Book Review

District Leadership That Works

Striking the Right Balance

by Robert J. Marzano and Timothy Waters, Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, Ind., 2009, 164 pp., $24.95 softcover

In their newest book, District Leadership That Works: Striking the Right Balance, Tim Waters and Robert Marzano take dead aim at the “blob” characterization that former U.S. Education Secretary William J. Bennett heaped on the public schools following the 1983 release of “A Nation At Risk.”

Book District Leadership

The book addresses the strength of the relationship between district-level administrative actions and average student achievement and what the specific district leadership behaviors are that appear to be associated with affecting student achievement.

Like the co-authors’ 2005 work, School Leadership That Works: From Research to Results, the latest book uses a technique called meta-analysis review, which allows researchers to synthesize the results of separate quantitative studies to achieve a synergistic effect. As a result, this statistical method produces an extremely rigorous result, enabling valid and reliable cause-and-effect inferences. The results of the meta-analysis refute Bennett’s and others’ claims that leadership at the school level and the district level has no impact on student achievement. Quite the contrary! Second only to the impact of the teacher is the principal, and, in this book, the superintendent and other district leaders make a significant impact on achievement.

The authors describe five areas of responsibility in great detail. It is important to note that in both books the research describes sets of leadership responsibilities and not leader responsibilities. This is not a small distinction. It strongly suggests leadership is a collaborative process, not a solitary Lone Ranger activity.

Furthermore, the decisions as to what responsibilities need to be emphasized at a given moment are not simple. The goal is to effect continuous improvement to ensure positive changes are sustainable.

Reviewed by Perry Berkowitz, associate professor and chair of education leadership and counseling, College of Saint Rose, Albany, N.Y.