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Effective leadership qualities and characteristics of urban school principals

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: MiChele R Holly
Abstract:
This narrative and case study of several principals in the Pittsburgh Public Schools will examine effective leadership styles in urban school districts. This research intends to prove that there are different qualities and characteristics necessary to promote change within an urban school setting. Data from a survey, school observations, and interviews were analyzed using qualitative research methods. The interviews consisted of questioning on leadership, management styles, effectiveness of strategies and qualities and characteristics that are imperative in relation to the role as an urban school administrator. The responses were measured against the existing data presented by various theorists on leadership in an extensive literature review. Observations entailed interactions between the administrator (subject) and students, and administrator (subject) and staff. The study determined that the establishment of school wide norms, a positive relationship with students and staff, visibility, and trust play an integral role in the success of an urban school. Aligned with the literature review, the subjects stated that in comparison to other school districts in which they were employed, the urban setting has a higher rate of mental illness, staff and student absenteeism, and environmental issues. A qualitative design methodology was employed to examine the process through a naturalistic inquiry approach. There were four administrator (principal) subjects and four non administrator subjects. Two semi-structured interviews and two non participatory interviews were conducted with the administrator (principal) subjects. One semi-structured interview with the non administrator subjects was conducted. All subjects completed the Leadership Practices Inventory. The results showed that the administrative subjects first established functional leadership teams comprised of various staff members allowing them to facilitate and take leadership roles in the development of the team. All eight subjects concurred that the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Kouzes and Posner (2003) are most effective when exerted in concert with each other. Although they identified areas that were stronger than others, they agreed that their style is a blend of all of the areas. The administrative subjects stated concluded that their success is due to their ability to establish relationships. The non administrative subjects expect administrators to provide clear expectations, provide opportunities for shared decision making and an administrator that is consistent and models the behaviors that they expect. The data collected from this dissertation study is intended to serve as a resource for current urban practitioners as well as those that have an interest in pursuing the urban principalship.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Dedication ..................................................................................................................... iii

Acknowledgements ....................................................................................................... iv

Abstract ......................................................................................................................... vi

Chapter 1

Introduction .....................................................................................................1

Background of the Study ..............................................................................................2

Statement of the Problem .............................................................................................5

Significance of the Study .............................................................................................7

Overview of the Methodology .................................................................................... 11

Limitations of the Study ............................................................................................. 12

Chapter 2

Review of the Literature ................................................................................ 14

Legislation/Leadership ............................................................................................... 14

Theories of Leadership ............................................................................................... 17

Principal Preparation Programs .................................................................................. 35

Perception of Educational Leadership by Non-Administrators .................................... 46

Chapter 3

Methodology ................................................................................................. 53

Logistics of School Selection ..................................................................................... 55

Descriptive Data of Subjects ...................................................................................... 56

Rationale for Using the Case Study Design ................................................................ 59

ix

Rationale for Using the Narrative Research Design .................................................... 60

Research Instrumentation ........................................................................................... 60

Data Analysis ............................................................................................................. 63

Chapter 4

Results ........................................................................................................... 66

Purpose of the Study .................................................................................................. 66

Organization and Analysis of the Data ....................................................................... 66

Triangulation of the Study .......................................................................................... 70

Research Question 1................................................................................................... 94

Research Question 2................................................................................................... 96

Research Question 3................................................................................................... 99

Chapter 5

Summary, Conclusion, and Recommendations ............................................ 103

Background and Purpose of the Study ...................................................................... 103

Overview of Methodology ....................................................................................... 104

Conclusions ............................................................................................................. 120

Significance of the Study ......................................................................................... 123

Recommendations .................................................................................................... 125

References ................................................................................................................... 126

Appendix A

IRB Approval from Robert Morris Univ. and Pittsburgh Public Schools .. 135

Appendix B

Consent to Act as a Participant in a Research Study ................................. 138

Appendix C

Permission to Use the Leadership Practices Inventory .............................. 143

x

Appendix D

Leadership Practices Inventory ................................................................ 145

