The reincarnation of the effective schools research: rethinking the literature on district effectiveness

Tina Trujillo (Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California, USA)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Publication date: 28 June 2013



The purpose of this paper is to analyze the district effectiveness literature. It begins by summarizing the school effectiveness research, the correlates of effective schools, and the conceptual and methodological characteristics of this field. It then describes the findings from a review of 50 studies of district effectiveness, the most frequently identified correlates of effective districts, and the conceptual and methodological features of this research. From there, it compares and contrasts the two fields, paying attention to the ways in which they frame notions of success, purposes of education, the contextualized nature of school performance, and theoretical explanations for student success.


Data sources for this literature review included 50 primary documents on district effectiveness. The studies were bound to those that presented the original results from investigations of the relationship between district‐level policies, routines, behaviors, or other characteristics and classroom‐level outcomes.


Several themes run through the literature on district effectiveness. These include findings that standards‐aligned curricula, coherent organizational structures, strong instructional leadership, frequent monitoring and evaluation, and focused professional learning lead to higher test scores. Most of these investigations are framed from technical perspectives that explore the relationship between organizational regulations and improved test performance. Less common are inquiries about the socio‐political and normative forces that shape districts’ improvement experiences. One consequence of this technical focus is that the field of district effectiveness has come to share several of the conceptual and methodological properties that characterized the former school‐level research.

Research limitations/implications

The article concludes by discussing the implications for the growing volume of district‐level research on educational leadership, district improvement, and educational equity.


This article details the ways in which a sharp focus on questions of what works in the district effectiveness literature has deepened researchers’ and practitioners’ knowledge of the specific mechanisms that may produce more desirable results in test performance, yet these questions alone, decoupled from corresponding inquiries about the complex, highly contextualized character of higher or lower scoring districts, leave researchers and practitioners vulnerable to the same scholarly and practical pitfalls of their predecessors.



Trujillo, T. (2013), "The reincarnation of the effective schools research: rethinking the literature on district effectiveness", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 51 No. 4, pp. 426-452.

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