Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Tale of Two Schools - and the Primary Task of Leadership

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

A Tale of Two Schools - and the Primary Task of Leadership

Article excerpt

Changes comes to schools, Mr. Maehr and Ms. Parker assert, when those in leadership roles (both formal and informal) continue to work to make actions accord with purpose.

A DECADE has passed since the U. S. was branded a nation at risk because of the condition of its schools. During that time, we have said goodbye to two Presidents who were purportedly concerned about the matter, along with their commissions, premises, and pronouncements. The current President continues to argue the case for reform that he had presented during his tenure as govenor of Arkansas:

We have to measure ourselves by international

standards. By those standards,

we're not doing very well. Unless

we do better, our ability to compete

in the world economy will be severely

damaged. The nation has come

a long way since we began [to respond

to the issues and problems raised by A

Nation at Risk] in 1983. Our education

system is still at risk. The risk, now,

is that we'll fail to follow through after

coming so far.[1]

Despite a decade of dialogue and numerous attempts at reform, the complaints remain essentially the same. The schools are failing. Students, their parents, and the communities in which they live are ill-served. The nation remains at risk.[2] The remarks made by then--Gov. Clinton summed up a broad belief, still pervasive today, that schools must change -- perhaps be reinvented. We are past the point where attempts to shift the blame to family structures and values, social decline, racism, poverty, or whatever will work. Schools are -- and probably will continue to be -- seen as both the cause of and the solution to the nation's malaise. As perhaps never before, we need true reform of the structures and processes called "school."[3]


There is a particular and critical need to improve the education of children who are poor and whose families are essentially alienated from the schools. These children often come to school ill-prepared for learning, sent by parents who themselves were school "failures." Not surprisingly, the school is often seen as foreign territory by this generally forgotten segment of the population. School is a place that reminds these children of their inferior status, not a place that gives them opportunities to feel increasingly efficacious and eager to work hard, to learn, and to persist in developing the higherorder skills that serve to break the cycle of poverty.[4]

This all-too-pervasive situation in today's society is clearly evident in one of several communities in which our learn of university collaborators has been working on a school change project, and the alienation is disturbingly palpable in the schools -- which are, in many respects, the heart of the community. This particular community -- if such it can be called -- consists of a collection of housing areas interspersed among shopping centers, a sprinkling of assorted small businesses, and a dominating mass of automobile manufacturing and assembly plants. It is set near rolling hills, a charming river, and small lakes, but it increasingly reflects the problems of the metropolitan area that it borders.

Before the recent downturn in the economy, approximately 25% of the children enrolled in the district's schools were eligible for reduced-fee lunches. The closing of a General Motors plant employing 8,000 workers will doubtless exacerbate an already troubled economic situation. Those who once worked "on the line" may have lost their jobs forever. Children who were planning to follow their fathers and mothers to one or another of the manufacturing plants -- and who therefore assumed that they did not have to take school seriously -- are now confronting the fact that their futures in the workplace are no longer automatically guaranteed.

Thus the problem of disengagement is becoming increasingly critical for a large segment of the student population. …

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