Appendix E

Interview Questions for Administrative and Non-admin. Subjects ............ 150

Appendix F

Interview Manuscripts of Administrative and Non-admin. Subjects .......... 152

Appendix G

Scoring Tabulation of Responses to the Leadership Practices Inventory ... 200

Appendix H

Cross Tabulation to Leadership Practices Inventory by Admin. Status ..... 201

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Chapter 1 Introduction As mandated state and federal legislation pressures to restructure schools to better meet the needs of our high demanding and ever changing society, the principal‟s effective leadership practices have become extremely important as we enter this next stage in school effectiveness. The effectiveness of administrators depends on the decisions they make, the priorities they set, and those decisions and priorities that are made for them. The literature on effective schools has offered images of principals as strong leaders and in many cases, has linked exceptional school leadership to positive school climate. The capacity to change, improve, and achieve is a concept primarily related to the educational leader. The effective schools literature explains that the principal acts as the instructional leader and must effectively and persistently communicate the mission to improve to the staff, parents, and students (Association for Effective Schools [AES], 1996). This comes with the increased demands being placed on principals in today‟s changing society and economy, principals of urban schools are continually struggling to raise achievement. As a result, society is attempting to shift the blame of ineffective education from teachers to administration by claiming that their lack of proper education and preparation in administration is partly responsible for failure (Kahlenberg & Wasow, 2003). One of the suggested remedies is to provide all educators with more professional development and ongoing support throughout their principalship. However, earmarking money toward professional development for these leaders is a high-risk investment. As research on organizational change suggests that leaders need at least five years for

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successful implementation of large scale change, many principals aren‟t staying in the field long enough to yield a return on the investment (University Council for Educational Administration [UCEA], 2008). In a study by the University Council of Educational Administration (UCEA), it was concluded that a minimum expectation for principal retention is approximately three years. In 2007, 52% of the principals had left within a three year period. The turnover rate appeared to be higher in urban schools where more than 50% of the students were economically disadvantaged. The turnover rate in these environments averaged 73% in a five year period (UCEA, 2008). The demands of urban schools make it near impossible to keep principal turnover low and retain principals for at least five years, which is critical to quality school improvement (Fullan, 1991). To turn this around, it is extremely important that through extensive research, the most effective qualities and characteristics needed to promote change in urban education are clearly identified. Background of the Study Two and a half decades ago, A Nation at Risk

( the 1983 report of U.S. President Ronald Reagan 's National Commission on Excellence in Education ) was born. Its publication contributed to the ever-growing (and still present) sense that American schools are failing miserably. Its publication kicked off a wave of local, state, and federal reform efforts. This report stressed to the nation the importance of improving the quality of education in our count r y ( National Commission on Excellence in Education [NCEE] , 1983 ) .

A Nation at Risk (1983) specifically recommended strong leadership as a means for school improvement. Effective school research on this topic has also recognized the

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importance of quality leadership by identifying strong instructional leadership as an instrument in creating a positive school climate. Furthermore, effective school studies have consistently identified strong instructional leadership by the principal as a necessity of high-achieving schools (Edmonds, 1979). As addressed in A Nation at Risk, there are many students graduating from high school without the math, reading, writing, and science skills necessary to compete in our knowledge based economy. A Nation at Risk also emphasized that a public commitment to excellence and educational reform must be made at the expense of a strong public commitment to the equitable treatment of our diverse population. Whereas the average citizen is better educated and knowledgeable than generations ago, the average college graduate is not as well educated as the average graduate 25 to 35 years ago (AES, 1996). These facts prompted the most recent legislation affecting the practice of education; the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. NLCB aims for 100% proficiency in the areas of reading and mathematics by 2014. NCLB ensures accountability and flexibility as well as increased federal support for education. No Child Left Behind requires that school districts disaggregate test scores based on subgroups, so that minorities (African American, Hispanic, etc.), English Language Learners (ELL), special education, and students of low socioeconomic status do not fall within an achievement average that is not representative of their individual performance. For the reported scores to be considered valid, all schools must report a 95% or higher participation rate on the state test to assure that all students had the opportunity to take the test.

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Under No Child Left Behind, every state is required to set up standards for grade level achievement, and develop a system to measure the progress of all students and subgroups in meeting those state determined grade-level standards. As a support to school districts that have large subgroups, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 created the federally funded Title programs to improve the academic achievement of the economically disadvantaged. These programs provide supplemental education support for students whose socioeconomic status falls within the eligibility guidelines for the federal Free and Reduced Meal (FARM) program in their school district. Fifty-four percent of Title 1 schools are identified as in need of academic improvement, and 90% of the schools in academic restructuring are in urban school districts (Azzam, Perkins-Gough, & Thiers, 2006). As a result, President Bush requested to increase the NCLB budget by an additional $410 million to ensure that parents, students, and teachers receive and understand the vital information about the performance of individual students, schools, and school districts (U.S. Department of Education [USDE], 2001). Despite the efforts made by local, state, and federal governments, urban schools are still failing. Once a school fails to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), it seems to be a downward spiral for that school. Schools that fail to make AYP for two consecutive years are placed in School Improvement I and the students have the option to transfer to another school in the district. After the fourth year that a school does not make AYP, the school must provide Supplemental Educational Services (SES). Supplemental Educational Services refer to extra academic help, such as tutoring or remedial help, that is provided to students in subjects such as reading, language arts, writing, and math. This

