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Gender and racial experiences in executive school leadership: Perceptions of African American female superintendents

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Daveda Jean Colbert
Abstract:
There is a leadership crisis that exists in our schools creating an urgent need for effective leadership. Even though African American women have made slight gains, throughout the country people of color and women are dramatically underrepresented in the superintendency. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study is to provide African American women who aspire to top leadership positions, specifically the superintendency, a candid view of the experiences of those who have dealt with and/or overcome obstacles and cracked the "glass ceiling," obtained superintendent positions and successfully maintained authority as superintendents. While providing insight this study sought to examine the gender and racial issues in top school leadership positions. This study attempts to address why there are so few African American women superintendents by investigating the key experiences that contribute to African American women becoming superintendents. This study attempts to address the concern of African American women being underrepresented in the superintendency by identifying and describing barriers that African American women experience while pursuing superintendent positions and once they have obtained superintendent positions. Barriers present obstacles that must be dealt with or overcome; therefore, this study attempts to provide insight on how current African American women superintendents deal with or overcome barriers that attempt to hinder their success. In this qualitative study, I examined the superintendency through the eyes of current African American women superintendents in a selected Midwestern state. The results indicate that African American women are one of the best resources to remedy the leadership crisis that currently exists. Clearly, the 10 African American women superintendents in the study earned their position of authority despite apparent barriers based on what society feels they are capable of doing because of their gender and race. Therefore, the time has come to change who becomes superintendent. Overall, this study reveals how African American women have pursued and obtained the superintendency and provides a road map for others to follow. The findings are presented in narrative form.

TABLE OF CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGMENTS iv ABSTRACT v LIST OF TABLES xi CHAPTER ONE STATEMENT OF PROBLEM 1 Introduction 1 An Overview of the Glass Ceiling 5 Background and Context 6 Overview of Discrimination and Authority 8 General Statement of the Problem 11 Specific Research Questions 13 Significance of the Study 15 CHAPTER TWO LITERATURE REVIEW 19 Introduction 19 Historical Perspective of Women Superintendents 20 Barriers for Women Superintendents 23 Historical Perspective of Superintendents of Color with an Emphasis on African American Superintendents 31 Barriers for African American Superintendents 36 Historical Perspective of African American Women Superintendents 38 vii

TABLE OF CONTENTS—Continued Barriers for African American Women Superintendents 41 Social Order Shapes Authority 44 The Basis of Authority 45 Authority of Legitimacy 46 Authority of Position 47 Authority of Competence 48 Authority of Person 49 Theoretical Framework Used to Explain the Absence of African American Women in Positions of Authority 50 Structural-Functional Theory 50 Social-Conflict Theory 54 Social-Evolutionist Theory 57 The Superintendency 60 Opportunities Within the Superintendency 64 Overview of the Superintendency in Crisis 65 The Future of the Superintendency 66 CHAPTER THREE RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY 70 Introduction 70 Selected Social Network 71 Researcher Role 72 vm

TABLE OF CONTENTS—Continued Purposeful Sampling Strategies Participants Data Collection Strategies Inductive Data Analysis Strategies to Enhance Validity of the Data CHAPTER FOUR RESULTS Introduction Key Assets Experiences Career/Professional Experience Education Family Faith Mentor/Network Summary of Key Assets Barriers Gender Race Historical Perception and Stereotype Duties/Responsibilities IX

TABLE OF CONTENTS—Continued Summary of Barriers 118 The Problem of Authority 120 Summary of Authority Concepts 123 Conclusion 124 CHAPTERFIVE CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS 126 Introduction 126 Summary and Interpretation 126 Key Assets 128 Barriers 130 Authority 134 Limitations of the Study 135 Future Research Directions 137 Conclusion 137 APPENDICES A. Signed Consent Form Gaining Access 142 B. Interview Question Guide 147 C. Procedure Timeline 150 D. IRB Approval Letter 152 REFERENCES- 154 x

