School districts occupy a special place in the American educational system. They are the locus of accountability to both local and state government. In recent decades, this has meant that they have a responsibility to mobilize evidence to demonstrate that students are being educated (often in a cost-effective manner). As districts grow beyond a certain size, they take on certain staff functions related to curriculum and the support of teaching, so they house experts who use evidence about student achievement to make decisions. Finally, their staff roles often extend to collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and distributing data, especially student assessment or testing data.
The study examines the content of instruction at a stratified sample of the nation’s principal-preparation programs. The findings suggest that these programs pay limited attention to considerations of accountability, aggressive personnel management, or the broader body of thinking on leadership.
The institutional landscape of K–12 educational contracting is fundamentally changing. Based on industry and district data, this study identifies three distinct shifts in the content and structure of interactions between suppliers of instructional goods and local school systems.
Through a grounded theory analysis and comparison with relevant adult learning and leadership development theories, this article argues that structured advanced leadership development experiences could improve superintendents’ leadership development and transition.
To be proactive and to broaden our leadership agenda, we must
recognize that the first and foremost mission of the public schools is
their civic mission. In these times of making education the foremost
instrument of the global economy while making public schools the
scapegoat for society’s lack of will to tackle the messy issues of race and
class, that mission has gotten lost. What would it take to recapture the
deepest reasons we have public schools? What would it take to confront
the issues of how we keep children whole and how we address the needs
of the whole child in an era in which children are being sliced and diced
into categories on standardized tests? What is the role of local districts,
of local control, when state and federal bureaucracies are making the
decisions and calling the dance? What are the implications of all this
for education and for democracy?
We, the editors of this volume, are both long-time superintendents
of schools who have lived and enacted the role in recent years. Phil
Townsend is a fictional character, but his story is typical of what we
have heard from far too many of our colleagues across the country. We
empathize with those like Phil and agree that what it means to be the
leader of a local school system has changed dramatically and continues
to change in response to the changing times and contexts.
We intend this volume to provide hope that despite the daunting
challenges educational leaders like Phil face today, they have more to
look forward to than retirement.
One of the findings that we found fascinating was the variety of sources of energy and the courage that kept our authors going when confronted with obstacles that might be insurmountable to many. As you read Beverly Hall’s story, you will feel the passion that she brings to her superintendency, passion that is fueled by her beliefs—belief in poor children’s ability to learn at high levels and belief in her staff that they can make it happen.
In one of our conversations with Allan Alson, he shared his belief that superintendents need to be politicians before they can be educators. His story illustrates that political and educational leadership are inextricably linked, as he describes his 14-year focus on and commitment to narrowing the achievement gap while working tirelessly with his different constituents to bring them into the process.
Hearing from our different authors clarified for us that leadership styles are a combination of tacit beliefs, experience, and personal qualities as much as conscious decisions about approaches to work, and are as varied as people are. What emerges as a common factor contributing to success is authenticity—consistency of words with actions—that enables the development of trusting relationships. Larry Leverett tells his story of one leader with one leadership style who moves between two different school districts with very different cultures.
Superintendents often mourn the “good old days” when they were educators and did not need to worry about the managerial and political aspects of their districts. Linda Hanson shows how effective a superintendent can be in the role of educator as she and her reading staff help their school board understand the implications of a mandatory graduation test.
Most of us at some point in our career have to face the fact that we cannot control everything that happens in our district. As we mentioned in our introduction, we learn that even logical plans implemented skillfully can meet unexpected, uncontrollable obstacles. This can have serious consequences, from the lack of achievement for students to the loss of our jobs. Our anonymous contributor shares his courageous story of holding fast to what is best for children in the face of adversity, and ultimately having to make the decision whether to fight for his job or not. NSSE has never published an anonymous contribution before, but we agreed that “Juan’s” story was too valuable not to share.
We found the enactment of democratic ideals to be a common theme throughout all of our authors’ stories as they describe their work to transform their districts. Becky van der Bogert shares her joys, struggles, and lessons learned that surround a deep commitment to trying to model democratic ideals in her leadership style.
When superintendents gather in private conversations, it is likely the question “What’s your board like?” will be raised. Becky Hurley speaks eloquently from a board member’s perspective about the steep learning curve that she experienced and how she developed a productive working relationship with her superintendent and with other board members.
Most of us started our superintendency committed to keeping our eye on the higher purposes of education, vowing not to get bogged down in the managerial details. John Wiens shares his quest for an intellectual understanding of the role, a meaningful theory of leadership, and the creation of an environment that helped others pursue similar quests.
Being a superintendent is much like the new technology you purchase—the
manual is difficult to read and understand, the help line is
difficult to reach, and the consultation charge to learn from experts is
costly. It is a job that requires enormous flexibility, attention to multiple
perspectives, and an internal set of checks and balances to withstand the
pressures of external demands from a public that has, in many ways,
been distracted from the real purpose of a public education system.
