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Reading List: Coherence Amidst Variation

Professional communities and Instructional practices in small schools


Fullan, M. (1994). Coordinating the top-down and bottom-up strategies for educational reform . The Governance of Curriculum. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Available at


Although over ten years old, this chapter by Michael Fullan captures many issues relevant to the focal question for this meeting. Exploring top-down and bottom-up strategies for educational reform, the author argues that “centralized” and “decentralized” are relative terms, that neither approach works independently, and that what it is required is a blend of the two approaches for more effective results. To make his argument, Fullan first reviews evidence that neither centralized nor decentralized change strategies work, then presents an empirical case that blends the two strategies, and finally illustrates how simultaneous centralized-decentralized forces can be combined for more effective results by exploring two levels of the problem (school-district and school/district-state).


** Honig M. (2004). Where’s the "up" in bottom-up reform? Center for Education Policy and Leadership at the University of Maryland, College Park. Educational Policy, 18(4), 527-561. Available at


This case study of city-level policy in Oakland in the 1990s focuses on the role of policy makers in bottom up reform implementation and links this role to a framework for organizational learning. Honig’s premise is that bottom-up reform, as a policy strategy, has faltered in implementation because researchers and practitioners focus almost exclusively on implementation in schools (the bottom of hierarchical education systems), ignoring how policy makers might actually enable school change (this is, what she calls the "up" in bottom-up reform). The author argues that in the past decades policy makers have favored avenues that are consistent with traditional top-down policy making; however, as policy makers are important participants in bottom-up reform implementation, institutional supports for them may enable implementation and system learning.


** Roza, M. (2007). Allocation anatomy: How district policies that deploy resources can support (or undermine) district reform strategies. (Working paper 24, Center on reinventing public education, Daniel J. Evans, School of Public Affairs, University of Washington.) Available at


For district leaders looking for a set of common reform strategies, this analysis could serve as a roadmap for more strategic resource allocation. The author analyzes how micro-budgeting decisions are made in district environment and how such decisions can either support or hamper district reform strategies. In this paper urban districts are described as “often large, hierarchical bureaucracies in which allocation processes are spread among different layers,” executed by different players in the system, and given many different forms. Each of the allocation processes and practices have different implications and could be aligned to various district reform strategies. In some cases, resources allocation depends on the discretion and priorities of actors and is not part of a district’s strategy for reform. The author provides a framework to help district leaders recognize different kinds of allocations based on a) what gets allocated; b) the reporting authority; c) practices that dictate the flow of resources; d) restrictions that accompany the use of resources; e) the dollar value of the allocation.


Dufour, Richard. In Praise of Top-Down Leadership. Available at


This article, by a former superintendent, argues that research has proved that top-down practices don’t work and that it is crucial to have buy-in of the people who will implement an initiative at the school level to be able to make a change. Dufour’s perspective is that leaders should use “reciprocal accountability” in which leaders help build the capacity of the members of the group to accomplish what they have been asked to accomplish. However, he thinks that if all attempts to persuade educators to do the right work fails, leaders should exercise their authority to require the work be done.


Warren, C., & Hernandez M., Building a portfolio of schools, Carnegie Corporation New York. Not available online.


This article focuses in the importance to create a variety of different kind of schools within each community to prepare all students for postsecondary education, employment, and citizenship. Authors defined the “portfolio of schools” as the diversification of organizational formats, educational approaches and governance systems. It is seen as an strategy for creating a system of high schools that are efficient and offer options to trigger changes at the district level and seeks to provide students with a school that respond to their interests, so they can engage academically and socially through it. Authors list the principles that have been carried out by Schools for a New Society to carry on changes at the policy and community levels.


American Institutes for Research, & SRI International. Partnering with districts to offer portfolios of high school, Evaluation of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s High School Grants Initiative, 2005. Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Available at


This is a chapter of an evaluation report prepared by AIR for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the small schools funded in 2001. It reports on the work of the Gates Foundation to build portfolios of school in districts where the majority of students are poor or/and immigrants to increase the school choice. The foundation’s work has been to ask districts to foster change by creating support systems focused on curricula, teachers, schools, and students and families. However, there is much work to do at the policy level to ensure sustainability.