If a primary educational goal is to create and sustain more democratic schools by enabling the growth of practitioners as democratic leaders (Cochran-Smith, 2003; Giroux, 1992; Jenlink, 2002), then teachers must be given opportunities to express their tacit beliefs as developing democratic-accountable leaders. Democratically accountable leadership can be understood as a dynamic force that shapes the social justice work of organizational leaders. Responsive preparation programs in educational leadership foster both the democratic capacity of aspiring leaders and their readiness for the challenges of accountability-driven systems.
A significant issue in public education regards ideological-based accountability restrictions on the educational process. In this discussion, I attempt to refocus attention on the quality of K-12 education in the United States, away from standardized test scores and teacher credentialing toward democratic leadership. My strategy involves exploring ideas relevant to aspiring leaders of democratically accountable educational systems with respect to tensions between democracy and accountability. I propose a conceptual framework known as democratic accountability that places democracy and accountability in harmony as well as in opposition. This orientation to educational leadership fits with the "ideology, or social justice question" that Cochran-Smith (2003) posits as one of the eight key questions that serve as overarching frameworks for problematizing multicultural teacher education (p. 11). I also use teacher quality to refer to the capacity of educators to deal effectively with the underlying forces of accountability and democracy that drive the educational enterprise and their work. Rice (2003) confirms that the teacher characteristics affecting education reform and policy are "preparation in both pedagogic and subject content, credentials, experience, and test scores" (p. 2). Hence, the characteristics applicable herein exist outside the nomenclature of teacher quality that prevails within school and policy contexts.
As a leadership professor charged with preparing future school leaders, I am curious about the ability of educational leaders to manage the promises and pitfalls of competing accountability and democratic agendas within the multiple contexts of the classroom and school. This narrative case study of educational quality from the perspective of teachers and leaders has the potential to inform the current democracy-accountability debate. It could prove informative to learn how education practitioners conceptualize democratically accountable leadership and take ownership of their ideas and beliefs. Through an emergent analysis, I identify relevant ideas and contexts, as well as the dispositions, attitudes, and behaviors of such leaders.
Up-to-date preparation programs in educational leadership focus on the necessary dispositions, knowledge, and behaviors that educational leaders should have to effectively lead 21st century schools (Clark & Clark, 1996). As Giroux (1992) asserts, these programs are "trapped" in a "discourse of leadership" that is entrenched "in a vocabulary in which the estimate of a good society is expressed in indices"; missing, then, "is a vocabulary for talking about and creating public cultures and communities" (p. 5). In recent years, this argument has centered on preparing aspiring leaders as critical, democratic thinkers in the areas of citizenship and ethics, social justice, and diversity (e.g., Allen, 2006; English, 2003; Giroux, 1992; Shields, 2006). However, such programs in general have yet to promote sustained dialogue around democratic leadership and its multiple forms in schools and society (Allen, 2006; English, 2003; Giroux, 1992). Democratic schools are "where the voices of teachers, practitioners, parents, and students are heard" (Jenlink, 2002, p. 30); they are active in decision making, support diversity and equality, and value creating and sustaining the community (Jenlink, 2002; Jenlink & Jenlink, 2006; Mullen & Johnson, 2006; Ringo, 2006). In such places, as Larson and Ovando (2001) attest, activists commit to dismantling "systems of racism, exclusion, and power" (p. 3).
A Deweyian democracy represents a much more effective model for education than does the current accountability model, which is based on narrowly defined competencies and standardized tests. English (2003) has argued that the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2002) and state accountability acts are thinly disguised strategies for exercising political control over classroom teaching and administrative activity. Building on Dewey's (1916) concept of democracy, it is crucial that leaders understand that "a democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, a conjoint communicated experience" (p. 87). Understanding democracy strictly as governance distances educators' understanding of participatory leadership and engagement (i.e., "associated living") and thwarts social justice education. Social justice educators need to bring accountability and democracy together within the same conversation and within a "theory of practice that visualizes human development as social; mediated; influenced by power and axes of power" (Hoffman-Kipp, 2003, p. 37). Alternative voices must participate in this agenda so that a stronger and more inclusive philosophy of education and leadership can be developed than that which has pervaded since A Nation At Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education ([NCEE], 1983).
Key Concepts of Democratic Leadership
Democracy and accountability are often treated as separate concepts at odds (or even at war) with each other in theory and practice. While democracy has been defined to mean "both a discourse and a practice that produces particular narratives and identities informed by the principles of freedom, equality, and social practice" (Giroux, 1992, p. 5), accountability has been described, by one group of educators at least, as "focused on shared responsibility among students, teachers, school administrators, and policy makers" (Linn, 2004, p. 74). Democratic leadership has diverse meanings ranging from participatory leadership in which decision making is collaboratively undertaken in work environments to more radical acts aimed at integrating theories of inclusiveness into the lived world of policy and practice. Here I envision democratic accountability as marrying two seemingly disparate constructs that, both conceptually and in practice, share resonances and overlaps, dissonances and ruptures. I created this concept to draw attention to the dual capacity necessary for leaders to understand accountability and democracy as overarching frameworks and, importantly, interpenetrating forces shaping the work of today's leaders responsible for managing competing agendas (Mullen & Graves, 2000).
The high-stakes, legalistic world of education forces the interplay between accountability and democracy, overshadowing and further marginalizing the latter. For example, as Shields (2006) explicates, standardized testing contradicts alternative assessments for at-risk students; further, on a curricular level, standardization subverts "culturally relevant curriculum in socially just pedagogies"; moreover, management models challenge "socially just school leadership" (p. 2). Given that "the work of school leaders is vital to linking accountability to equity" (Skrla et al., 2001, p. 134; also Allen, 2006), the deeper, collective commitment of teachers and leaders must be to "secure the future of a democracy and sustain the ethic …