Running head: CHALLENGES FACING 21ST CENTURY LEADERS
Challenges Facing 21st Century Leaders
in Public Education
The role of the principal has increased in complexity as the school leader has struggled to find the balance between the responsibilities of the instructional leader, building manager, organizational leader, strategic planner, and community leader (Goodwin, 2002; SAELP, 2003). The demands placed on educational leaders of the 21st century are continually changing and expanding to include far more than one person can reasonably manage. With the importance of school administrators being stressed as essential to meeting the ever-growing demands of education, the time that an administrator can dedicate to tasks continues to be divided more than any time in history (McPeake, 2007).
“The modern-day challenge of the superintendency is to manage all the various national, state, and local pressures for improving school performance while working with the local school board, central office administrators, and school staff to develop the most effective schools possible” (Cunninghan & Cordeiro, 2004, p. 118). Educational leaders are faced with a myriad amount of political, social, and economic pressures to deal with the everyday realities of public education. These realities include inadequacy of educational financing, compliance with state/federal mandates, assessment and testing requirements, accountability, educational programming, curriculum, aging/inadequate school facilities, administrator and school board relationships and community relations. Further demands faced by 21st century leaders in education in the moral/social realm include dealing with irate parents, consolidation, student drug use, violence, bullying, and sexual harassment to name a few. These demands create real problems for schools and school leaders (Quick & Normore, 2004). In some cases the nature of these issues and related problems appear to be unresolvable The issues facing educators and their related problems are always surrounded by controversy, therefore, personal, group, and organizational conflict are inevitable (Norton, 2005).
Many of the problems encountered in school systems and other organizations are due to the mere fact that humans are human, schools are people, and school problems largely are people problems (Norton, 2005). In complex societies, creating and sustaining a vital public school system is a tall order. It cannot be done without a dedicated, highly competent teaching force, working together for the continuous improvement of the schools. One cannot get skilled teachers working in harmony without leaders at all levels guiding and supporting the process (Fullan, 2003).
In the year 2000, the American Associations of
School Administrators (AASA), completed a comprehensive analysis of the school
superintendency in the
Trends in financing education have moved from the theme of “equal educational opportunity” from the 1970s through the early 1990s to today’s focus of “excellence,” “efficiency,” and “productivity.” Budgets today are leaner and meaner with less real money when you take into account inflation (Lunenburg & Ornstein, 2000). While national productivity has improved there is not as much money to be divided among all public groups and sectors of the economy. For instance, since 1980 the economic security of the elderly has improved while the welfare of children has deteriorated. This is due to increased tax burdens to parents and tax transfers and Social Security benefits to the aging population (Palmer, Smeeding & Torrey, 1988). With corporate leaders often serving on school boards the corporate mindset of downsizing will likely be an issue faced by educational leaders of the 21st century. Some cost reduction trends may include an increase in classroom size, modernization of older school buildings instead of building new ones, smaller schools, energy cost-cutting measures, and administrative layoffs.
Environmental hazards such as asbestos, radon gas, school lead and indoor air quality will likely be issues faced in the future by school administrators. Financing these areas will prove to be difficult since 80 to 95 percent of most school districts operational budget is spent on salaries (Norton, 2005). The nation’s school infrastructure (plumbing, sewer, heat, electric, roof, masonry, and carpentry) is also in a state of grave disrepair. Schools seem to be deteriorating at a faster rate than they can be repaired, and faster than most other public facilities (Ornstein, 1993). The plumbing, electrical wiring and heating systems in many schools are dangerously out of date, roofing is below code, and exterior materials are chipped and cracked. The accumulated cost to repair the nations schools, can now be conservatively placed at $50 billion and may run as high as 115 billion (Ornstein & Cienkus, 1995).
The issue of inadequate finance will likely be a thorn in the side
of many administrators for years to come.
Until parents and citizens wake up and demand appropriate financing to
educate American children, things are suspect to remain unchanged. The
Assessment and Student Outcomes
The American Associations of School Administrators (AASA) 2000 study also revealed assessing and testing learner outcomes was the second highest ranked factor that inhibits school effectiveness of school administrators (Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, 2000). Historically, the American education system has always been the focus of some kind of reform movement accompanied by new calls for accountability. However, there has never been a time in American history where educators are expected to do more with students and to do it better than ever before.
State testing requirements have been a leading topic of discussion and controversy during the current decade. Ziomek and Maxey (1993) reported that by 1991, 47 states had put into practice mandated testing for students in public schools. Executive leaders in the 21st century must deal with threats of state takeovers and/or school closures, when students are recognized as not meeting mandated achievement standards. With chants of “No Child Left Behind” echoing through the halls of various public schools many parents and school officials are asking how realistic are all of these assessments and are they potential harmful to students. “Clearly, the demands on the position of superintendent have expanded and require greater patience, knowledge, and skill. These strong winds of accountability for students from more diverse backgrounds, added to the roles of cheerleader, budget keeper, spokesperson, conflict manager, and persuader, leave storm-tossed superintendents looking for safer harbors” (Hoyle, 2002, p.8).