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extra help can be provided before or after school, on weekends, or in the summer (USDE, 2001). After the fifth consecutive year a school doesn‟t make AYP, the school must continue to provide SES and allow students to transfer to higher performing schools as well as take one of the following actions: 1. implement a new curriculum and provide professional development for the necessary staff 2. replace school staff responsible for school not making AYP 3. extend the school year/school day 4. restructure internal organization of the school 5. appoint an outside expert to advise the school of its progress toward making AYP 6. decrease management authority at the school level. In subsequent years that the school does not make AYP, governance of the school may be taken over by the state educational agency (USDE, 2001). Once the managerial authority of the administration has been decreased, there is very little room for innovation or creativity in resolving the issue of declining achievement. In short, the urban principal is being held at a high level of accountability. If the state mandated benchmarks are not met for four consecutive testing years, the principal may be subjected to removal (USDE, 2001). Statement of the Problem In today‟s educational system, there is a profoundly inequitable distribution of educational resources. Too many city districts are overwhelmed by invasive politics, a rapid turnover in administrators, inadequate and ill-spent resources, a shortage of good

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principals and teachers, conflicts with teachers' unions, disengaged or angry parents, and apathy from state lawmakers (Ayers, 1994). As a result, many urban schools are deemed as dysfunctional (Vox, 2008). As a range of tangled and self-interested bureaucracies control city schools, urban schools are slowly becoming a culture of contempt for city kids, distant from communities and families, and a place where teachers and students are slowly dying (Ayers, 1994). In urban school districts, where students are coming with many different experiences, the task of educating the students to the level of proficiency that is mandated by federal legislation is more challenging than non-urban schools. To meet this level of proficiency despite the challenges that are common to the urban setting, a different set of leadership characteristics and qualities must be employed. First and foremost, principals working in these educational settings must be properly trained as effective leaders within the unique culture of their particular school. Thus, the statement of the problem in this research study was to identify what leadership qualities/characteristics the urban principal needs to have in order to meet with success in an urban school district. The task for this researcher was to be able to identify from the available literature, from the in-depth interviews of administrators and non- administrators that are currently serving in leadership roles (and who may also that have an interest in pursuing the principalship), from the administration of Kouzes and Posner‟s Leadership Practices Inventory (2003), and from passive observation of behavior and interaction within the natural school setting, just what these qualities might be, that an urban principal would need to have for successful leadership. Through the collection of this data, the researcher addressed the following research questions:

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1. How is leadership defined, and which qualities/characteristics are strongly supported by the literature and commonly practiced in today‟s schools? 2. What do faculty and staff expect from an administrator‟s functioning role in an urban school (What constitutes an effective leader in the schools)? 3. What types of leadership skills are particularly necessary or relevant to urban school leaders (principals) that make this case unique? Part of the evidence presented in this study examined what has proven to be effective for several urban school principals and might also be used as a guideline for urban administration that can improve the effectiveness of new administrators in the urban school setting. Again, the purpose of this research study was to examine which leadership qualities and/or characteristics may be most effective in promoting positive change with teachers and staff in an urban setting. For administrators and leaders to be successful in the urban school and to meet initiatives such as NCLB, characteristics and personal qualities must be identified. Hence, in this dissertation, the researcher isolated factors that have contributed to a successful urban administration, and identified the most important qualities of an effective leader. Significance of the Study Implementing initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001 is forcing all of those responsible for implementation of quality education to confront the weaknesses of urban school leadership and is making it impossible to ignore the need for higher quality principals. As a result, it is imperative to provide principals with the instructional leadership necessary to improve student achievement. There are several factors that are responsible for NCLB‟s greater effect on urban schools when compared

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to suburban and rural schools. Greater diversity in urban districts means that additional numbers of subgroups must make Adequate Yearly Progress. Urban school districts often include dozens of schools, unlike smaller districts that might only have one school for each grade span; and urban schools often have a higher number of students living in poverty, which affects achievement. On average, urban students perform far worse than children who live outside central cities on virtually every measure of academic performance (Olson & Jerald, 1998). The longer the students stay in school, the wider the achievement gap grows. Hence, principals and teachers in urban settings have greater challenges to overcome than their suburban and rural counterparts. On average, urban schools have larger enrollments than suburban and rural schools at both elementary and secondary levels, and they are most likely to serve low- income students. Urban students are more likely to attend schools with high concentrations of low-income students. Forty percent of students in urban locales attend high poverty schools or schools with over 40% of students receiving free and reduced lunch, whereas only 10% of suburban students and 25% percent of rural students attend high poverty schools (USDE, 2004). As a result, students in urban schools have lower achievement scores than their counterparts in suburban schools. In addition, urban schools educate 40% of the students without English Language proficiency, 75% of minority students, and 40% of the nation‟s low income students. The low skill levels of students leaving high school is one of America‟s most pressing domestic policy issues. The increased school dropout rate is one of the many indicators of the magnitude of the problem. Dropout rates in many urban schools exceed 50%. Nationally, 35% of Black and Hispanic students drop out prior to graduation (USDE, 2004).

