School and
District Capacity

The School and District Capacity domain explores how district leaders are improving their systems’ readiness to implement the California State Standards. Here, we share what district leaders are saying about the support they seek in order to achieve successful implementation of the standards—the coaching, training, and other capacity-building activities intended to shift school and district practice.

The findings on this page

The majority of districts relied on internal expertise to support standards implementation. Most often, they turned to teachers employed in coaching roles and current classroom teachers to lead these efforts.

Sources of Support for Standards Implementation

The district leaders we spoke to were most likely to report that school and district personnel were the primary source of support related to standards implementation…

Who primarily supports your standards implementation?

…and they often leaned on teachers to provide support—those with current teaching duties as well as those who have been elevated to peer coaching roles.

When using internal support, who is responsible for providing it?

Key Takeaways

  • Instructional coaches (ICs), including teachers on special assignment (TOSAs)—broadly defined as educators whose primary responsibility is to work with teacher peers to improve their practice—are used by nearly every district to support implementation of the standards.
  • Current classroom teachers, including teacher leaders and teacher mentors, are used by the vast majority of districts as well—implying that educators, not current administrators, are most likely to be tapped to assist with standards implementation.
  • By comparison, district core staff, which includes curriculum and instruction teams and other professionals in administration, are used by less than half of districts.

“Our goal is to build enough internal capacity so as to not rely on vendors for program training beyond the initial implementation.”
–District Leader

“Teacher leaders [and] resource teachers in the core areas: English, math, science, and social science. Those resource teachers assist in this process as well; that’s part of their job description, to work on their curriculum and lead their cohorts.”
–District Leader

“We have an assistant superintendent of educational services…he’s got district supported TOSAs [teachers on special assignment] and [a] director of student programs and staff development. That’s [our] district coverage; our principals take an active role in the staff development through their school site and staff meetings.”
–District Leader

In their efforts to build capacity, districts most frequently cited a focus on developing new instructional practices over other types of training and coaching.

Focuses of Implementation Support

What is the focus of your standards implementation support?

New Instructional Practices

“Our initial efforts really did focus on instructional shifts for language arts and mathematics. In those instructional shifts for language arts, for example, we’ve been training around text complexity, close reading, range of reading [such as] informational and literary non-fiction text, [and] argumentation.”
–District Leader

Administrator Coaching

“[We have an] external consultant building leadership capacity in ELA discourse and math with principals and ICs. The challenge is developing the capacity of each school in a large district [while] maintaining [the] autonomy of schools.”
–District Leader

Instructional Units Development

“We used the ELA standards to develop these units of study and our teachers created interdisciplinary themes where we interwove that into all of the integrated practices.”
–District Leader

Teacher Training (Group Training, Webinars, Workshops, etc.)

“I think it builds good morale to have basically your own people presenting and working with each other on some of these techniques and strategies.”
–District Leader

Tool & Resource Development

“We did use some open-source materials, and of course we used the content experts from our county to help with the sequencing and the alignment for those curriculum maps we were developing.”
–District Leader

When it came to building the capacity of school leaders, districts reported a mix of approaches including the use of cohort-based learning communities, induction programs, and externally-provided coaching.

Support for School Leaders

What are you doing to build capacity for school leaders to support the instructional shifts necessary for successful standards implementation?

Key Takeaways

  • While some districts reported promoting opportunities for principals to learn together in the form of cohort meetings and induction programs, almost none identified benchmarking against other districts as a practice for building capacity.
  • Professional Learning Communities was the joint-most common response alongside “Principal cohort meetings.” Three district leaders explicitly said they were not doing anything to build capacity for school leaders.

What district leaders had to say about supporting school leaders:


“Unfortunately, my Board is not really supportive of that. They don’t see the value in me going to the trainings to lead the staff members.”
–District Leader

Principal Cohort Meetings

“Through our principal leadership academy, which is our principal monthly meeting, there is a component on principals’ professional learning around the standards, strategies, [and] implementation.”
–District Leader

Shadowing/Learning Alongside Teachers

“All of our administrators are in classrooms on a regular basis. That’s one of the things that we do well.”
–District Leader

The challenge of shifting teacher preparation and practice was the most frequently cited barrier to achieving successful implementation of the standards.

Barriers to Building Capacity

What are the key barriers standing in your way right now?

Key Takeaways

  • Though most districts report being in at least their third year of implementing the standards, leaders continue to report multiple barriers to capacity building.
  • Some barriers —such as funding and teacher/substitute shortage—reflect structural limitations in the ways that districts are able to respond to implementation needs.
  • Beyond commonly-cited barriers related to funding, time, and teacher shortages, 19 of 40 responding districts cited the lack of English learner (EL) resources and PD as a key barrier.
  • However, some barriers—such as “Shifting Teacher Preparation & Practice”—may be within the district’s power to address, if leaders are equipped with a strong understanding of the professional development and support needs of their teachers and school leaders.

What district leaders had to say about barriers to building capacity:

Shifting Teacher Preparation & Practice

“Trying to change [teachers’] instructional strategy, and their classrooms in general, is a huge undertaking. The vision is all of them having that interactive classroom. That’s the vision.”
–District Leader

Teacher & Substitute Shortage

“The huge challenge at the moment is teacher shortage. It’s huge. We can’t get enough teachers just to fill positions at the moment… We can’t even find enough math teachers.”
–District Leader

EL Resources & PD

“ELD [English language development] is a huge piece for us this year and going into the next many years I’m sure. That’s a place where we have been lacking in understanding of the standards. [Initially] we had to focus on ELA, but [since] the [ELD] framework came out… we’ve [been] trying to build in a use of the framework and getting people to access it. Building in the ELD supports is where we are right now as a priority.”
–District Leader

Want to know more about how districts and schools are building their capacity to implement the California standards? Visit the following publications and resources from the Center and its partners on the topic of School and District Capacity:

WestEd Knowledge Brief: California Standards Implementation: What Educators Are Saying

CenterView: Forging Partnerships – A Model for Teacher Leadership Development

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