In this book, school district leaders do an honest and credible job
of describing their struggles with external forces and the surprises,
disappointments, and puzzlements that naturally accompany those
struggles. In some stories, we also see an internal focus, leaders stepping
back to question “the entity”—the mind that engages the world—in an
effort to gain a clearer picture of their own behavior, its consequences,
and its antecedents. In other stories, however, leaders speak as if they
share an unspoken assumption that the superintendent mind is an entity,
stable and nonchanging, at once wise and considerate, if sometimes
frustrated and perplexed. These superintendents reveal little of their
In this chapter, we first look at the history of administrative evaluation and instructional supervision within education. Then we review the current context of teacher accountability and the present uses of administrative evaluation and instructional supervision in efforts to improve teacher quality. Finally, to restore a balance between administrative evaluation and instructional supervision that will better ensure teacher quality, we recommend empowering the teaching profession by 1) actively including teachers’ unions as partners in systemic efforts to ensure teacher quality; 2) more fully embracing and expanding a graduate-level medical model of preparation to develop a generation of teachers who are highly qualified in both academic knowledge and pedagogical skill; and 3) adopting national “opportunity to teach” standards to uniformly improve teaching conditions in all schools so that highly qualified teachers remain in the profession.
One of the prominent ways in which educational leaders shape school conditions and teaching practices is through their beliefs and actions regarding teacher learning. Of course, leaders must still attend to myriad important matters, such as selection, assignment, and retention of teachers; utilization of financial and other material resources; and cultivation of school-level leadership and school-family-community relations. But the shift to a greater emphasis on the instructional role of leaders should be paramount. In this chapter, I will address school- and district-level leadership for teacher workforce development through improving teacher learning and capacity.
This article examines the centrist leader perspective of the ISLLC standards and argues that the centrist view undermines the potential for collaborative leadership in schools.
Drawing on an interpretive study of classroom authority relations in a U.S. metropolitan high school, this article describes and analyzes the character of these relations, and their connection to social theory and educational ideologies.
The article examines how zero tolerance policy is enacted in schools, and how the policy is supported by developments in technology, crime and prison policy, and social science theories of delinquency. The reseach is based on qualitative research and policy analysis, and has an interdisciplinary focus that would be of interest to educators, policymakers, and school administrators.
Major cities in the United States, unhappy with persistent achievement
gaps between students of different races and socioeconomic
backgrounds, now search for highly effective medicine men who will
upgrade urban school productivity. These efforts stand in stark contrast
to the first two hundred years of the Republic, when villages
relied on local ministers, elders, or farmers with extra time in the winter
to visit the schools, many of which operated for only a few months
of the year.
This commentary argues that we must understand and respond to the emotional issues posed for students by violent school environments so that all students can begin to prepare for the academic challenges envisioned by the No Child Left Behind Act.
Study examines the relationship between pedagogy and classroom control in traditional and progressivist teaching practices. Based on study of current Israeli school reform program, I argue that this relationship has been inadequately addressed, both in theory and in practice.
This case study describes how one urban elementary school in a high-reform district and state has been able to develop strong connections with community businesses and organizations as part of its program of school, family, and community partnerships. The case study identifies four factors that allowed the school to build successful bridges to its community. These factors are: a) the school's commitment to learning; b) the principal's support and vision for community involvement; c) the school's receptivity and openness to community involvement; and d) the school's willingness to engage in two-way communication with potential community partners about their level and kind of involvement.
Through a narrative, participatory research process the voices and experiences of three bilingual high school students are presented and interpreted through a critical pedagogical lens.
Buffeted during the past 20 years by successive waves of educational
reform, educational administration is more aware today than at
any time in the field’s history of the complexities and challenges of
public education, and of the importance of effective educational leadership
to the enduring good health of that institution (Murphy & Louis,
This chapter seeks to map the contextual terrain facing contemporary educational leaders, noting six key interrelated features of the ever-shifting landscape: the political, the economic, the financial, the accountability, the demographic,
and the staffing terrain.
This chapter consists of two main sections. The first section
reviews what we know about the challenges facing leaders in highly
accountable contexts and the nature of productive responses on their part. This review encompasses both theoretical and empirical literatures,
and most of it is specifically focused on school-level leadership.
While little evidence has been reported about district-level leadership
in accountability-oriented contexts, such leadership appears to be central
to success. The second main section of the chapter reports a case
study of an exemplary district’s efforts to make the most of large-scale
reform initiated in the state of Illinois.
I begin by reviewing the methods traditionally used to define the profession and
its work. I suggest that these methods will not prove successful in
reculturing school leadership and argue for an alternative method to
locate an appropriate portal to the future. In so doing, I retrace the
steps that led to a new perspective, one that is based on the powerful
unifying concepts of social justice, democratic community, and school
improvement. Second, using this alternative way of framing the profession, I present
one framework for recasting the concept of leadership.