26 SES 14 B, There's Never Just One Level – Governance Perspectives, Issues of Autonomy and System Boundaries
In 2015 a research partnership between UC Berkeley and University of Oslo was established to explore the impacts of our universities’ value-oriented principal preparation programs on school leaders’ practice. This paper aims to contribute a more contextualized interpretation of social justice leadership to the field, one which situates school principals in the broader national education policy contexts that invariably enable and constrain their practices. Part of these contexts includes policies for testing and accountability. Standardized testing to measure school effectiveness has become nearly universal around the globe, but what is not as widespread is the degree to which national testing regimes attach high-stakes – strict punitive consequences – to schools’ performance.
The study is framed with theoretical concepts from critical policy studies of education markets and the new managerialism (Apple, 2007). Critical policy studies of education markets “consider the links between developments in education and broader social policy” and “treat education privatization as nested in larger theories about economic thinking” (Burch, 2009, p. 10). This literature helps unpack the values and ideologies that underlie market models for public school systems, as well as their assumptions about the purposes of schooling and the subsequent roles for school leaders. Over the last three decades, lawmakers around the world have crafted economic, social, and educational policies reflective of discourses and ideologies that emphasize individual self-interest and strategies for greater capital accumulation (Lipman, 2011). The result, some scholars theorize, has been the gradual privatization of public goods by promoting more financially efficient, effective practices in public spaces. As Ball (2001) explains, this New Public Management paradigm has “renormed” and “revalued” public education by shifting educators’ values, practices, and goals for schools by conceptualizing teachers, principals, and students as market actors, not as citizens.
This market logic has also sparked a “new managerialism” (Clark, Gewirtz, & McLaughlin, 2000), or a discourse of management that is “technically oriented, rational, and apolitical,” that “divorces managerial practices from values and politics,” and that emphasizes marketized ideas such as competition (Ball, 1994, pp. 67-68). Central to this discourse is a focus on outputs and performance, hierarchical relationships, and continual monitoring. For school principals trained in broader notions of effectiveness, ones that emphasize civic virtues and critical notions about schools’ roles in perpetuating or interrupting social and political inequities, managerialist, market-oriented policy contexts can contradict the values and skills they cultivated in the academy. But whether these contradictions have tangible consequences for the ways in which school principals enact social justice-oriented leadership has yet to be explored in the educational policy and leadership fields.
The following research questions guided our collection of data: How do principals in each political context define and understand democracy and equity? How do principals in each political context make sense of each other's norms, practices, and structures? Which contextual conditions do principals perceive to enable or constrain their schools’ potential to promote democracy and equity?
To answer our questions, we held two four-day analytical exchanges for 11 school principals, five alumni from UC Berkeley’s principal preparation program and six from the University of Oslo’s principal preparation program. The principals served as participants in a comparative study. We brought each country’s group of principals to visit schools in each other’s contexts, conduct classroom observations, and meet with school leaders, teachers, and students. After each visit, we conducted focus groups and individual interviews. In all, we held eight focus groups and 11 interviews. Focus groups and interviews addressed, among other themes, what types of dispositions and values the principals developed while studying in their respective principal preparation programs (e.g., more managerialist or humanistic), their conceptualizations of social justice leadership (e.g., more redistributive, welfarist notions or more capitalist, libertarian ones), their characterizations of their current leadership values and priorities (e.g., civic goals for cultivating a democratic collective versus economic goals for bolstering individual economic gains), their school’s experiences with standardized testing (e.g., testing as a central priority or a more peripheral goal among others), and their attitudes toward their government’s testing and accountability regimes. All focus group and interview transcripts were transcribed and analyzed. Both inductive and deductive codes were applied.
Patterns in our data revealed three main themes: With respect to the first theme, all principals viewed equity as a re-distributive concept. For them, equity required schools to distribute resources differently based on needs. They agreed that students deserved different types and amounts of resources in order to facilitate educational opportunity fairly. The two groups differed more in their notions of democracy. Americans tended to invoke principles of liberal democracy. That is, they emphasized individual rights and liberties. Norwegians, in contrast, interpreted democracy in terms of collective rights. While both groups accepted that schools served economic purposes, Norwegians assumed that schools’ primary purposes were civic in nature: to prepare democratic citizens. The second theme related to principals’ impressions of one another’s schools and their contexts. Most notable for Americans were Norwegian schools’ ample space and time afforded to educators (among other material resources), the lower-stakes accountability policies and the types of school leadership that ensued under them, and the strong attention to citizenship and democracy. Norwegian leaders, in contrast, were most struck by schools’ challenges regarding safety and order, the striking individualism among teachers, and the charitable roles for volunteers to fill personnel gaps in schools. Our final theme revealed several stark differences between the two groups’ enabling and constraining contextual conditions. Disparities in educational policies, resources, and schools’ social conditions were most pronounced. The paper helps contextualize the field of social justice leadership and the democratic education to include an explicit consideration of the broader policy forces that act on principals’ work. From a policy perspective, it complements studies of standardized testing and accountability policies by looking not just at what happens inside of schools governed by a high-stakes policy system, but at what is possible when high-stakes are more or less absent in a policy system.
Apple, M. (2007). Education, markets, and an audit culture. International Journal of Educational Policies, 1(1), 4-19. Ball, S. J. (1994). Educational reform: A critical and post-structural approach. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. Ball, S. J. (2001). Performativities and fabrications in the education economy: Towards the performative society. In D. Gleeson & C. Husbands (Eds.), The performing school: Managing, teaching, and learning in a performance culture (pp. 210-226). London, England: Routledge. Burch, P. (2009). Hidden markets: The new education privatization. New York, NY: Routledge. Clarke, J., Gewirtz, S., & McLaughlin, E. (2000). New managerialism, new welfare? London, England: SAGE. Lipman, P. (2011). The new political economy of urban education: Neoliberalism, race and the right to the city. New York, NY: Routledge. Trujillo, T., & Cooper, R. (2014). Framing social justice leadership in a university-based preparation program: The University of California’s Principal Leadership Institute. Journal of Research on Leadership Education, 9(2), 142-167.
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