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This book is a volume in the Jossey-Bass Leadership Library in Education—a series designed to meet the demand for new ideas and insights about leadership in schools.
In order to catch the immediacy of a challenge to moral educational leadership, let us begin with a composite case drawn from repeated accounts of actual principals and superintendents struggling with moral issues embedded in state and national school reform policies. The case presents a kind of morality play, a dramatic art form of moral education in which you are asked to place yourself within the unfolding narrative and wrestle in your imagination with the responsibilities that seem to be embedded in the situation. I will suggest that you step out of the play from time to time to sort through your reflections and gain some conceptual clarity about your own moral landscape.
Al Auther, a thirty-six-year-old white man, is beginning the third year of his first principalship at Roosevelt Middle School. He has spent the first two years getting to know the school community well, sizing up and making allies on the staff in the school district office; reviewing student records; adapting curriculum and pedagogy to accommodate state curriculum guidelines; reviewing the school's performance against the guidelines of Turning Points, the national blueprint for improving middle schools (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1989), and attempting to identify the major problems facing the school.
Al's school has a student population of 890 ingrades five through eight, with a decidedly multicultural mix of students. Thirty percent of the students are lower-middle-class whites, most of whose parents have a high school education and are engaged in the service industry, the trades, or small business endeavors. Fourteen percent of the students are African American, many of whom come from what are locally referred to as "the projects"-public housing for low-income families and those on public assistance. Haitian American students make up an additional 7 percent of the student body, and Jamaican American students make up another 4 percent. Recent arrivals from Cambodia and Malaysia make up 5 and 4 percent, respectively; those from Brazil currently constitute 3 percent of the student body. The remainder of the students are grouped as Hispanics, although they can be broken down into subgroups: 18 percent Puerto Rican Americans, 6 percent Mexican Americans, 6 percent Dominican Americans, 3 percent Nicaraguan Americans. Almost all of the Puerto Rican American youngsters are bilingual when they enter middle school, although half of those students are academically on the margin due to frequent migrating between Puerto Rico and the mainland United States and changes of residences and school districts. Roughly half of the other Hispanic students have arrived in the United States within the last two years and have achieved varying levels of English proficiency. Some of the Haitian American students are bilingual when they arrive at middle school, and the Jamaican American students are normally quite proficient in English, having grown up in a former British colony. The Cambodian and Malaysian students appear to be struggling the most in their efforts to master English, especially conversational English. Furthermore, the Malaysian students are strict Muslims and tend to keep to themselves in their tightly knit community. Of the 890 students, 517 qualify for free lunches.
Fourteen percent of the student body is classified as having moderate to severe disabilities. Although the school practices inclusion of most of these students in a regular classroom, special education teachers still work primarily in pullout programs for specific academic assistance. Al has noticed that a disproportionate percentage of the students with moderate disabilities are African American and Mexican American students. He spoke with the special education teachers about reviewing some of their cases, but nothing has changed in one and a half years. He tried to provide some common planning time for the special education and general education teachers to talk about strategies for their special needs children, but they tended to retain a rather compartmentalized view of their responsibilities. Although some of the more severely challenged students have full-time teacher aides assigned to them, none of the aides has had any specialized professional training in dealing with specific disabilities. Neither, for that matter, have any of the general education teachers.
The school district, heavily dependent on state financial assistance because of the low tax base in the district, struggles to maintain a competitive teacher salary scale. Every year, however, young and promising teachers are lost to more affluent school communities, resulting in a relatively bifurcated teaching body of older teachers who have remained in the district and younger teachers right out of university, few of whom have come from diverse communities. Due to recent cutbacks in state assistance, the school system has had to enlarge the average class size from twenty-five to twenty-nine in order to maintain a balanced budget.
When Al Auther arrived as the new principal, his school was considered a low-performing school. Sixty-one percent of the student body was rated as failing or needing assistance on the language arts exam; 57 percent of the student body was rated as failing on the mathematics exam. The district had mandated that the school hold after-school and Saturday morning classes for those low-performing students. Those who needed still further assistance (students who failed the state tests a second time) were required to attend four weeks of summer school. However, the district staffed all of these remediation programs with volunteer teachers on a first come, first served basis. The veteran teachers, who were more familiar with how the system worked, tended to get these extra paying jobs.
The system provided these remediation teachers with no additional professional development that might help them diagnose specific areas in need of remediation or that might train them in alternative teaching or motivational strategies for underperforming students. The remediation classes averaged twenty-five students per class, and Al's visits to these classrooms revealed the same old, same old: teacher-directed pedagogy, worksheets, textbook-dominated instruction, and decontextualized curriculum units. Furthermore, Al had some evidence that many of the Mexican American students' difficulties stemmed from problems with the language of instruction and of the textbook. When he called these weaknesses in the remediation programs to the attention of the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, he was shrugged off with the comment that the district had no additional professional development money available and that state funds for supporting these remediation programs were practically nonexistent.
The situation with special education students was even more desperate. Neither special education teachers nor general education teachers with inclusion students had received any professional development on how to prepare special needs children for the state exams. While the state made provisions for these students to have longer amounts of time to take the tests and, in some cases, have teachers interpret the questions for them, the funding needed to prepare special education and general education teachers for the basic work of mapping the instruction of special needs students to the state curriculum standards simply was not available. Al had asked the central office supervisor for special education whether additional funds could be squeezed from other parts of the district's budget for this purpose but was told by a sympathetic but frustrated veteran of the special education wars that she had already made that effort at several central office budget reviews. All of the district's professional development funds were being spent on workshops for general education teachers in order to map their pedagogy to the state curriculum standards for the general education population of students. Thus, the special education students as well as many of the second-language learners, who together made up the majority of those students at risk of failing the state exams, seemed to be denied, at least indirectly, a genuine opportunity to learn the material they were to be tested on.
