Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

What's the Difference? Principal Practices That Support the Achievement of Low-Income Students in Demographically Diverse Schools

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

What's the Difference? Principal Practices That Support the Achievement of Low-Income Students in Demographically Diverse Schools

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

As part of the recent accountability movement, which started with the enactment of No Child Left Behind legislation in 2001, most schools have federal and state mandates to close the achievement gap, between low-income students and more affluent students. Research on school leadership shows a strong correlation between school leaders and student achievement (Dumay, Boonen, & Van Damme, 2013; Kelley & Shaw, 2009; Marzano, Water, & McNulty, 2005). Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, and Wahlstrom (2004) claim that school leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school related factors that contribute to what students learn. This study looks to answer two questions: What supports did the elementary principals in two high-achieving schools provide? Did these supports differ in the high-achieving low-income school? The schools in the study are demographically different: one school has a student population that is primarily high income, and one school is attended by mostly low- income students. Both schools increased student achievement based on state assessment data during the tenure of the principals. The names used in the study are Mary Thomas, the Principal of Monroe Elementary School, which has a student population that is primarily high income, and Gene Stillman, the principal of Gibson Elementary, which is attended by mostly low-income students. Both schools have significantly raised student achievement. Gene led her school to Blue Ribbon School status. The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools where students perform at very high levels or where significant improvements are made in students' academic achievement.

METHODOLOGY

This study is a qualitative, cross-case analysis. Interviews and document analysis were used to collect data. Three one-hour interviews were conducted with both principals. One-hour interviews were conducted with 6 teachers in each building. One-hour interviews were conducted with two district office administrators, totalling 20 hours of interview data. Documents such as building plans, parent organization agendas, and Title 1 plans were evaluated. Recorded findings were triangulated. Pseudonyms were used to protect the identity of the cases used in the study.

Both of the schools are elementary schools and are within the same school district. Two schools in the same district were sought out to help clearly identify other variables that may have affected student achievement success (teachers, district programs, community initiatives, etc.) and clearly report data to answer the research questions: What supports did the elementary principals in these high-achieving schools implement to increase student achievement? Did these supports differ in the high- achieving low-income schools?

Conceptual Framework

The conceptual framework for this study comes from chapter six of Bransford, Brown, Cocking, Donovan, and Pellegrino's (2000) book entitled How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. They discuss a Perspective on Learning Environment framework, which identifies four general perspectives of quality learning environments and emphasizes that they need to be conceptualized as a system of interconnected components that mutually support one another (p. 133). These perspectives on learning are (1) learner centered, (2) knowledge centered, (3) assessment centered, and (4) community centered.

Learner Centered

For a learning environment to be learner centered, the educator must pay attention to the "knowledge, skills, attitudes, and beliefs that learners bring to the educational setting" (Bransford et al., 2000). If knowledge is continually delivered without any thought to the learners, it is unlikely that any real learning will occur. According to the model, it is critical that educators keep their learners in mind when planning lessons. Included in this teaching is "diagnostic teaching" (Bell, O'Brien, & Shiu, 1980). …

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