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"Gone are the days of cage dwelling" was the resounding consensus at an AEI event on Tuesday, where education icons joined AEI's own Rick Hess for the launch of his book "Cage-Busting Leadership." As Hess explained, American school leaders can often feel caged by rules, regulations, statutes, and contracts. Though the American K–12 education system has done a poor job of equipping leaders to overcome these challenges, squeeze the most value out of scarce funds, or make the fullest use of 21st-century resources, panelists demonstrated how much education stakeholders can accomplish by breaking from convention.
Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst urged school and system leaders to surround themselves with people who think like they do. Moreover, she emphasized the importance of a general counsel who is more interested in doing what is best for students than in "playing it safe in the cage." Adrian Manuel of Kingston High School then urged leaders to empower teachers. In his own school, Manuel implemented a school-wide competitive grant program for his teachers, who proposed new ways to invest dollars. Deborah Gist of the Rhode Island Department of Education stressed the importance of finding state leaders with an entrepreneurial spirit, creating the right policy conditions that allow for their autonomy, and supporting the leaders when the heat is on. Only then, Gist concluded, can leaders, teachers, reformers, and policymakers successfully bust out of the K–12 education cage.
Many of today’s education reform debates revolve around what leaders cannot do because of the rules, regulations, statutes, and contracts that inhibit their ability to improve schools and systems. AEI’s Rick Hess agrees: these constraints make it hard for education leaders to lead, trapping them in a “cage.”
But Hess sees a way out. “Leaders have far more freedom to transform, reimagine, and invigorate teaching, learning, and schooling than is widely believed,” he says in his new book “Cage-Busting Leadership” (Harvard Education Press, 2013). Rife with stories of cage dwellers and cage busters, “Cage-Busting Leadership” aims to help current and aspiring leaders understand what the cage looks like, how to bust out of it, and how to help cultivate and sustain powerful cultures of teaching and learning that are equal to their ambitions. Join us for an all-star lineup to discuss the frustrations and the successes of real cage busters.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page. Full video will be posted within 24 hours.