What is Connecticut Lighthouse?

Background Information: The Iowa Lighthouse Journey


Phase 1 - Original Lighthouse Study (1998 – 2000): An ethnographic study of school districts generating unusually high levels of student achievement and school districts with similar characteristics but generating significantly lower levels of student achievement.


- Purpose: Research has repeatedly shown that some teachers, some schools, some curricula, and some instructional methods generate higher achievement than others. The question this study attempted to answer was, “Do some school boards generate higher achievement than others? If so, do they do so through patterns of organizational behavior that can be described and learned by others?


- Process: Researchers looked first for districts with extremely different levels of student achievement but similar in other characteristics such as socio-economic status, size, location, etc; and then conducted individual interviews with board members, superintendents, district level administrators, principals, and teachers to learn about their school improvement efforts (what they were trying to improve and how they were trying to improve it).


- Findings showed that school boards in districts with a history of higher student achievement were significantly different in knowledge, beliefs and actions from the boards in the lower achieving districts. This study became one of the first and only studies that made a credible research-based connection between the work of the school board and levels of student achievement.


Phase 2 – Creating Leadership Based on the Original Lighthouse Findings - The Lighthouse Project (2002 – 2007): A five-year, federally funded inquiry into the role of the local governance team in district wide efforts to improve student achievement.


- Purpose: To build upon the findings of the first Lighthouse study and identify the ways in which local school boards influence the conditions for success that are necessary to improve student achievement. This project is also trying to identify the types of development and supports school boards need in order to have a positive impact on district efforts to improve student achievement.


- Process: Researchers are using an action research approach with the boards and superintendents in five pilot school districts in Iowa over a period of 5 years while studying the changes in specific conditions that support improvement, changes in beliefs, and changes in student achievement.


- Findings: Preliminary results from 3 years of work in 5 pilot districts reveal significant learning about key behaviors of the board/superintendent team that influence district effort to improve achievement. Areas such as creating a sense of urgency, developing a district wide focus for improvement, creating conditions within the system for success, monitoring progress, deliberative policy development, and developing a leadership continuum have influenced board behaviors and the practices and beliefs of district staff in these pilot districts. Evidence of impact includes:


• Combined survey data from 4 of the 5 sites show a significant increase, from year 1 to year 3, in the perceived presence of 6 of the 7 conditions that support positive change;

• Combined survey data from 4 of the 5 sites show a significant positive change and/or met the target, from year 1 to year 3, in agreement with 12 of 15 positive belief statements;

• All sites participating in this project have shown significant improvement in one or more indicators of specific conditions necessary for improving student achievement;

• On average, 91% of all staff and board members across all sites say that there is a clear and focused goal in their district for improving student achievement;

• In 4 of the 5 sites, data show an increase of 48-90% of all staff and the board who could consistently describe the district’s school improvement goals;

• In all sites, 83-100% of all staff and the board indicate that there is a clear district-wide focus on improving literacy;

• In 3 of the 5 sites, the amount of time spent in regular board meetings on policy and student achievement issues increased from an average of 16% to an average of 37%;

• The boards in all 5 districts are regularly allocating additional board work session time to focus exclusively on student achievement issues;

• By year 3, all districts indicate strong agreement that frequently monitoring student achievement, ensuring children’s earliest school success, and partnering with the community are critical for improving teaching and learning;

• By year 3, all districts indicate strong agreement that local school boards can positively impact student achievement;

• In year 3, significant gains on a measure of reading comprehension were seen [from pretest to posttest] at every grade level in one district with an average of 94% of the students K-12 scoring average or above; and

• From year 1 to year 4 in one district, a significant increasing trend in the percentage of students proficient on one measure of reading comprehension was seen at grades 3, 6, 8, and 10 and in the cohort classes of 2006, 2007, and 2008.


Phase 3 – The Multi-State Project:  2005 – Present: Lighthouse National/Governance Renaissance: An emerging 5-year national study of best practices of state school board associations and board/superintendent teams in 9 states for developing board leadership for improving student learning.


- Purpose: Build on and scale the learnings from the Lighthouse Project across districts and states as well as to expand the interventions to clearly define best practices for school boards and for the state associations in supporting them. Move the focus from district-wide support for high and equitable student achievement to state-wide support of whole districts.

Key questions include: What does it take to create a state-wide focus on improving student achievement and what supports are necessary to sustain that focus (state school boards association, state education association, state administrators’ association, etc.)? What kinds of effort does it take to support and sustain that focus and to build the effectiveness of boards and superintendents?


- Process: The research will now move into more of a quasi-experimental approach. We will use the research measures that are shown to be effective in the LH research and test the impact of a variety of interventions with boards to find the most effective approaches for building board/superintendent leadership for high and equitable student achievement.

- Common data tools across all states will monitor (at a minimum):

·         changes in the district conditions for student achievement,

·         beliefs about what is possible to expect and what impacts student learning, and

·         levels of student achievement.

-  Participating states: Connecticut, Idaho, Alabama, Oregon, Washington, Wisconsin


The 7 Conditions


Connections across the system
People working together because it is important to them to improve education for students.


Knowing what it takes to change achievement

A shared understanding about the type of learning culture needed to improve achievement and how to organize the district to make it happen. 

Workplace support

Staff are supported in ways that help them succeed at improving student learning.


Professional development

An understanding of the purpose for and process of developing people as professionals.


A balance between district-wide direction and building level autonomy

Reliance on data to establish a balance between  focus and direction from a district perspective with latitude at the building level - in order to achieve equity across the system.


A strong community connection

An understanding of how to generate community involvement and shared responsibility for improvement.


Distributed leadership


Broad-based leadership to provide direction and focus for the improvement work.

Strong but sensitive leadership, at all levels of the system, from dynamic leaders.





The Role of The Board


1.    Set clear expectations

a.    Get clear about the greatest student learning needs – the most important content area to improve first

b.    Believe more is possible and communicate high expectations

c.    Establish a clear and narrow focus for improvement – clarify improvement goals and specific targets

d.    Focus on student learning and teaching (Improving teaching as the key strategy for improving learning)

e.    Ensure that your policy manual reflects your expectations


2.    Create conditions for success

a.    Demonstrate commitment to the improvement focus through board actions and decisions

b.    Support quality professional development

c.    Stay the course

d.    Support & connect with districtwide leadership

e.    Develop and nurture the board/superintendent team leadership

f.     Ensure all parts of the system are aligned around the learning needs of students (curriculum, instruction, assessment; goals, actions, resource allocation; etc.).

g.    Align your district policy manual to support these conditions


3.    Hold the system accountable to the expectations

a.    Use data extensively

b.    Determine what you will accept as evidence of progress/success

c.    Monitor progress regularly

d.    Apply pressure for accountability

e.    Ensure that policies articulate expectations of the board and district


4.    Build public will

a.    Create awareness of the need

b.    Create urgency around the moral purpose of improvement

c.    Instill hope that it’s possible to change

d.    Connect with the community

e.    Ensure that the board has policies related to communications and community involvement


5.    Learn together as a board team

a.    Establish board learning time

b.    Learn together

c.    Talk to each other – extensive board conversations

d.    Develop a willingness and readiness to lead and allow others to lead

e.    Build commitment to the improvement focus through shared information and discussion

f.     Establish board policies that encourage board development

g.    Engage in deliberative policy development – lead through your policies