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Reading List: District Infrastructural Supports

Central Office Reform


**MacIver, M., Abele, M., & Farley, E. (2003). Bringing the District Back in: The Role of the Central Office in Improving Instruction and Student Achievement. Baltimore, MD: Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed at Risk, John Hopkins University. Available at


Drawing on thirty years of research on school districts, this review article examines the tasks of the central office, focusing on its role in curriculum and instruction, professional development, the implementation of specific reforms, and student achievement evaluation. A number of studies emphasized the district leadership's significant role in assisting schools and in ensuring the consistency of educational equity and quality. Studies also highlighted the need for central offices to be more flexible and service-oriented rather than to act as regulation or monitoring agencies. Studies of successful districts point to a combination of successful practices – a shared focus on instructional improvement and student achievement among all district and school staff; a combination of school autonomy and the provision of structured supports, resources, and training for school personnel; the use of data and research-based practices; and a focus on aligning curriculum and assessments. The authors suggest that future research be done to further clarify this role of the central office.


Campbell, C., DeArmond, M., Schumwinger, A., (2004, April). From Bystander to Ally: Transforming the District Human Resources Department. Seattle, WA: University of Washington, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, Center on Reinventing Public Education. Available at


This report discusses the importance of district-level human resources (HR) management reform in providing useful support to schools. The authors provide recommendations for how to transform bureaucratic inefficiencies of the HR department based on profiles of HR reform in three urban districts: 1) Develop expertise by hiring and reassigning HR department leaders and staff, providing training opportunities in technical and HR issues such as negotiation and teacher recruitment, and utilizing external consultants; 2) Redesign and reorganize the central office while strategically repositioning the HR department within the central office hierarchy with the purpose of increasing its power and status; and 3) Invest in new technology by upgrading and acquiring state-of-the-art tools and providing resources for personnel to develop necessary technical expertise. In order for these reforms to be successfully implemented, a district-wide reform agenda must be supported by the active and coherent leadership of department managers, superintendents, and school boards.


Childress, S., Elmore, R., & Grossman, A. (2006, November). How to Manage Urban School Districts. Harvard Business Review (pp.1-14). Available at


This paper derives from a four-year joint project of Harvard’s Business School and Graduate School of Education, the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP), which involved interviews and observations in 15 school districts across the country to develop a framework for effective district management. The Harvard researchers then partnered with nine of these districts to refine and test that framework over the four years of the project. Arguing that school-based and structural solutions to low student achievement are not sufficient, and that school districts pose more complex management challenges than businesses, the framework posits the need for a coherent district strategy focused on the instructional core of teaching and learning. The strategy must incorporate a performance culture, resources, systems and structures, and stakeholder involvement to support the instructional core in a coherent and sustainable fashion.


Districts and Communities


Ucelli, M., Foley, E., & Mishook, J. (2007). Smart Districts as the Entry Point to Smart Education Systems. In R. Rothman (Ed.), City Schools: How Districts and Communities Can Create Smart Education Systems (pp. 37-51). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. Available for purchase at


The authors argue that districts play a vital role in promoting and sustaining long-term instructional improvements. In order to create school communities that work for all children, districts must adopt a collaborative approach and balance three key goals: results, equity, and community. As a result of such activities, smart districts become a “vital community institution that is positioned to expand its reach and capacity,” eventually becoming the entry point for building smart education systems.


Simmons, W. (2007). From Smart Districts to Smart Educational Systems. In R. Rothman (Ed.), City Schools: How Districts and Communities Can Create Smart Education Systems (pp. 181-203). Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press. Available at


Reviewing various district reforms, Simmons concludes that current efforts to redesign and strengthen districts alone are not sufficient. The key to large scale transformation is the creation of smart districts. Smart districts, which engage, build, and work with organizations within their larger communities, foster the development of smart education systems. Such systems are adaptive, efficient, focus on educational services, and are aligned to meet the needs of the community. Smart education systems depend upon four features: leadership development, applied research, local innovation, and alternative governance structures.


**This document is considered a priority reading.