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Snapshots of School Leadership in the 21st Century: Perils and Promises of Leading for Social Justice, School Improvement, and Democratic Community

reviewed by Elda Acosta - July 19, 2013

coverTitle: Snapshots of School Leadership in the 21st Century: Perils and Promises of Leading for Social Justice, School Improvement, and Democratic Community
Author(s): Michele A. Acker-Hocevar, Julia Ballenger, A. William Place, & Gary Ivory (eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1617358983, Pages: 246, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com

The book, Snapshots of School Leadership in the 21st Century, is an extraordinary compilation of qualitative research that not only gives principals and superintendents a voice on the effects of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) reforms but effectively connects theory and practice in the educational leadership field. The primary purpose of the book was to “learn how to listen and understand the administrative voices in and around public schools” (p. 189) and their implications for student success. The next step is to address the question of how do we use the experiences and insight provided by administrators to construct possibilities for social justice, both inside and outside of schools. What is of utmost importance is that this book connects, and presents the disconnect, between three major voices central to educational reform: administrative practitioners, professor-authors, and legislative stakeholders.

Thanks to the extensive collaboration amongst a multitude of authors and participants, Snapshots of School Leadership in the 21st Century provides just that, an inside look into the myriad of challenges and leadership situations administrators’ face in the implementation aspect of NCLB. The book is divided into three parts, with the initial chapter elaborating on the research design of principal and superintendent focus groups and utilizing the House & McQuillan (1998) framework that maintains educational reform must be sustained through the technological, cultural, and political dimensions. The authors contend that NCLB has produced various unintended negative consequences because of its failure to attend to all three dimensions simultaneously. The next eight chapters group emerging themes and incorporate administrative voices within the literature review and their focus group findings. I found it very helpful that all chapters were designed with a literature review, followed by data analysis, the superintendent’s perspective, the principal’s experiences, a comparison between administrative voices, implications, and concluding with recommendations. This format allowed the authors to focus on the numerous challenges educators handle on a daily basis and allows professors and practitioners to concentrate on the respective chapters where they most need insight.

The roles and responsibilities of public school administrators are diverse, extensive, and readily available in this book. I believe the contradictions and consequences, both positive and negative, portrayed are an exact reflection of the multitude of conversations, observations, and decisions teachers and administrators make with the NCLB implementation. Superintendents proclaim that “if there’s one good thing out of NCLB, is that it forces schools to reform” (p. 18); there are shifts in responsibilities and a mindset change from central office being “the place to go for garbage bags to a place to get guidance about curriculum” (p. 81); “money matters” and students of poverty cannot be held accountable for failures that are beyond their control with an unfunded mandate; and one of the most difficult situations is the school board’s support as “they tend to react to constituencies pretty quickly” (p. 156) when individuals with limited knowledge complain. Hence, superintendents are concerned with organizational change and systemic processes while principals manage the direct implementation of NCLB with teachers and students.

Often times, as practitioners, we criticize theoretical advice as being too distant from school realities and policy-makers’ inadequate knowledge of what goes on in the classroom. One primary contradiction surged through administrative voices as NCLB negates the fundamental purpose of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires a student with learning disabilities to be at least two years behind to be classified as special needs yet NCLB commands all students and subgroups, including special needs, to be testing at grade level. The authors recommend that NCLB be more cognizant and appreciative of the complexities involved with special needs students, increase alignment between policy-makers and educators, and reconsider a simple classification of successful and unsuccessful schools.

The frequent personal quotes by principals and superintendents throughout the book further engage practicing educators as we can immediately identify with situations and challenges, relate to the comments, and incorporate the analysis and recommendations. Principals recount that “here we are giving students authentic assessment, and come March, we throw them (a), (b), (c), (d) objective tests” (p.108) that have one right answer so students must do their best; teachers are commenting that “teaching for me used to be an art and now it’s a science” (p. 109); building relationships is a prerequisite for developing and establishing school culture; and “I can’t just be a manager, I have to be an instructional leader” (p. 63). A chapter is devoted to professional development as both superintendents and principals recognize it as a crucial factor for sustainable reform. The scope of responsibility within the principalship and superintendent’s career is evident for the implementation of a federal, unfunded mandate.

It is interesting that conflicts with test administration did not surface as even state and federal accountability requirements contradict. The authors were cognizant of the sample weakness as very few large school district superintendents participated in the study and the focus group sessions could have influenced answers. The intended open-ended questions posed an impediment in ascertaining social justice values and administrators frequently quoted “what’s best for kids” but not necessarily stating exactly what that consists of. Lastly, although I recognize the massive undertaking the authors partook in with the solicitation of principal and superintendent voices, the voice of local school boards is lacking in the field. Challenges with the governance of school board members was mentioned by both sets of administrators and further research is needed on the impact local boards have on NCLB implementations and student success.

Snapshots of School Leadership in the 21st Century is an extremely valuable resource to public school educators, boards of education, educational leadership programs, and policy-makers. It gives practitioners an actual and much-needed voice in educational reform. It connects theory to practice for a variety of issues ranging from students feeling stressed and sick with the testing emphasis, inadequate financial resources, teacher professionalism, the effect of unions on processes, the roles of superintendents and principals, school and district relations, and external factors and influence. The achievement gap has not been significantly altered with NCLB implementation, although it has been instrumental in forcing schools to review their instructional practices, analyze data in-depth, and cause school reform. Coinciding with the authors’ beliefs, in order to sustain and enhance reform efforts, the disconnects among educators, professor-authors, and policy-makers must be eradicated, and there must be a focus on the development of the whole child rather than forced accountability measures based on political and technological dimensions without taking the cultural aspect into account.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 19, 2013
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17186, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 1:26:05 AM

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About the Author
  • Elda Acosta
    University of Texas, El Paso
    E-mail Author
    ELDA ACOSTA is a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership and Administration program at the University of Texas at El Paso. Her research interests focus on P-16 vertical alignment and K-12 school leadership.
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