 1983 with a handful of schools, Glickman's Program for School Improvement
(PSI) got such high marks that the schools formed a league of their own --
the Georgia League of Professional Schools. The league, created in 1989, removes
some of the administrative burden from the PSI staff and allows more schools
PSI now encompasses 55 schools in the Georgia League of Professional Schools
and another 18 schools in former President Jimmy Carter's Atlanta Project,
which addresses a wide range of urban concerns, including education.
PSI is based on three core principles:
- Shared governance, in which teachers take a more active role in
- Action research, practical methods for teachers to evaluate the
impact of the changes they make;
- And educational enhancement, which reminds teachers to keep education
as their primary focus.
In theory, this may sound like common
sense. In practice, though, it amounts to a major shift in thinking
about ways to improve schools:
Teachers know best.
The average school district or university research program hasn't always seen
things this way. The district or the state department of education usually
hands down policy from on high, and teachers have no choice but to comply.
And in the standard model of education research, university researchers swoop
down, collect their data and then take off again to publish their research
for other researchers to read.
Instead, PSI puts teachers and principals back into the loop. The first PSI
principle, shared governance, gets the school district off teachers' backs
by putting responsibility on teachers' shoulders. Teachers and administrators
decide democratically how to run their classrooms, identify problems, involve
the community and generally get things done that improve teaching and learning.
"Our whole decision-making process is completely different," said Sandy
Bouldin, a math teacher at Athens' Clarke Central High School, a league member
since 1991. Bouldin chairs the Team for School Improvement, the school's central
coordinating committee, which includes two parents and two students as voting
members, along with the principal and eight teachers.
The change wasn't easy, and the school had to work out some kinks, Bouldin
said, but now morale is high.
"Everyone on our faculty is involved in at least one thing," she said. "We
are definitely going to stick with it. We will never go back. It's just working
The second principle, action research, gives teachers the feedback they often
don't get from school districts or university researchers.
Teachers use action research to evaluate and monitor changes in instructional
programs. For instance, Clarke Central developed a program called "Program
Success" to help ninth graders adjust to high school and keep them from
dropping out; action research pointed out the need for such a program, Bouldin
"You would think this would be a common practice, but it isn't," said
Dr. Lewis Allen, PSI's director of national outreach. Allen is the contact person
for groups outside of Georgia that want to start similar programs.
Lately, PSI has been placing more emphasis on action research. Many league
schools have not actively implemented this principle, in part because teachers
have to fit the extra work into their already hectic day.
To overcome this reticence, PSI and the League of Professional Schools created
the Action Research Consortium (ARC) in 1992. Funded by a three-year grant
from BellSouth Corp., the consortium sends teachers to spread the gospel of
action research to other league schools that request help.
"This notion is a light touch," said Dr. Barbara Lunsford, who directs
both the UGA Division of Educational Leadership and the Georgia League of Professional
Schools. "We don't go in and fix it for them. We are atypical of a lot of
Consortium members are not university staff, but instead are teachers and principals
who do action research on their own turf. ARC members have practiced what they
By the end of the three-year grant period, ARC plans to have enough members
to help any school in Georgia implement action research, Allen said.
PSI's third principle, educational enhancement, is a matter of focus. League
schools are expected to channel their energies toward instruction, not bureaucracy.
Educational enhancement is the overarching principle that guides their efforts.
Allen said the question PSI schools must now examine is, "What is
the best way to teach?" And that's a question with no single right
or wrong answer.
With all this emphasis on teacher, principal and student involvement in the
school improvement process, you might wonder what role Glickman and the PSI
Not a big one, they say. And they want to keep it that way.
PSI isn't meant to be a domineering boss; its leaders see their collective
role more as that of an "executive secretary," Allen said. PSI administrators
don't pass out report cards or detention slips; instead, they keep schools
in touch with each other to share new and successful teaching methods.
"As they learn more, we try to absorb it, synthesize it, write about it
and disseminate it back to them," Allen said. "All the research that
we do is fed right back to them."
In this role, PSI acts as a model for school districts and state education
departments. The program has two long-term goals: to show that schools can
democratically make good decisions for themselves and to prove the power of
networks -- schools interacting with other schools.
Ideally, PSI would like school districts to get away from unilaterally making
and enforcing rules. Instead, district administrators would encourage schools
to share ideas and determine for themselves what works and doesn't work. And
this means that PSI, the schools, and the school districts have their work
cut out for them.
"In a sense, this work is never ending," Allen said. "You continue
to revise and revise and revise, and hopefully you get better at what you're
Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA
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