In the AASA 2000 study conducted by Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, accountability was ranked third in issues and challenges faced by educational administrators. The No Child Left Behind Legislation, signed into law by President George W. Bush on January 8, 2002, has had a profound effect on the accountability of individual schools and, by extension, the school leader (Lamorgese, 2005). It is well documented through research and now well accepted by policy makers that educational administrators who are strong leaders do make a difference in the effectiveness of schools (Lezotte, 1989; Sammons, Hillman, & Mortimore, 1995). However, the notion of the principal as “Rambo, leading the school up the path of glory” (Glickman, 1991, p.7) is not a realistic or viable metaphor for the leader of the twenty-first century school. Influences of the academic standards movement, the NCLB legislation, demands by parents, business leaders, and politicians, and the charter school movement have required educational administrators to move from instructional leader to “coordinator of instructional leaders” (Glickman, 1991, p.7) to improve academic achievement for all children (Lamorgese, 2005).
In years past school quality used to be measured through teacher qualifications, student-teacher ratios, per-pupil expenditures, and other variables. However, with the passage and signing of the NCLB legislation and standards-based reform initiatives, accountability has taken on new meaning. These initiatives “specifically student achievement test scores” have become the primary indicator of school quality (Doran, 2004, p.56). According to NCLB, each state is required to develop and execute an accountability system that will ensure all Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) and schools make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). The success of the school in meeting AYP is ultimately traced back to the leadership within each individual school (McPeake, 2007).
As if inadequate school funding, compliance with state/federal mandates, assessment and testing requirements, and accountability were not enough, educational leaders of today have an infinite list of additional responsibilities to undertake in order to ensure success for students. Educational administrators must maintain school board relationships, and preserve community relations. Twenty first century leaders must also face the challenge of dealing with an increasingly diverse ethnic and racial population. According to Kopkowski (2006), more than 5 million English-language learners enrolled in public schools in the early 2000s which equaled a greater than 65 percent jump from the previous decade. These students require a wide array of services to provide the quality education mandated by current legislation.
Administrators must also deal with the social
problems that children of the 21st century are facing. Many children today live in impoverished
and/or drug ridden homes. In 2005, 41
percent of all fourth graders in the
The imperious question which continues to rear it’s head is, “how can an administrator be successful under these circumstances?” One contemporary extension of administrative perspectives implemented in schools to face the 21st century challenges is systems theory. Systems theory is a way of viewing schools as learning organizations (Banathy, 1992, p. 14). The learning organization has received much attention since the publication of Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline in 1990. Senge define the learning organization as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to ensure the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” (Senge, 1990, p.3). Under the systems theory or systems thinking model, administrators must have a conceptual framework which sees all building and district constituencies as interrelated subsystems. As many educators are more comfortable working in isolation, systems thinking endeavors to break down those barriers in an attempt to improve quality of instruction. In Arthur Wise’s book A License to Teach: Raising Standards for Teaching he reiterates the point of teamwork. He says:
“Professionals do not work alone; they work in teams. Professionals begin their preparation in the University but do not arrive in the workplace ready to practice. They continue their preparation on the job. In medical, legal, and architectural settings, services are provided by experienced and novice professionals working together to accomplish the goal- to heal the patient, win the lawsuit, plan the building. The team delivers the services… the novice learn by doing, with feedback and correction” (Wise, 1999, p 82).
Administrators of the 21st century must recognize the value in teamwork and labor relentlessly to manage their organizations amalgamating a systems approach. “Involving teachers, administrators, students, parents, and community members in skillful ways promotes collective commitment to learning for all students” (Lambert, 2003, p 95).
Leading effectively in the 21st century will require leaders with an array of leadership styles. The most effective school leaders are able to Lead, not manage; Foresee, not react; Inspire, not command; Collaborate, not dictate; and Empower, not control (Lucket, 2005). The traditions and beliefs surrounding leadership easily make a case that leadership is vital to effective education. Leaders in the 21st century must align their individual leadership style to reflect the needs and expectations of the organization. There are no out-of-the-box prescriptions for leading successful schools, but there is consensus that certain knowledge, skills, and dispositions can be acquired and practiced (Mills, 2008). Lezotte, (2002) identified the following behaviors associated with good leadership: a clear and focused mission, a climate of high expectations, opportunity to learn, and student time spent on tasks. Through his work on the nature of businesses that have gone from Good to Great, Collins (2001) identifies what he refers to as “Level 5 Leaders,” those who are more interested in building a great company than drawing attention to themselves. Covey’s (1990) influence on education rivals that of Collins with his posits of behavior for a variety of situations. Bennis (2003) identifies four critical characteristics of effective leadership emphasizing the ability to engage others through a shared vision, having a clear confident voice, and a sense of purpose and self.
It would require a superhuman effort for a school leader to possess all the identified standards and competencies found in the literature. It is highly unlikely any one individual will possess all the characteristics listed in the standards and responsibilities of leadership mentioned previously. The expectation is exactly that, however, in today’s education environment. Marzano, Waters, and McNulty (2005) suggest the solution is for leadership to “shift the focus from a single individual to a team of individuals.” When school leadership becomes the responsibility of a team of individuals within the school, all the desired leadership qualities and competencies can be achieved.
Clearly the demands placed on today’s educational administrators far surpass what is realistically possible for one person to manage. McPeake, (2007) reported that the average time worked by educational leaders was 60.3 hours per week. The incessant increase of the role and responsibilities of school administrators must be explored for the survival of the profession. The profession of educational administrator is very complex and multifaceted. Professional school leaders perform a job that is fragmented and varied, while being expected to remain focused on emphasizing teamwork and promoting consistent school reform (Blair, 2001; Morrow, 1993). To prevent these professionals from being overwhelmed by the challenges they face daily, assistance must be offered. Such assistance would help school administrators focus on their first priority, providing quality education for all students.
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