My career in education divides between an earlier decade spent in schools and school systems and a later longer stretch spent in Schools of Education at universities with a strong focus on research. Both research and practice are my passion, and maintaining a link between the two, both in my thinking and my professional life, has been my striving. Being involved in educational leadership preparation has been the bridge, first as the faculty co-director of the Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA, and then as the director of the doctoral program in Leadership for Educational Equity at UC Berkeley. Given the incentives and expectations that come with working in a premier research university, maintaining this bridge has had to be a conscious and deliberate commitment. In my vision, a professional school, in its true charter, gives me, or should give me, the pleasure to think abstractly, theoretically, and through the artifacts of research knowledge. And it gives me the opportunity to be continually exposed to, sometimes immersed in, the practical world of educational problem-solving. This world is real. It confronts us with children’s and their teachers’ hopes, joys, sufferings, and needs. Theory and practice, precise empirical study and partaking in the lives of practitioners in a more intuitive and holistic way, have been the dual source of my inspiration.
In my recent book Design-Based School Improvement: A Practical Guide for Education Leaders, written with the assistance of doctoral students Mahua Baral, Liz Zumpe, and John Hall, published by Harvard Education Press, I have tried to bring the two worlds together. Based on almost ten years of experimenting with design development projects in the Leadership for Educational Equity Program, we wrote a book that interweaves narratives from practice with theoretical excursions into the professional knowledge base on design-based innovation, problem-solving, and intervention research.
After several years researching topics in comparative and cross-national education, I have spent the bulk of my research effort in the last decade or so on understanding the power of incentives to motivate teachers and shape instructional practices in schools in the United States and elsewhere. In the mid to late nineties, the United States embarked on large-scale public management reforms that borrowed from private sector management techniques. The reforms were to increase the efficiency and equity of state educational systems through assessment, target setting, monitoring quality indicators, teaching evaluations, and rewards and sanctions. I want to understand how this system works: how extrinsic incentives appeal to employees’ self-interest and at the same time either bolster or crowd out educators’ public service commitments, especially to students in disadvantaged circumstances. And I want to see how these motivational and managerial patterns influence teachers’ efforts as instructors.
I am excited about my involvement in co-design partnerships with local districts that apply insights from this research to the design of powerful professional learning models. These models take system accountability, work motivation and teacher learning processes into consideration in order to prepare faculties to master the new demands and complexities of college-adequate content codified in a new generation of ambitious Common Core State Standards.