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How School Systems Manage Teaching and Learning

BOULDER, CO (September 27, 2018) – Federal policies, state policies, and philanthropic initiatives all force school district redesign in hopes of improving outcomes and closing gaps in students’ educational experiences. Over the years, these reforms have dramatically altered how districts organize and manage instruction and shape school days and school years.

A brief released today by the National Education Policy Center draws on a comprehensive review of research on district redesign to construct a new typology for understanding the ways that public school districts are organizing and managing instruction. The brief suggests how states can support positive district change and examines the leverage points for families and communities to engage each type of school district.

Donald J. Peurach of the University of Michigan and Maxwell Yurkofsky of Harvard University authored the brief, titled Organizing and Managing Instruction in US Public School Districts: Considerations for Families, Communities, and States.

As the brief explains, families and communities work individually and together to influence their students’ educational experiences. This includes everything from supporting individual students in completing homework, to organizing collectively to expand access to rich learning opportunities to all children in a district. Yet as the education reform landscape gets more and more complex, organized family and community groups face a challenge in figuring out how to exercise collective voice.

This brief assists in that effort by describing and clarifying the different ways that districts are reforming instructional organization and management. This understanding can help family and community organizations strategically direct their efforts. The brief describes each system and its primary points of leverage in asserting influence.

Peurach and Yurkofsky conclude with four recommendations for states committed to sustaining new patterns of instructional organization and management while also expanding the influence of family and community organizations: 

  • Sustain the state-level press to improve instruction, its organization, and its management, to make progress in improving outcomes and closing gaps and to prevent a regression to the harmful effects of past systems.
  • Support districts in understanding where and how family and community organizations can contribute to efforts to organize and manage instruction in new ways.
  • Support families and communities in engaging district reform efforts by providing guidance and resources for organizing themselves, for analyzing efforts in districts to organize and manage instruction in new ways, and for asserting influence.
  • Carefully study the evolution of instructional organization and management with the goal of understanding (a) shifts toward the four types of education systems identified in this analysis, (b) the emergence of different types of systems not yet evident in the literature, and (c) the strengths and weaknesses of each in specific district and school contexts.

Find Organizing and Managing Instruction in US Public School Districts: Considerations for Families, Communities, and States, by Donald J. Peurach and Maxwell Yurkofsky, at:

This policy brief was made possible in part by funding from the Education Justice Network and the Spencer Systems Study at Northwestern University and University of Michigan. 

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: