Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

High Stakes Principalship-Sleepless Nights, Heart Attacks and Sudden Death Accountabilities: Reading Media Representations of the United States Principal Shortage

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

High Stakes Principalship-Sleepless Nights, Heart Attacks and Sudden Death Accountabilities: Reading Media Representations of the United States Principal Shortage

Article excerpt

The possible shortage of applicants for principal positions is news in both Australia and abroad. We subject a corpus of predominantly United States (US) news articles to deconstructive narrative analysis and find that the dominant media representation of principals' work is one of long hours, low salary, high stress and sudden death from high stakes accountabilities. However, reported US policy interventions focus predominantly on professional development for aspirants. We note that this will be insufficient to reverse the lack of applications, and suggest that the dominant media picture of completely unattractive principals' work, meant to leverage a policy solution, will perhaps paradoxically perpetuate the problem. The dominant media picture is also curiously at odds with research that reports high job satisfaction among principals. We suggest that there is a binary of victim and saviour principal in both media and policy which prevents some strategic re-thinking about how the principalship might be different.

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   He had suffered a heart attack. He had lost his hair. He was wearing
   a hearing aid. At 58 years old, Principal Robert Yeager decided it
   was time to retire. But he ended up resting for only a year.
   Committed to helping George Washington Middle School in Alexandria,
   the city's most diverse school, he found himself drawn back to the
   always intense, always wild role of middle school principal.
   (Washington Post, 18 June 2002, p. A09)

   Oh, horrendous paperwork. I don't even think about paperwork until
   after 4 or 5 o'clock. I don't even think about going home until
   around 6 or 7 o'clock at night and sometimes I don't even go home
   at all. Many nights I've spent the night here--there's just so much
   to do. (PBS Online Newshour with Jim Lehrer, 25 May, 2001)
   http://www.pbs.org.newshour/bb/education/jan-june01/principal05-22.
   html (Accessed, 1 June 2001)

Such stories are becoming increasingly common in the US. The Bush administration recently allocated $10 million per annum (1) and the US Senate a further $50 million per annum to deal with the shortage of applicants for the principalship, attributed only in part to increasing retirements. Significant shortfalls in supply already exist in parts of Canada. In England there is debate about whether teachers have declining interest in promotion. And in New Zealand and in Australia, there is anecdotal and some emerging research evidence (2) to suggest that there are already diminishing numbers of applicants for principal positions in some states, in particular locations and in specific types of schools.

We have received funding from the Australian Research Council for a three-year research project (2002-2004) to investigate the situation in Australia: our national study of principal supply uses surveys, statistical projections, and detailed qualitative studies and works with a national reference committee of serving school principals. This article reports on some early work. One aspect of our literature review has entailed the examination of various representations of the 'supply problem', its causes and explicit and implied 'solutions'. Here we focus on US print media and use our analysis as a way of positioning our research. First we consider how American news articles represent principals' work and then ask why would teachers aspire to the principalship if all we hear is bad news. We draw some implications of this examination of media representations for our research project. We begin by outlining our theoretical orientations and methodological approach.

Media and our research

There is a pragmatic reason for focusing some of our initial literature review on Media. (3) There is often a significant time lag between the emergence of a policy issue and the production of rigorous research findings, but the absence of a substantive body of scholarly literature does not mean there are no data to inform research in progress. …

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