School & District Management

Think Tank Helps Buffalo Superintendent Weigh Issues

By Karla Scoon Reid — January 15, 2003 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Marion Cañedo wanted more time to think.

The superintendent of the Buffalo, N.Y., public schools was in the middle of a sweeping reform effort last year when the district was hit with yet another multimillion-dollar budget crisis.

To keep the 44,000-student district’s strategies for improving student achievement on track, Ms. Cañedo and Donald J. Jacobs, an associate dean of the graduate school of education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, created an education think tank. The Education Innovation Consortium researches issues facing the Buffalo schools and offers proposed solutions to guide district policymakers.

“Most of the time, you have a committee here and over there reporting back ... and a thousand other things happening in a large city school district,” explained Ms. Cañedo, who has been superintendent for almost three years. “There’s a huge gap around the time you have for real thinking, brainstorming, and planning.”

The research consortium, a nonprofit group, is guided by the district’s needs. The superintendent chairs the consortium’s board.

To strengthen the district’s focus on data and research- driven reform efforts, Ms. Cañedo created a top administrative position—chief planning officer—to oversee progress and to serve as her liaison to the Education Innovation Consortium.

The group, which began work last year, is also actively involved in guiding the implementation of policies. Projects include a pilot program to delegate more decisionmaking authority to schools and the development of a district report card.

“The EIC is not just out there thinking lofty thoughts and passing them back,” David J. Lanz, the chief planning officer, said. “It’s also a group that rolls up its sleeves and gets involved directly with the work of the district.”

‘Work Tank’

Mr. Jacobs likens the consortium, which is financed by a $200,000 state grant and some private money, to a “work tank.” In addition to the superintendent, the seven-member consortium board includes Mr. Jacobs, who heads the consortium, the dean of the university’s graduate school of education, and members of the local business and philanthropic communities. With a staff of four, the consortium relies on a mix of national, state, and local experts for assistance.

That help was key for the Buffalo school system, which started an ambitious improvement effort in 2000 after receiving a detailed analysis of the district’s management and operations from the Council of the Great City Schools.

The critical report by the Washington-based organization, which represents the nation’s largest urban school systems, made more than 240 recommendations. The suggestions covered professional development, accountability, student achievement, school choice, and decentralized decision- making, among others. (“Urban Districts Turn to Their Peers for Hard-Hitting Tips,” Feb. 28, 2001.)

While the district does have researchers and committees assigned to various problems and goals, all are terribly overburdened, Ms. Cañedo said. Now, with its own “problem-solving arm,” the school system defines issues for the consortium, which in turn develops solutions to be evaluated by district staff members.

Making the consortium an independent, nonprofit organization also gives the district creative ways to problem-solve and hire consultants without “bureaucratic red tape,” Ms. Cañedo added.

The consortium’s direct link to the district will serve Buffalo schools well, said Shazia Rafiullah Miller, an associate director of the Consortium on Chicago School Research. Still, she said, there’s also value in having an objective “outside body looking in,” which is the Chicago group’s role.

The Chicago consortium, founded in 1990, is an independent federation of local organizations, scholars, and foundation representatives that conducts research on Chicago’s public schools. Ms. Miller said the group forms its own research agenda with some input from the city’s public school educators.

Mr. Jacobs explained, however, that Buffalo’s residents had lost confidence in its public schools. The city needed a more immediate and active approach to addressing the district’s needs, rather than an arm’s-length research organization, he said.

That’s not to say that the consortium agrees with the superintendent at every turn. Mr. Jacobs said that when opinions differ between the superintendent and the consortium’s other board members, they “arm-wrestle it out.”

And although Ms. Cañedo expects an intellectual challenge, in the end, he said, the superintendent always wins.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion ‘This Is Not What We Signed Up For’: A Principal’s Plea for More Support
School leaders are playing the role of health-care experts, social workers, mask enforcers, and more. It’s taking a serious toll.
Kristen St. Germain
3 min read
Illustration of a professional woman walking a tightrope.
Laura Baker/Education Week and uzenzen/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Educators Must Look to History When They Advocate for Changes
Educators and policymakers must be aware of the history of ideas when making changes in education, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Reconsidering Causes of Principal Burnout
The state and federal governments are asking us to implement policies that often go against our beliefs, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Teachers Want Their Administrators to Teach. Here's Why
Principals and other education administrators should even be required to spend time teaching in the classroom, according to teachers responding to an EdWeek query.
Hayley Hardison
4 min read
Teacher Principal 11122021 1310106400
E+/Getty