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Connecticut Association of Boards of Education

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The Connecticut Lighthouse project is a joint effort of the Connecticut State Department of Education and the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education. The foundation of the program was developed by the Iowa School Boards Association and is based on several years of extensive research to determine what constitutes effective practice by boards of education.

Original Lighthouse Study 1998-2000

The project

The original project started in 1998 when a team from the Iowa School Boards Association, with funding by the Iowa School Boards Foundation and a federal grant developed a research project to see how school boards affected student achievement. The focus of the study was to determine:

  • Do school boards really make a difference in student achievement?
  • Are they too far removed from classroom action to impact how well all students learn?

The group analyzed student achievement data for all Georgia school districts to see whether or not a correlation could be made between the work of boards of education and improved student achievement. They analyzed districts with high achievement and similar districts with low achievement. These districts were similar in socio-economic status, district size and type of district.

This research project became one of the first and only studies that made a credible research –based connection between the work of the school board and levels of student achievement. It has been referenced countless times as people try to identify the characteristics of good board leadership.


The results show that school boards in districts with high student achievement:

  • Consistently expressed the belief that all students can learn and that the school could teach all students. This "no excuses" belief system resulted in high standards for students and an on-going dedication to improvement. In low-achieving districts, board members had limited expectations and often focused on factors that they believed kept students from learning, such as poverty, lack of parental support or societal factors.
  • Were far more knowledgeable about teaching and learning issues, including school improvement goals, curriculum, instruction, assessment and staff development. They were able to clearly describe the purposes and processes of school improvement efforts and identify the board's role in supporting those efforts. They could give specific examples of how district goals were being carried out by administrators and teachers.
  • Used data and other information on student needs and results to make decisions. The high-achieving boards regularly monitored progress on improvement efforts and modified direction as a result.
  • Created a supportive workplace for staff. Boards in high-achieving districts supported regular staff development to help teachers be more effective, supported shared leadership and decision making among staff, and regularly expressed appreciation for staff members.
  • Involved their communities. Board members identified how they connect with and listen to their communities and focused on involving parents in education.

Lighthouse Project II 2000-2007

The goal of phase 2 was to determine ways in which boards influence conditions for success in improving student achievement district wide. They chose five pilot districts in Iowa to do follow-up research.

The findings supported the original concepts and helped identify criteria by which boards could be measured regarding their influence on improving learning in a district. The work with the pilot districts helped reinforce the notion that boards of education can positively impact student achievement when the condition are met, but that boards can also negatively impact learning when they do not.

A couple of sample results show districts where boards worked within the Lighthouse framework showed improved student achievement.

A decision was made to develop a training program that would help boards reach this higher level of effectiveness.

Lighthouse Multi-State Project III

The next phase was the development and implementation of tools to help boards achieve the indicators that make districts successful. The consortium identified conditions that are supported by research, which are necessary to bring a district to a higher level. Those conditions are:

  • Connections across the system
  • Knowing what it takes to change achievement
  • Workplace support
  • Professional development
  • Data & information to support school sites
  • Community connection
  • Distributed leadership

The belief structure of the board and the district also have a significant effect on student achievement. In fact the evidence was dramatic just how much attitudes and beliefs drove success in school districts. In systems where the expectations were low, the results were correspondingly low.

The team started a five-year study of best practices of board-superintendent teams for improving student learning. The states involved were: California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Oregon, Wisconsin, and NSBA. The consortium then started developing tools and workshops to build a district’s capacity to reach these higher-level conditions.

Starting in January of 2009, Connecticut joined Alabama, Washington, Oregon, Iowa, Idaho and Wisconsin as the second cohort of states implementing and assessing Lighthouse training.

The findings of the research showed that school boards in districts with a history of higher student achievement were significantly different in knowledge, beliefs and actions from boards in lower achieving districts.

The training boards receive was developed by a this multi-state consortium and builds upon the findings of the Iowa Lighthouse research and identifies the ways in which local school boards influence the conditions for success that are necessary to improve student achievement. The training is designed to facilitate the board’s learning the role that only the board can play in promoting high achievement for all students within the district. In the study, it was found that building a strong working relationship between the board and its superintendent is integral to the success of the district. Boards and superintendents must rely upon positive trusting relationships to enable them to play effective, interdependent leadership roles, to examine and challenge each others' views, to study data and confront existing realities, to ask probing questions, and to scrutinize each other’s performance in ways that strengthens and mobilizes the entire leadership team. During the training, the scope of these issues are developed and incorporated into the work of the board through hands on group activities and discussion.

While each state has stayed true to the research base supporting the work, states have gone about the training in a variety of ways. Opportunities for these states to share ideas and results have made the entire program stronger.

CABE’s participation in the Lighthouse project is underwritten by the Connecticut State Department of Education and there is no cost for Connecticut Boards of Education to participate in the training. We do require that the majority of the board of education and the superintendent commit to the training. Senior Connecticut Lighthouse trainers received their training through the Iowa Association of Boards of Education and have participated in the multi-state development program. The SDE grant included funds to help Connecticut Lighthouse continue to develop new materials consistent with Lighthouse research.

The training generally consists of two or three-hour sessions (typically once a month). The foundational learning can usually be accomplished over the period of a year with some training embedded within regular Board of Education meetings after year one.

Prior to beginning the training, all members of the board, all administrators, and all teachers participate in an on-line survey that provides a baseline as to where the beliefs and conditions for success are perceived to be prior to the training. We repeat the survey in subsequent years to measure growth in these areas and match that growth with anticipated improved student achievement.

The training is set up by modules, including:

Module 1. Preparing for Lighthouse training

  1. Developing a sense of urgency
  2. What’s at stake?
  3. What’s possible?

Module 2. The research

  1. The Lighthouse research
  2. The seven conditions for success.
  3. The 5 roles of the board in improving student achievement.

Module 3. Using data to lead the district

Module 4. The change process

Module 5. The Lighthouse survey data

Module 6. Community Leadership

Module 7. Deliberative policy development

Other sessions as needed.

If you are interested in participating in Lighthouse training, please contact Nick Caruso, Senior Staff Associate for Field Service and Coordinator of Technology (