LIST OF TABLES Table A. 1 Procedure Timeline 151 XI

CHAPTERONE STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM Introduction Throughout the nation, a crisis exists in our schools creating an urgent need for effective leadership. The top three administrative posts in public school education (superintendent, assistant superintendent, and high school principal) remain overwhelmingly filled by men (Keller, 1999). Historically, Caucasian males have held the majority of superintendent positions (Glass, 2000b; Shakeshaft, 1987). Ortiz and Marshall (1988) report that the history of the formative years of education uncovers the processes and the meaning of development of a social system in which men secured and continue to retain control of the power structure, where women's roles are undermined. Blount (1998) takes the concept of education as a development of a social system, for men even further by saying the superintendency was created by men who wanted a sage and acceptably masculine place for themselves in a profession identified with women. People of color and women are dramatically underrepresented at the top of public education throughout the country. Such disparities can deny stakeholders in school districts of role models who look like them. The National Education Association (2005) estimates 34% of the nation's 52 million public school students are African American and Hispanic. Yet the National School Board Association (2005) reports African Americans hold less than 5% of superintendent jobs out of an estimated 15,000 districts across the country. There are entire states with no superintendents of color. A number of 1

studies reveal that there have always been very few African American women superintendents (Alston, 2000; Brunner, 1999; Glass, 2000b; Jackson, 1995; Ortiz, 1998). Despite gender and racial bias, African American women should forcefully pursue the ranks of the superintendency. The theoretical framework outlined in this study helps to explore the absence of African American women in the superintendency. Even though African American women have made slight gains despite the barriers faced in advancing to top levels of school leadership, they still remain underrepresented in the superintendency. Women in general still face barriers based on their gender. They also face barriers based on what society believes they should do. Minority women face barriers based on their ethnicity or what society feels they are capable of doing based on their race as well as their gender (Shakeshaft, Nowell, & Perry, 1991). Currently what is known about women superintendents is that many encounter barriers in striving to reach the top. According to Natale (1992) role prejudice is the most far reaching barrier for women. "Role prejudice is a preconceived preference for a specific behavior on the part of the visibly identifiable group. Society views the superintendency as predominately a male job" (p. 11). Despite the battle to ensure equal rights for all, African American women remain not well represented as superintendents throughout the country. The barriers they face create limits for their success within the position. Other informal barriers are myths about women's leadership abilities, which include the concept that, as Klauke (1990) states, "women teach and men lead" (p. 20). As a concept, "lead" implies that other people must be willing to follow and people are not willing to follow a woman's lead. Klauke (1990) argues, "The issue becomes one of 2

the politics of gender and the degree that females find legitimization in their ability to function in a dominant patriarchal organization" (p. 19). Thus, the misconception of social systems impedes the development of African American women in roles of leadership, such as the superintendency of a school district. These role prejudices have contributed to a false limit on leadership positions for African American women. The organizational politics of opening the door of leadership to African American women includes a need to overcome a preconceived preference based on continual prejudicial behavior, not on African American women's ability to lead. Until society accepts the challenge that social change must occur and allows a diverse group of candidates to hold positions of authority or lead organizations, racism and sexism will continue to be inbred in the organizational DNA of most social systems. With that said, reality is largely a matter of perspective. The sociological perspective provides a means to recognize that the forces of society shape the lives of individuals1. Max Weber (1958), the German sociologist, recognized that the vast majority of human decisions cannot be made without regard for others in an organized society. He recognized this fact when he defined power within society as the likelihood that a person can achieve ends in spite of possible resistance from others. This study describes how authority has been shaped by social order, along with the structural- functional paradigm, social-conflict paradigm, and the social evolutionist paradigm. The theories detailed in this research present the theoretical framework used to explain the absence of African American women within top leadership positions, specifically, the superintendency. 3

In La Reproduction, Pierre Bourdieu (1970) argues that social classes, especially the ruling and intellectual classes, reproduce themselves even under the pretence that society fosters social mobility and that the French educational system is instrumental in reproducing the cultural division of society. Because of the power, which could also be expressed as authority, and the intersection of gender and race, African American women holding top leadership positions who find themselves employed by educational organizations and who seek to act as agents of profound systemic change are often lone sheep in a pack full of wolves. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study is to provide African American women who aspire to top leadership positions, specifically the superintendency, a candid view of the experiences of those who have overcome obstacles and cracked the "glass ceiling." Sure, there has been some research on women in educational administration (Shakeshaft, 1989), but there is a need for more specific research on African American women holding top positions. This study helps to provide African American women with research and recommendations on how to fervently continue to overcome odds and break the glass ceiling within leadership positions, specifically the superintendency, an authoritative position where gender and racial bias persist. From the beginning, this research called for a qualitative research approach that was tentative and open-ended, that allowed for an emergent design. An inductive approach to research was used that facilitated the emergence of categories and patterns, known as common themes, from the data collection. The use of organized research methods yielded valid data from the time that the initial focus and design were established. The purpose of the study was to examine the gender and racial issues in top 4

