Challenges and Opportunities of Educational Leadership Research and Practice: The State of the Field and Its Multiple Futures

reviewed by Madeline Mavrogordato & Melissa Usiak - July 19, 2016

coverTitle: Challenges and Opportunities of Educational Leadership Research and Practice: The State of the Field and Its Multiple Futures
Author(s): Alex J. Bowers, Alan R. Shoho, Bruce G. Barnett (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1681232758, Pages: 254, Year: 2016
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School leaders find themselves on the front lines of education reform against the backdrop of shifting demographics, increasing performance accountability pressure, and contracting educational resources. Editors Alex J. Bowers, Alan R. Shoho, and Bruce G. Barnett collect relevant and timely research in Challenges and Opportunities of Educational Leadership Research and Practice considering “the history, challenges and opportunities of the field of research and practice in educational leadership and administration in schools and districts” (p. 1). This sixth volume in the International Research on School Leadership series provides an updated account of research on educational leadership and canvasses an evolving landscape including traditional and nontraditional schools, global perspectives on educational leadership, and advances in research methodology.


Written primarily for university faculty and researchers who study school leadership, this volume takes stock of the state of educational leadership research and charts a path for future areas of inquiry. When read in its totality, this volume offers a broad sense of the current opportunities and challenges in educational leadership research, yet is also flexible enough to be sampled by chapter or section for more targeted learning.


Challenges and Opportunities is divided into four thematic sections and the first examines the intersection of educational leadership research and theory given increased school reform efforts and a heightened focus on expanding educational opportunity for traditionally underserved students. Chase Nordengren’s chapter examines research across multiple leadership frameworks that “converge around the idea of collectivity” (p. 18) and he describes three theories of action connecting the work of school leaders to student outcomes. D. Gavin Luter’s chapter explains the tensions that exist regarding building-based and place-based approaches to school choice and reviews the evolution of these methods and comprehensive school reform. Khalid Arar and Izhar Oplatka’s chapter explores female leadership styles in Arab societies. It synthesizes the findings of 20 studies, sheds light on the social and cultural barriers Arab women face when they step into leadership roles, and documents the factors facilitating career advancement.


The second section focuses on methodological approaches to studying educational leadership and examines advances in both quantitative and qualitative research methods. For example, Peter Goff and Maida Finch make a compelling argument for using longitudinal designs as opposed to cross-sectional research approaches when studying educational leadership. Rather than merely theorizing about the benefits of longitudinal data, they test their assertions by conducting cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses and comparing the inferences that emerge. Katherine Marie Caves, Johannes Meuer, and Christian Rupietta examine the use of Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) in educational leadership. These authors demonstrate the value of this methodological approach by applying QCA to an illustrative educational leadership case similar to the previous chapter.


The third section explores how school leaders are being prepared to serve in a rapidly changing educational landscape. Kristy S. Cooper and Kate Rollert expose leadership in traditional and non-traditional school settings and argue that those leading outside traditional environments require a specialized set of knowledge and skills. The authors illustrate their argument through an examination of the unique challenges faced by leaders of alternative schools. Chad R. Lochmiller, Colleen E. Chesnut, and Molly S. Stewart call on universities and preparation programs to help school leaders gain authentic experiences to serve in high need schools and particularly turnaround schools.


In the final section, Carolyn J. Riehl reflects on educational leadership research conducted since the publication of Firestone and Riehl’s A New Agenda for Research in Educational Leadership (2005) and provides ideas about future ways of thinking and approaching research. She characterizes the field of educational leadership as one that reflects unpunctuated disequilibrium because of the constant state of flux, conflict, and development. She ends on a positive note by suggesting that despite the regular churn in the field there has been much progress and examples of these positive changes are reflected in this volume.


This book offers important insight into the challenges and opportunities in the field of educational research. This collection pushes us to consider how the current climate in leadership practice is underrepresented in much of the recent research. A particularly valuable contribution is the third section on the preparations of school leaders that summarizes leadership in alternative school models and helps address the gap between university faculty and practitioners in practical ways. The authors also offer several suggestions for improving school leadership training.


While this volume makes many important contributions it could have been strengthened with current research regarding school leadership evaluation. Recent federal and state policy reforms requiring school leaders to be evaluated and held accountable for their performance have created a sense of urgency regarding the need to support schools and districts with empirical evidence of effective models and systems to assess the quality of school leaders.


Challenges and Opportunities provides an intriguing collection of research that makes important updates to the field of educational leadership. The editors and authors alike succeed in celebrating the research advances made in the past decade while simultaneously surfacing the issues that continue to test the educational leadership research community.




Firestone, W. A., & Riehl, C. (Eds.). (2005). A new agenda for research in educational leadership. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 19, 2016 ID Number: 21490, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 4:34:08 AM

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