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Some of the behavioral issues that contribute to the drop out problem are absenteeism, classroom discipline, weapons possession, and student pregnancy. All of these issues are becoming more common in urban schools. Students in high poverty schools are less likely to feel safe in school, or spend as much time on homework, as those in schools with lower poverty levels. Urban teachers have fewer resources available to them and less control over their curriculum than teachers in other locations (Project Site Support (PSS), 2008). Although these problems are not unique to only urban schools, the magnitude of these problems confronting urban school districts are bigger, costlier, more numerous, and tougher to overcome than those facing most rural and suburban school systems. In fact, when people talk about the problems in public education, they're usually not talking about suburbs or small towns; they're talking about big-city schools, specifically the ones that serve poor children (Olson & Jerald, 1998). Every city has its few lighthouse schools, where poor and minority children achieve at high levels; however, such excellence rarely transcends the majority of urban schools (Olson & Jerald, 1998). Students in urban schools are often encouraged to participate in programs with lower expectations for academic performance. This is contrary to the effective schools research which strongly supports schools that establish and maintain high expectations and standards for all students. These schools are usually successful in helping students to meet those expectations and higher standards. There is definitely a common thread among the problems that exist in urban schools. One of the biggest problems noted was a lack of consistency in discipline, which sends mixed messages and often contributes to the problems of the already struggling student. The effective schools research supports the establishment and maintenance of clear rules for

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behavior of all students, and with rules enforced fairly and equitably for all (AES, 1996). In order to meet this challenge, a uniform set of effective leadership qualities and characteristics of urban school principals must be identified. Other urban issues indicated were the decline of teacher and parent involvement, the weakened system of accountability for the performance of these students, the use of effective classroom instruction, management techniques, teacher responsibility, and expectations that all students can and will learn (McDermott & Rothenberg, 2000). Many of the students are often characterized by a lack of engagement in learning. The effective schools research emphasized the importance of holding the expectation that all students are involved in their own learning and that all students understand and respect the fact that the school is a place dedicated to learning. One of the proposed ways to address the problem of ill prepared educators was to require that all teachers and educational leaders are highly qualified. To become highly qualified under No Child Left Behind, one must hold a bachelor‟s degree, a valid teaching and/or administrative certification, and demonstrate competency in their content/subject area (USDE, 2001). However, this doesn‟t seem to be enough. Urban school districts report that over 88% of their staff is highly qualified, yet the schools are still falling short of making Adequate Yearly Progress (Azzam, 2006). In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, all principals are required to hold a valid and current state-issued certificate in educational administration, which can be completed at the master‟s level, doctoral level, or as part of a certification program. Each of these programs consists of theory-based classes with some practical applications; however, a

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practicum or apprenticeship component is not required by the Commonwealth. After the completion of this theory-based program, principals are expected to rise to the challenge of leading their schools to proficiency levels. Some principals are successful; others are not. Education officials in Washington, D.C., state that inner-city principals cannot succeed without enough business smarts to manage adults. This prompted efforts in several school districts such as Houston, New York, and San Diego to train principals differently (New Leaders, 2009). As a result, leadership programs such as the one at Rice University (Houston, Texas) designed to create education entrepreneurs is becoming more popular. As a result of Rice University not having a school of education, the students that complete the educational leadership program will receive a Master‟s of Business Administration (MBA). These students will also receive certification to teach in Houston Public Schools. More and more unconventional programs like the Rice program are being explored because there are some administrators, despite having the required training completed through a college or university, who are unable to promote success among teachers or students. Overview of the Methodology This study employed qualitative research methodology. It was an investigative study that used two research qualitative designs: narrative and case study. The research study also included an extensive review of the related literature as it applied to public school principal leadership and urban school leadership. Case studies were conducted in the natural school setting by the passive observation of administrators in the Pittsburgh Public School District as they interacted with each other, interacted with students, and

