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Leading Schools of Excellence and Equity: Documenting Effective Strategies in Closing Achievement Gaps


by Kathleen M. Brown, Jen Benkovitz, A. J. Muttillo & Thad Urban — 2011

Background/Context: In the Fall 2006 issue of AERJ, Hoy, Tarter, and Woolfolk Hoy identified the new construct of academic optimism as a general latent concept related to student achievement even after controlling for SES, previous performance, and other demographic variables. Through structural equation modeling, they found that the collective properties of academic emphasis, collective efficacy, and faculty trust work together in a unified fashion to create positive academic environments. To build a comprehensive theory of academic optimism, Hoy and his colleagues recommended more research in a variety of school settings and more qualitative research to explore roles, experiences, expectations, conditions, and differences of academic optimism in schools.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this empirical inquiry of state-recognized “Honor Schools of Excellence” was to explore how these schools of distinction are (or are not) promoting and supporting both academic excellence and systemic equity for all students.

Research Design: In Phase One, quantitative data were collected through equity audits to scan for and then document systemic patterns of equity and inequity across multiple domains of student learning and activities within 24 schools. In Phase Two, the 24 schools were ranked, based solely on minority achievement, and then separated into two types of schools, small gap (SG) schools and large gap (LG) schools. Through site visits (n = 16) and the use of semi-structured interviews with principals, assistant principals, teachers, and parent leaders (n = 80), qualitative data were then collected to document best practices and effective strategies that principals use to confront and change past practices anchored in open and residual racism and class discrimination. The data were analyzed through the theoretical framework of academic optimism.

Findings/Results: Three differences between the SG schools and the LG schools were found: encouraging academic achievement, offering instructional feedback, and expecting excellence.

Conclusions/Recommendations: To truly honor excellence, we need to embrace equity. As such, the outcomes of interest are better in schools where principals support, model, and monitor a teamwork approach, a balanced approach, a strong sense of purpose, and an insistent disposition to assure that all students are served well and that all are encouraged to perform at their highest level.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 1, 2011, p. 57-96
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15988, Date Accessed: 12/15/2017 6:47:21 PM

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About the Author
  • Kathleen Brown
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    E-mail Author
    KATHLEEN M. BROWN is Professor and Chair of Educational Leadership at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As a scholar-practitioner with 15 years of teaching and administrative experience, her research interests include effective, site-based servant leadership that connects theory, practice, and issues of social justice in breaking down walls and building a unified profession of culturally aware educators working toward equitable schooling for all. She approaches education from an ethic of social care and works toward changing the metaphor of schools from hierarchical bureaucracies to nurturing communities. Her most recent publications appear in Educational Administration Quarterly, Journal of Educational Administration, Journal of School Leadership, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Educational Researcher, and Equity & Excellence in Education. Her most recent book, Preparing Future Leaders for Social Justice, Equity, and Excellence, was published as part of the Christopher-Gordon School Leadership Series.
  • Jen Benkovitz
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    JEN BENKOVITZ graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she completed her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. Her research interests include the principal’s role in leading high-performing schools that ensure equity for all students regardless of race, gender, or disability. With 12 years of experience in elementary education, all in schools that serve a Title I population, she has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. She is currently an elementary school principal in North Carolina and continues to advocate for inclusionary and responsive school practices that result in equity for all students.
  • A. J. Muttillo
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    A. J. MUTTILLO is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he completed his doctoral degree in Educational Leadership. He researched the principal’s role in leading high-performing schools that are equitable for all students. As a practitioner with 11 years of experience in middle and high school education, he has served as a teacher, assistant principal, and principal. He is currently a middle school principal in North Carolina.
  • Thad Urban
    University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
    THAD URBAN is currently a school administrator in northwestern Pennsylvania. He was awarded his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His dissertation, entitled Closing Achievement Gaps through Faculty Trust, examines how current principals are creating successful schools for all children. Dr. Urban is currently researching and writing in an effort to assist school leaders with their quest to achieve excellence and equity for all students within their schools.
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