Ethical Leadership in Schools: Creating Community in an Environment of Accountability
reviewed by Harvey B. Alvy - March 20, 2007
Title: Ethical Leadership in Schools: Creating Community in an Environment of Accountability
Author(s): Kenneth A. Strike
Publisher: Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks
ISBN: 1412913500 , Pages: 176, Year: 2006
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Ethical leadership is an important and popular theme in todays school administration literature. Kenneth A. Strike, in Ethical Leadership in Schools, provides a seasoned voice to this topic by challenging school leaders to recognize that ethical leadership is more than resolving issues of right and wrong, it is the art of creating good school communities (p. 3). Strike addresses community by linking classical philosophical and ethical issues (e.g., the examined life, utilitarianism, universal rules) with current school realities (e.g., fair allocation of resources, testing accountability, creating a professional community). This approach aligns with John Deweys belief that schools must link theory and practice by mirroring the good society through democratic principles (Dewey, 1916).
Strikes seven chapters are easy to follow. Often, he begins chapters with a prologue, a realistic scenario, and a sequential introduction of coming topics (e.g., I argue three essential points p. 63). Strike expects much from school leadersboth administrators and teachers. For example, in chapter 2 he describes a comprehensive leadership vision for student success that includes promoting human capital and skill development along with community and personal growth objectives that foster good citizenship and the examined life. One should not assume from this broad vision that Strike is out of touch with todays culture of accountability. On the contrary, he welcomes assessment but maintains that success is multi-dimensional, If your school is to be a good school, you must view test results as a measure but not as the meaning of a good education (p. 42).
In Strikes middle chapters (3, 4, 5) the United States Constitution and case law are reviewed to make several points. For example, using the 14th Amendments equal protection clause and Brown vs. Board of Education as guidelines, Strike emphasizes that fairness and multicultural inclusiveness, for each student, is a right. Interestingly, without directly addressing the importance of balancing ones leadership and management roles, Strike poignantly describes how these two roles are related as equal protection issues, The elimination or reduction of inequality may require that schools allocate more resources to those students who come to school behind because they belong to a disfavored group (p. 74).
The complicated nature of democracy, including the various constituencies that school leaders must acknowledge and respect is discussed thoughtfully, beginning in chapter 5. Although democracy must be practiced in a professional community at each school site, locally engaged democratic decision-making may be trumped by state sovereignty and legislative regulations. The ethical leader must negotiate and facilitate dialogue among competing local, state and federal (e.g., NCLB) visions of the good school. Administrators should use their influential voices to advocate for student and teacher success. However, Strike wisely suggests, Authority in professional communities should flow from the better argument. It should not be a function of position or power (p. 101). Although not discussed until chapter 7, Strike makes a related point concerning the relationship between position and powera point that some readers may view as quite traditional. He reflects, You are the first among equals, someone whose responsibility is to propose more than dispose to keep people on task, to create the culture required for the school to succeed and to initiate the larger community into the project of your school (p. 147). Ethical decision making, in Strikes worldview, means taking a stand and using the bully pulpit to exercise leadership. He notes, also, that the likelihood of decision-making success is greater if the leader is respected and perceived as professional, collegial, and fair (p. 147). Strikes ideas remind one of Bryk and Schneiders (2002) research on trusted school leadersstudent success results when decisions are based on respect, integrity, leadership competence, and personal regard for others.
In chapter 6 Strike adds that good decision-making focuses on community supported moral and legal ends (purpose), that are evidence-driven (i.e., include a range of assessment possibilities). Consequently, communities need to discuss desired ends and how to measure whether ends are achieved. Communities must ask: What are our desired ends? What are the best ways to assess whether we have achieved the ends? A healthy discussion of these issues occurs in a professional culture that invites critical inquiry, due process and transparency. Strike maintains that schools must seek quantitative, data-driven assessment results and evidence-driven data, It is not true that to know if we have achieved some end, we must be able to measure it. What is true is that we need a way to recognize whether we have achieved our ends. These are not the same thing (p. 118).
In the final chapter, Strike states that when accountability goes awry, and the pressures to perform outweigh reasonable teaching and learning strategies, unethical behavior results. The antidote to such behaviors is an internally directed, self-regulated moral professional community, based on trust, mutual responsibility, and performance success. Thus, Strikes central idea of the good community comes full circle: only a community of purpose-driven; ethically aligned school administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community stakeholders; can successfully negotiate the challenging and often conflicting demands made on students and educators.
Ethical Leadership in Schools is an important book for several reasons. First, Strike scaffolds his ideas on a solid intellectual foundation (Socrates, Plato, Bentham, Mill, Locke, Kant, Lincoln, Kuhn). It is refreshing to read a book that celebrates classical thought by tracking the history of ideas and challenging readers to make higher level connections. Second, the scenarios and chapter topics cover a broad range of contemporary issues, including race, bullying, learning disabilities, English Language Learning, Intelligent Design, NCLB, appropriate teaching strategies, data-driven decision making, testing, and accountability. As a result, Strikes book will be an excellent addition to current leadership courses and professional development seminars and workshops for aspiring and active administrators. Third, the books message is inspirational. The emphasis on democracy, citizenship, the examined life, fair resource allocations, and promoting a professional culture reminds school leaders that they entered the profession to pursue a higher calling.
In reviewing the book, three concerns surfaced. First, several pages in Chapter 1 are devoted to the issue of lying. Rushworth Kidder (1996) suggests that when dealing with ethical questions, some issues are so obvious that discussion is unnecessary. Strike tells leaders that lying erodes trustwe know that, and one should not pursue administration if that point needs to be explained. Second, the section Schooling and Religion in chapter 3 seems to suggest that an intellectually sound and tolerant approach will lead to the desired middle ground needed to teach about religion in schools. Although Strike compares the topic to the third rail .Touch it and you die, (p. 55), he states, If we are to include religion in the curriculum in a responsible way, we must include it in a way that avoids advocacy or endorsement (p. 58). This section on religion in schools is thoughtful and provocative, but I fear that communicating no message of endorsement or religious ideas (p. 57) and avoid[ing] advocacy or endorsement (p. 58) may be an unrealistic expectation. Third, in chapter 6s opening scenario, Strike introduces us to Daniel Wilkins, a non-tenured teacher with marginal skills who rejects a non-traditional curriculum program developed by teaching colleagues. Strike weighs the pros and cons related to whether Daniel should receive tenure. Although Strike suggests that decisions are justified primarily in terms of their beneficial effects for students (p. 124), he leaves the door open for retaining Daniel by considering how the decision would affect Daniels family. Although Strikes points are compassionate, the reasoning takes us down a slippery slope. One must ask: At what point does our concern for Daniels personal obligations become a barrier to doing what is best for students?
In sum, Kenneth Strike has made another significant contribution to the ethical leadership field. Each chapter examines current issues and provides insightful ideas to guide aspiring, new and seasoned school leaders. Most importantly, the book reminds us that ethical leaders make a difference.
Bryk, A., & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in schools. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.
Kidder, R. (1996). How good people make tough choices. New York: Fireside.