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carried out their daily responsibilities and tasks. Their distinguishing qualities and characteristics were the focal point of the observations. The researcher‟s notes on the observations served as talking points for the second interview. After the second interview, the administrative subjects were given the Leadership Practices Inventory designed by Drs. James Kouzes and Barry Posner (2003), to gain their perspective, expectations, and particular style of effective leadership. These case studies helped to identify leadership qualities and characteristics that have been successful for these practitioners in the urban educational setting. The non-administrative subjects were interviewed once to collect data on their expectation of urban leadership, principal preparation programs, and perception of effective leadership characteristics and qualities. At the conclusion of their interview, they were given the Leadership Practices Inventory (2003) to complete as well. The researcher anticipated that the findings of this study will serve as a reference point and as a knowledge base for those in leadership positions, and those seeking leadership positions in an urban setting. This study was intended to provide the reader with the specialized or unique leadership styles that are most effective in the urban school setting. In addition to the identification of effective leadership characteristics by those in administrative positions and those aspiring to become administrators, the relevance of principal preparation programs was also examined. Limitations of the Study This study was limited to principals and teachers in the Pittsburgh Public School District. To assure that success wasn‟t based on preexisting relationships, only principals that were assigned to their current school within the last two years were invited to

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participate. As a prerequisite, all of the principals must have received a satisfactory rating in their role as administrators, and be eligible to receive a performance pay bonus that was to be awarded based 50% on student achievement and 50% on other factors such as student attendance and discipline rates, parent and community involvement, and successful implementation of the America's Choice classroom-management program (Smydo, 2008). Also, due to time constraints, the observations and research for this study were limited to two interview sessions and two observations per administrative (principal) subject, and one interview per non-administrative subject. All subjects completed the Leadership Practices Inventory (2003).

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Chapter 2 Review of the Literature The review of literature contains four major sections. The first section of the chapter is an overview of the legislation prompting a sense of urgency to change directions within the realm of educational leadership. This section focused on federal legislation as it identified strong leadership as the key to school reform. The second section focused on the various theorists, and the existing philosophies of effective leadership, as many schools are adopting leadership philosophies from both the social and corporate sector. The third section focused on innovative principal preparation programs designed to address the uniqueness of the urban school setting, and the last section focused on the perception of educational leadership by non-administrators. To adequately address the four sections, the review of literature 1) established through current federal mandates a sense of urgency to re-examine our current leadership practices, 2) analyzed the existing body of knowledge in reference to urban leadership, 3) examined the current preparation programs and their effectiveness of preparing the urban administrator, and 4) evaluated the perception of school administration, and why few certificated educators become administrator practitioners. The limited information available about effective urban leadership qualities and characteristics reinforces the need for such a study. Legislation/Leadership Educational reform began to rise to the forefront of public discussion in the 1950s when the United States federal government launched a series of large-scale national curriculum reform initiatives. This movement peaked in 1983 with the publishing of A

Full document contains 221 pages
Abstract: This narrative and case study of several principals in the Pittsburgh Public Schools will examine effective leadership styles in urban school districts. This research intends to prove that there are different qualities and characteristics necessary to promote change within an urban school setting. Data from a survey, school observations, and interviews were analyzed using qualitative research methods. The interviews consisted of questioning on leadership, management styles, effectiveness of strategies and qualities and characteristics that are imperative in relation to the role as an urban school administrator. The responses were measured against the existing data presented by various theorists on leadership in an extensive literature review. Observations entailed interactions between the administrator (subject) and students, and administrator (subject) and staff. The study determined that the establishment of school wide norms, a positive relationship with students and staff, visibility, and trust play an integral role in the success of an urban school. Aligned with the literature review, the subjects stated that in comparison to other school districts in which they were employed, the urban setting has a higher rate of mental illness, staff and student absenteeism, and environmental issues. A qualitative design methodology was employed to examine the process through a naturalistic inquiry approach. There were four administrator (principal) subjects and four non administrator subjects. Two semi-structured interviews and two non participatory interviews were conducted with the administrator (principal) subjects. One semi-structured interview with the non administrator subjects was conducted. All subjects completed the Leadership Practices Inventory. The results showed that the administrative subjects first established functional leadership teams comprised of various staff members allowing them to facilitate and take leadership roles in the development of the team. All eight subjects concurred that the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership by Kouzes and Posner (2003) are most effective when exerted in concert with each other. Although they identified areas that were stronger than others, they agreed that their style is a blend of all of the areas. The administrative subjects stated concluded that their success is due to their ability to establish relationships. The non administrative subjects expect administrators to provide clear expectations, provide opportunities for shared decision making and an administrator that is consistent and models the behaviors that they expect. The data collected from this dissertation study is intended to serve as a resource for current urban practitioners as well as those that have an interest in pursuing the urban principalship.