Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Epistemological Underpinnings of Theory Developments in Educational Administration

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

Epistemological Underpinnings of Theory Developments in Educational Administration

Article excerpt

Although it is difficult to categorise the philosophical positions of competing theories of educational administration, it can be said that four major forms of theory have been advanced in the field: traditional positivism, subjectivism, critical theory, and an emerging theory, naturalistic coherentism. The major perspectives developed in the field have been influenced largely by theoretical developments in philosophy. This paper aims to examine the different epistemological commitments of the four competing theories of educational administration advanced to date. The paper analyses the main ideas proposed by each of the four major schools of thought and focuses particularly on their philosophical assumptions concerning the nature of science and their approach to theorising about educational administration.

Introduction

`What makes a good theory of educational administration good?' and `If theories of educational administration should be scientific, what conception of "scientific" is appropriate to the field?'. Such second-level questions about the field have exercised theorists of educational administration for some decades now. Although it is difficult to categorise the philosophical positions of competing theories comprehensively and with precision, it can be said that there have been four major forms of theory advanced in the field: traditional positivism, subjectivism, critical theory, and an emerging theory, naturalistic coherentism. Given that the major perspectives developed in the field of educational administration have been influenced largely by theoretical developments in philosophy, the paper aims to examine the different epistemological commitments of the four competing theories of educational administration advanced to date. The paper analyses the main ideas proposed by each the four major schools of thought and focuses particularly on their philosophical assumptions concerning the nature of science and what an appropriate theory in educational administration should be.

The Theory Movement and logical positivism

The history of educational administration as a field of systematic study is not as extensive as that of many other disciplines. Most studies conducted in early decades of this century reflected mainly practical concerns of developing techniques to understand administrative phenomena and, as a result, the theoretical frameworks of educational administration were slow to develop sophistication. From the late 1940s, as part of the quest for a useful theory of educational administration, a more systematic and rigorous scientific theory was introduced to the field. This period is called the `New Movement' or the `Theory Movement'. Although there were various events, including the formation of distinguished academic groups and individual contributions that initiated the development of the Theory Movement (see Griffiths, 1988), the most important event was probably the 1957 seminar held at the Midwest Administration Center of the University of Chicago. It was entitled `Administrative theory in education' and the main concern of scholars in the seminar, including the late Talcott Parsons, was to develop a `science of administration' (Culbertson, 1981, pp. 26-28, 1988, p. 16). According to Halpin (1970, pp. 162-163), the basic ideas of the Theory Movement can be summarised as follows:

1 that the role of theory be recognised and that `nakedly empirical research' be rejected in favour of hypothetico-deductive research rooted in theory;

2 that educational administration not be viewed provincially, and especially as distinct from other kinds of administration; that administration, as administration, without adjectival qualifiers, is a proper subject for study and research;

3 that, because education can be construed best as a social system, educational administration must, in turn, draw heavily from insights furnished by the behavioural sciences. …

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