Faculty, Research & Resources

 Coherence Framework



Achieving Coherence in District Improvement: Managing the Relationship Between the Central Office and Schools

Susan Moore Johnson, Geoff Marietta, Monica C. Higgins, Karen L. Mapp, and Allen Grossman, 2015

Achieving Coherence in District Improvement focuses on a problem of practice faced by educational leaders across the nation: how to effectively manage the relationship between the central office and schools. The book is based on a study of five large urban districts that have demonstrated improvement in student achievement. The authors—all members of Harvard University’s Public Education Leadership Project (PELP)—argue that there is no “one best way” to structure the central office-school relationship. Instead, they say, what matters is whether district leaders effectively select and implement their strategy by achieving coherence among key elements and actors—the district’s environment, resources, systems, structures, stakeholders, and culture.

Managing School Districts for High Performance: Cases in Public Education Leadership

Edited by Stacey Childress, Richard F. Elmore, Allen Grossman, and Susan Moore Johnson, November 2007

Managing School Districts for High Performance brings together more than twenty case studies and other readings that offer a powerful and transformative approach to advancing and sustaining the work of school improvement. At the center of this work is the concept of organizational coherence: aligning organizational design, human capital management, resource allocation, and accountability and performance improvement systems to support an overarching strategy. This central idea provides a valuable conceptual framework for current and future school leaders.

Leading for Equity
Stacey M. Childress, Denis P. Doyle, and David A. Thomas, July 2009

Leading for Equity tells the compelling story of the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools and its transformation—in less than a decade—into a system committed to breaking the links between race and class and academic achievement.
In chapters organized around six core themes, the authors lay out the essential elements of MCPS’s success. They identify key lessons other districts can draw from MCPS’s experience and offer a framework for applying them. A dramatic departure from “business as usual,” MCPS has won nationwide attention as a compelling model for tackling the achievement and opportunity issues that confront our nation as a whole.

Education Reform in New York City, Ambitious Change in the Nation's Most Complex School System
Edited by Jennifer A. O’Day, Catherine S. Bitter, and Louis M. Gomez, April 2011

Chapter 4: Managing for Results at the New York City Department of Education
Stacey Childress, Monica Higgins, Ann Ishimaru, and Sola Takahashi

The education reforms in New York City’s public schools begun under the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and School Chancellor Joel Klein have been among the most ambitious of any large urban system in the country. Aimed at instituting evidence-based practices to produce higher and more equitable outcomes for all students, the policies that comprise the Children First initiative represent an attempt at organizational improvement and systemic learning that is unparalleled in U.S. public education. The tremendous scope of the reforms, the multiple and interrelated challenges involved in their implementation, and their undeniable impact all underscore their importance in providing lessons for the field and in framing the conversation about the next level of work in district-based reform.

Faculty & Research Team

With the support of Deans Nitin Nohria (HBS) and James E. Ryan (HGSE), faculty members research and study management challenges in urban public schools. PELP's faculty and research team includes:


John J-H Kim (Co-Chair)
Senior Lecturer of Business Administration and William Henry Bloomberg Fellow
Harvard Business School

Andres Alonso (Co-Chair)
Professor of Practice
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Karen Mapp 
Senior Lecturer on Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Monica Higgins 
Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Michael L. Tushman
Paul R. Lawrence MBA Class of 1942 Professor of Business Administration
Chair, Program for Leadership Development
Harvard Business School

Consulting Faculty

Allen Grossman
Senior Fellow, MBA Class of 1957 Professor of Management Practice, Retired
Harvard Business School

Susan Moore Johnson 
Jerome T. Murphy Research Professor in Education
Harvard Graduate School of Education

Senior Project Manager

Matt Tallon
Public Education Leadership Project


Currently, the PELP project is partnered with Ed.L.D. doctoral students but no full-time research assistants.

PELP Cases


The Case Library

Notes on Frameworks and Strategy

Teaching Notes (available upon request)

  • PEL-072: Career Pathways, Performance Pay, and Peer-Review Promotion in Baltimore City Public Schools
  • PEL-069: Central Falls High School
  • PEL-065: Baltimore City Public Schools: Implementing Bounded Autonomy
  • PEL-060: Learning to Manage with Data in Duval County Public Schools: Using the Case in an Education Entrepreneurship Course
  • PEL-059: Taking Human Resources Seriously in Minneapolis
  • PEL-058: Memphis City Schools: The Next Generation of Principals
  • PEL-057: Focusing on Results at the New York City Department of Education
  • PEL-052: Southwest Airlines: Using Human Resources for Competitive Advantage (A) - Using the Case with Education Administrators
  • PEL-049: Bristol City Schools
  • PEL-048: Using Data to Improve Instruction at the Mason School
  • PEL-046: Race, Accountability, and the Achievement Gap (A) and (B)
  • PEL-042: Managing at Scale in the Long Beach Unified School District
  • PEL-040: The STAR Schools Initiative at the San Francisco Unified School District
  • PEL-036: Meeting New Challenges at the Aldine Independent School District
  • PEL-035: Reinventing Human Resources at the School District of Philadelphia
  • PEL-034: Managing the Chicago Public Schools
  • PEL-032: New Leadership at Portland Public Schools
  • PEL-031: Staffing the Boston Public Schools
  • PEL-023: Long Beach Unified School District (B): Working to Sustain Improvement (2002-2004)
  • PEL-022: The Campaign for Human Capital at the School District of Philadelphia
  • PEL-021: Learning to Manage with Data in Duval County Public Schools: Lake Shore Middle School (A) and (B) Series
  • PEL-020: Long Beach Unified School District (A): Change That Leads to Improvement (1992-2002)
  • PEL-019: Pursuing Educational Equity at San Francisco Unified School District
  • PEL-018: Aligning Resources to Improve Student Achievement: San Diego City Schools Case Series
  • PEL-017: Compensation Reform at Denver Public Schools
  • PEL-016: Bristol City Schools

PELP Video Library