During Al's first two years on the job, the school's record on the state exams had improved slightly, but the percentage of failing students hadn't changed, even though the raw scores of the failing students mirrored the slight improvement of the rest of the school. The school's improvement, however, was basically a reflection of the slight improvement of most schools in the state, a fact attributable, in all likelihood, to the increased familiarity of students and teachers with the testing protocols.
Al is growing increasingly uneasy with this situation. One of the provisions of the state policies on school reform stick in his mind. The state has said that the student accountability for passing high-stakes exams has to be matched by the school's provision of an adequate opportunity to learn the material they will be tested on. In other words, the state has said that it would be unfair to fail students on state tests and to penalize them for such failures by holding them back in the same grade or refusing to grant them a diploma if the schools have not provided these students with sufficient opportunity to learn the material needed to pass the test. The phrase, "opportunity to learn," however, has never been specifically defined, nor is there any special funding provision in the school reform law or implementation guidelines to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to learn the material they will be tested on. When Al spoke to other principals in the district, they seemed to believe that the remedial classes and summer school classes were adequate mechanisms to ensure that students had sufficient opportunities to learn. They pointed to the improvement in student scores within the district. One of the veteran principals had commented: "We may not agree with the high-stakes testing policies, but it's not our responsibility to fix policy. Our job is to implement policy as best we can."
Reflection on the Case
How would you respond if you were the principal of Roosevelt Middle School? What would you define as your professional responsibilities in this situation? What would you define as your moral responsibilities in this situation? To further examine the issues raised in this exercise, after you have written down some of your initial responses to these questions, discuss them with a colleague to see how your thoughts compare with his or hers.
After this reflection, return to the narrative. Place yourself again in the role of the principal as he struggles to come to terms with the situation. You may or may not respond in real life the way you find the principal responding. You may want to write your initial responses in a notebook, paralleling the conversations and reflections that follow. On the other hand, you might want to let yourself identify with the character in the narrative, follow the train of thinking and feeling as the case continues to unfold, and later sort out where you would have diverged from Al.
The Play Continues
Al is increasingly bothered by his situation. There seems to be something immoral about punishing students who are failing the state tests, but he can't quite identify the nature of the problem. He decides to seek out Professor Margaret Wissen, one of the professors in the graduate program where he earned his master's degree in educational administration. He is fortunate to have kept up a friendship with her since he graduated, by attending yearly alumni gatherings and an occasional seminar the department conducts for alumni on leadership topics. He manages to set up an appointment with his former professor. What follows is a summary of how the conversation went.
Conversation with Professor Wissen
After exchanging pleasantries, Al explains his situation and his unease with it. Professor Wissen responds, "First, I'd like you to try to articulate your feelings about the situation. You need to clarify the sources of your unease, which may suggest something about why you feel that your leadership is at stake."
That suggestion leads Al to stumble through a somewhat labyrinthine explanation of a deep-seated unease about his responsibility to all of the students who are at risk of failing the state tests. As the principal, he is supposed to care for all of the children in the school, especially those whose life circumstances make success in their studies problematic. Al knows from his own school experience, as well as from his study of early adolescent development, that plenty of kids have the native ability to do well in school but for any number of reasons are not doing well and are unnecessarily punished in various ways by the school and by society for not doing well. Being judged lazy and uncooperative by authorities in schools only drives these youngsters to increased disengagement from their studies. As for special needs children, their handicapping condition often leads to unfair and culturally biased judgments about their intelligence. Most of the special education staff at the school are knowledgeable and caring professionals. They have been patiently working to unlock the learning potential in their students, but each child needs a carefully developed, individual education plan. The state tests, which many of the general education students are also failing, have so raised the bar for special needs children that some will only be able to succeed with carefully reconstructed curricula and pedagogies and testing accommodations for which no one in the district has expertise. Even that improvement might well fail to bring some of the more severely impaired students up to the passing score.
Al continues his halting scouring of his feelings and comes up against a strong reaction to this situation. "Yes! I can name it now: it is an intolerable situation. I simply cannot let this go on and face myself in the mirror and call myself an educator.
"Something deep inside me is at stake.
"On the other hand, what can I do? As principal, my hands are tied by budgetary limitations, by the legal obligations to implement the testing of the students, by the mandates of the superintendent and the school board to improve the test results. Other principals advised me on how to improve test results by putting our limited resources behind those students whose scores are closest to the passing mark. This, of course, would almost guarantee that the students most in need would not pass the test.
Excerpted from Ethical Leadership by Robert J. Starratt Excerpted by permission.
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|1||Becoming moral : the test of leadership||13|
|5||Giving birth to virtue||113|
|6||Implications for leaders of schools||133|
Posted November 24, 2010
I want to use this book for some research that I am doing. I have free access to Starratt's published articles, which are most likely well-represented in this book. The roads are bad and I don't want to go out. I would probably buy this book right now if it was available electronically. By making academic books mostly paper, you are probably missing many sales.
Bottom line: please add this text as an electronic book.