State Leadership in Improving Instruction
by William M. Alexander - 1941
Acceptance by state education departments of some responsibility for providing leadership service has been an outstanding trend in recent state school administration. This study seeks to explore and describe this trend, and to analyze and evaluate certain state department programs which reflect somewhat different interpretations of the leadership function.
ACCEPTANCE by state education departments of some responsibility for providing leadership service has been an outstanding trend in recent state school administration.1 This study seeks to explore and describe this trend, and to analyze and evaluate certain state department programs which reflect somewhat different interpretations of the leadership function.
The development and nature of the responsibilities and activities of state education departments were reviewed to reveal underlying principles of the emergent philosophy of state leadership. Essential features of a program of state leadership consistent with this philosophy were defined for use as criteria in evaluating individual state programs. The instructional programs of three state departments were then studied intensively: that in Louisiana for analysis and evaluation of a directive state program, that in Tennessee for an indirect program, and that in Virginia for a cooperative program. Sources used in the study of each selected program included state department publications, unpublished materials and records in state offices, interviews, and questionnaire returns from supervisors, superintendents, and principals.
THE LEADERSHIP FUNCTION
The emergence of the leadership function of state education departments was traced through the following stages: the beginnings of state regulation and state leadership, increased responsibility of the state office for regulatory activity, and recent state department expansion and emphasis on leadership service. According to the emergent concept of the state department as a service agency, programs of service should be comprehensive and flexible in order that all localities, sections, and levels may be served according to their needs; such programs should also stimulate local effort and respect local initiative.
The directive program (Louisiana) placed great stress on uniform instructional and supervisory programs throughout the state. State supervisors maintained close contact with schools and teachers, and prescribed on a statewide basis means of improving instruction. Compared with others, the Louisiana state department had a large staff and ample funds, particularly for general supervisory functions, and staff members enjoyed high salaries and long tenure. State department activities included in the directive program were extensive and partook more of regulation than of service.
The indirect program (Tennessee) failed to provide adequate means of assisting individual localities. Only scattered projects showed recognition by the state department of a responsibility for leadership service, although the maintenance of minimum standards had generally been attempted. The state department staff was relatively small, funds and salaries were low, and staff members had shorter tenure and less training than did those in Louisiana and Virginia. The activities included in the indirect program were generally regarded by local workers as decidedly inadequate.
The cooperative program (Virginia) alone provided for state and local cooperation without the imposition of uniform plans for improving instruction. The educational training of Virginia staff members was in general high, turnover in staff personnel was relatively small, and the staff was organized on a functional basis. The cooperative program was apparently widely regarded by local workers as satisfactory, and its characteristics in general conformed more closely to the criteria defined in the study than did those of the other programs studied.
The results of this study suggest that a program of the cooperative type reflects a desirable interpretation of the function of state leadership in improving instruction. Techniques of state department leadership indicated as appropriate include: cooperative development of curriculum materials, organization of cooperative supervisory programs, organization of study groups and conferences, and statewide investigation and reporting of instructional problems and practices. The importance of the state superintendent in determining the nature of the state program is emphasized. Other factors suggested for consideration in planning or modifying state programs include: staff organization, size of staff, funds for state department work, and tenure, salaries, and training of staff members.
Convincing evidence from current authorities, recent practices, and the reactions of local workers is presented to show the responsibility of state education departments for leadership service. Full consideration of this evidence and of questions raised in the study should contribute to more complete implementation of ideals of state leadership.
1 By WILLIAM M. ALEXANDER, PH.D. Teachers College, Columbia University, Contributions to Education, No. 820.