Where Is Leadership Heading? Research Shows That the School Improvement Remedies Promoted by Policy Makers and Reformers Often Are in Stark Contrast to What Actually Has Been Proven to Work in Schools

By Lytle, James H. | Phi Delta Kappan, May 2012 | Go to article overview

Where Is Leadership Heading? Research Shows That the School Improvement Remedies Promoted by Policy Makers and Reformers Often Are in Stark Contrast to What Actually Has Been Proven to Work in Schools


Lytle, James H., Phi Delta Kappan


A consensus is emerging about how school leaders affect school performance and the importance of strong principals to improved student learning. In spite of the strength and consistency of research in this area, however, policy makers and reformers continue to disregard the clear messages about what comprises good school leadership.

National reform policies, for example, incorporate assumptions about school and district leadership that are very much at odds with the research. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RttT) call for market-based strategies--choice, charters, merit incentives, etc.--to drive improvement. These approaches might be characterized as corporate-style leadership, but there's little precedence for this approach in educational leadership and little evidence that it produces results different from more traditional approaches to schooling.

Likewise, federal recipes for intervening in low performing schools assume that changes in school leadership will lead to turning around a school. The obvious problem is that replacing the principal is an imposed leadership transition that causes instability and the likelihood that performance will decline in the short term. Further, the cadre of proven transformational or turnaround school leaders is relatively small. These folks aren't sitting in employment offices waiting for job offers. And the short-term time frames for turnarounds don't match the reality of the complexity of such an undertaking.

In addition, the rapidly growing leadership preparation sector standing outside traditional, university-based licensure programs operate with their own paradigms that seem to fly in the face of what research says about high-quality leaders. New Leaders (formerly New Leaders for New Schools) and the Broad Foundation's Superintendents Academy, for example, have established their own leadership standards. In addition, there are the highly visible appointments of noneducators to run big school districts, exemplified by the appointment of magazine publisher Cathleen Black to chancellor of New York City schools. This "ferment" raises questions about how we plan to use what we're learning about leadership

Leadership standards

Even as reformers have developed their own view of who should be leading districts and how they should work, others have developed standards for leadership and probed what makes effective leaders.

The Council of Chief State School Officers has a clear interest in understanding what makes effective school leaders. In 2008, CCSSO took the lead in developing and publishing the Educational Leader-ship Policy Standards. The document updated the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, which had been published in 1996.

According to those standards, an education leader promotes the success of every student by:

* Facilitating the development, articulation, implementation, and stewardship of a shared vision of learning;

* Advocating, nurturing, and sustaining a school culture and instructional program conducive to learning;

* Ensuring management of the organization, operation, and resources for a safe, efficient, and effective learning community;

* Collaborating with faculty and community members to collect and analyze data and build positive relationships with parents and community;

* Acting with integrity, fairness and in an ethical manner by modeling principles of self-awareness, reflective practice, transparency, and ethical behavior; and

* Understanding, responding to, and influencing the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural context.

These standards are far different from the results-driven gist of NCLB and RttT. So, who's right? To what degree does recent research support these standards or the developing federal mandates meted out by recent reform movements?

What principals do. …

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Where Is Leadership Heading? Research Shows That the School Improvement Remedies Promoted by Policy Makers and Reformers Often Are in Stark Contrast to What Actually Has Been Proven to Work in Schools
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