Campus & Community

Boston Public Schools to participate in 3-year project

3 min read

Partnership with GSE, HBS aims to scale success from schools to school systems

The Harvard Graduate School of Education (GSE), Harvard Business School (HBS), and nine urban school districts announced the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) on Tuesday (Oct. 21). PELP is a joint venture collaboratively designed to dramatically improve the educational outcomes of these school systems. The districts, representing more than a million students in urban areas across the nation, include Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

“Although there are many excellent individual schools in the United States, there are very few K-12 urban school systems that have achieved a uniform high level of excellence that allows students to be educated to their optimum potential,” said GSE Dean Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, Warren Professor of the History of American Education. “The ability to scale up success remains one of the most intractable problems in education and a barrier to real educational progress.”

Research, as well as the experience of other institutions, has shown that addressing this problem is not just a matter of applying lessons from the management of other sectors. It is necessary to understand the many forces that drive the educational enterprise – political, pedagogical, governmental, technological, logistical, and legal – then to adapt and integrate knowledge from the private, nonprofit, and education sectors to devise new insights and approaches within that demanding context.

“A key barrier to achieving systemwide excellence has been the exceptional challenge of leading and managing in the complex and dynamic environment of an urban school system,” says HBS Dean Kim Clark. “This challenge is complicated by the fact that the majority of public school leaders are not formally trained in managing complex systems, and are constrained by the heavy day-to-day demands of the job.”

The PELP faculty team invited, through a competitive process, urban school districts to partner in the design and delivery of an innovative executive education program tailored specifically to meet the actual challenges that educational leaders are facing. The districts are: Anne Arundel County, Md.; Boston; Charleston, S.C.; Chicago; Harrisburg, Pa.; Minneapolis; Montgomery County, Md.; San Diego; and San Francisco. Core faculty members are Richard Elmore, James Honan, Robert Peterkin, and Robert Schwartz from GSE; and James Austin, Nancy Beaulieu, Allen Grossman, Stig Leschly, and David Thomas from HBS.

The three-year project will have two principal components: a weeklong executive education program offered each summer beginning in 2004 for a five- to seven-person leadership team from each district, during which the team would learn from the experiences of other districts while developing strategic improvement goals for the coming year; and periodic on-site facilitation during the year from participating faculty and staff.

At the same time, participating faculty will conduct research aimed at measuring the effectiveness of the program, identifying the key underlying forces that are shaping educational leadership in urban school systems, and developing a set of powerful ideas to enable district leadership teams to create high performing systems.

Principal funding for the Public Education Leadership Project comes from the Harvard Business School Class of 1963 and will subsidize the development and delivery of the program over the first three years (FY ’04-’06).