Quality Leadership Matters
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April L. Peters, University of Georgia
In the past several years, the Atlanta Public School District has come under intense scrutiny for accusations of cheating. The accusations have been so widespread and powerful that several local and national media outlets have carried the stories. Most recently several teachers, principals, test coordinators and the former superintendent have been charged with various crimes, associated with the cheating scandal, including racketeering. These leaders have turned themselves in to law enforcement officials to be officially charged for their alleged participation in these crimes. Education is under intense pressure and scrutiny in today's context of accountability. Given the (geographical and professional) proximity of these events to my students, we discussed the accusations of cheating in my School Building Leadership class. The questions I posed to my class in the wake of these recent events have to do with leadership ethics. Broadly, we have become familiar with several leadership scholars whose work informs discussions of leadership ethics. These scholars include: Burns' work on on Transformational Leadership which suggests that the leader inspires leaders and followers to a higher level of moral conduct; Greenleaf's work on Servant Leadership, which suggests that the leader's primary responsibility is to focus on the needs of his or her followers and to ensure equity and social justice for and amongst all; and Heifitz' work which focuses on values and effectively addressing conflict.
Specifically, with these theoretical understandings as our backdrop, we engaged in discussion regarding the responsibility of leadership in the current political and professional context of accountability and particularly with regard to the accusations of cheating within Atlanta Public Schools. The discussion was fruitful and lively, given that most of my students are Assistant Principals being groomed for the principalship. The standard against which many of the Atlanta Public School leaders were accused was that they "knew or should have known" that cheating was happening. Our discussion of this standard led to several other related questions, including: how is it possible for a leader to know what it is happening in their schools and with their faculty and students at all times (and is this a fair expectation); and what is the role of culture (at the school and district level) in applying this standard? Several leadership lessons in ethics emerged from our discussion:
- Ethical behavior is intricately connected to the culture that the leader establishes
- The leader ultimately IS responsible for what happens under his/her watch--which makes establishing an ethical culture extremely important
- Conduct AND character are important leadership characteristics with respect to ethics
- Establishing a culture of moral courage is important when things are happening that are against policy and legal expectations. People should be empowered (and feel obligated) to speak up when necessary for the benefit of the organization
The job of the leader is an enormous responsibility. It is imperative that leaders create and reify an appropriate culture in which students and faculty can thrive. Such work must be supported at all levels: locally and nationally. There is much to critique in the case of this cheating scandal, including a stormy educational landscape that appears to place more emphasis on scores than teaching and learning, and expend more resources on arresting and jailing educators than educating students and supporting educators. Finally, there is as much to learn as there is to critique. Ultimately, as a class we determined that the 4 C's: culture, conduct, character, and courage are critical to establishing and maintaining the proper context for ethical leadership.
UCEA co-sponsored three events kicking off AERA 2013, the David L Clark Graduate Student Research Seminar in Educational Leadership and Policy (co-sponsored with Division A and L of AERA and SAGE publications), the Barbara L. Jackson Scholars Workshop (co-sponsored with Division A), and the William L. Boyd Politics of Education Mentoring Workshop (co-sponsored with the Politics of Education Association).
Each of these three events focus on building the next generation of educational scholars in educational leadership, politics and policy, and none of them would be possible without the incredible support of faculty volunteers.
On behalf of UCEA, the graduate student scholars and field that has benefited from your support, thank you all. A special thank you to William Kyle Ingle, Tamara Young, Maria Luisa Gonzalez, Melissa Martinez, Cossette Grant Overton, Tim Salazar, Tricia Bowne-Ferrigno, Laura Cohen-Vogel, Amy Reynolds, Carmen Foster, Erin Anderson and Lieve Pitts for their work to make each of these three events a success.
Schools across the country are entering the high stakes testing period and the tension in them is at a fever pitch. Do we really think schools are better places for children and whether there is more learning as a result of these tests? After all, learning and developing as citizens is what schooling is all about and yet we have incrementally come to view our schools almost as sports teams with elaborate stats. Everyone loves the “winners’ and prefers to trade the “losers” (in education, we turn them into charters). We forget the human beings who spend their days trying to find meaning in their work as learners and teachers. Reducing these individuals to numbers is an inhumanity and yet we are expanding our use of test scores from children to teachers and administrators through federal policy. I applaud Joshua Starr, Superintendent of Montgomery County Schools in Maryland and one of the growing number of federal policy critics, who has called for a “three-year moratorium on all standardized tests” (See Washington Post article: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2012/12/10/moco-schools-chief-calls-for-three-year-moratorium-on-standardized-testing/). While we all know this will not happen, it is a radical yet commonsense response to the testing hysteria that has engulfed us. We need to stop and get some perspective.
I think most people would agree that testing can inform teaching and can be used to identify individuals or groups of individuals who need more intensive intervention but these are educational purposes that serve children. Using tests to identify academic failure, retain children and dismiss teachers reflects a simplistic and symptomatic response to education and not a deep understanding of what teaching and learning is all about.
During the coming weeks, teachers and administrators will be admonishing, cajoling and cheering students to do their best during another testing season, hopefully with strong results. The stakes are high for all the participants now that teachers and administrators as well as students are being held accountable for the results. But, is it worth the tears, upset stomachs, anxiety, sense of failure, and tension? My heart goes out to educators everywhere who must pretend that it is.
See related article in Education Week:
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