school leadership positions. Specifically, the study was to examine the superintendency from the eyes of African American women superintendents. Obviously, the African American women who hold the esteemed position as superintendent earned their position of authority despite apparent barriers based on what society feels they are capable of doing because of their gender and race. Therefore, their stories need to be examined. An Overview of the Glass Ceiling What is known as the "glass ceiling" is defined in this paper as the gender and racial bias that persists in keeping women and racial-minorities from reaching top positions, especially with an emphasis on top school leadership positions. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines the term "glass ceiling" as referring to the observation that top-level management in businesses consist predominately, if not exclusively, of a certain demographic (e.g. white heterosexual men). Reskin (1977) referred to the glass ceiling as "an unacknowledged discriminatory barrier that prevents women and minorities from rising to positions of power or responsibility, as within a corporation" (p. 747). Gender-based workplace segregation occurs when women's work can be clearly distinguished from men's occupations and when concentrations of men and women appear at different levels in workplace hierarchies (Reskin). This latter form of job participation difference is often called vertical segregation (Blau & Ferber, 1992). A "ceiling" is suggested because persons outside the dominant demographic group are limited in how far they are able to advance inside the organization ranks; the ceiling is "glass" (transparent) because the limitation is not immediately apparent. The "glass ceiling" is distinguished from formal barriers to advancement, such as education or 5

experience requirements. The term is often credited as having been originally coined by Carol Hymowitz and Timothy Schellhardt in the March 24, 1986 edition of the Wall Street Journal. However, Nora Frenkiel reported that Gay Bryant used the term prior to that in a March 1984 Adweek article. In 1991, in the Report on the Glass Ceiling Initiative, the U.S. Department of Labor defined glass ceiling as "those artificial barriers based on attitudinal or organizational bias that prevent qualified individuals from advancing upward in their organization into management-level positions." The Federal Glass Ceiling Commission's paper, A Solid Investment: Making Full Use of the Nation's Human Capital (1995) stated that while minorities and women have made strides in achieving executive positions the last 30 years, and employers increasingly recognize the value of workforce diversity, the executive suite is still overwhelmingly a white man's world. The paper reveals that over half of all master's degrees are now awarded to women, yet 95% of senior-level managers of the top Fortune 1000 industrial and 500 service companies are men. Of those men, 97% are white. African Americans, Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islander Americans and American Indians remain woefully under-represented in the upper echelons of American business. Background and Context There is a persistent gap in the research and literature on African American women superintendents (Alston, 2000,2005; Bloom & Erlandson, 2003). In fact, research in this area is seen as "risky" for tenure track professors to study. Research in gender, race, and ethnicity is often viewed as illegitimate (Brunner & Peyton-Caire, 6

2000). Moreover, the research directed at women superintendents in general has a short 20 year history. Most of the emphasis on women and educational research has been at the teacher level (Brunner, 2000a). While there have not been many opportunities to study African American women superintendents, due to the low number of less than 50 in any given year, there has been a proliferation of data detailing the superintendency in general. The noticeable absence of data disaggregated by gender and race suggests the experiences of women in general and African American women specifically have not been placed on the agenda of importance in education research. The opportunities have been present but the will has been absent (Alston, 2000; Brunner & Peyton-Caire, 2000). This study attempts to address the noticeable and intentional absence of research and literature on African American women superintendents. Throughout history, African American women en route to executive leadership positions on occasion face both racism and sexism. Racism and sexism are social phenomena that cut across America, and school districts are no exception. African American women have to learn how to deal with or overcome the whole issue of racism and sexism. They have to establish their legitimacy and their authority to hold top positions. Society continues to spread the idea that women and minorities belong in subservient roles or working in more traditional fields. Society continues to emphasize the pattern that Caucasians are the gatekeepers of power and privilege and that nothing can be learned from or shared with other groups. The intersection of gender and racial issues is embedded within society and reproduced in schools. The institution of education is expected to teach the values of society, thus transforming children into productive and contributing citizens. This issue 7

implies that the enterprise of public education has to determine the values of society that shape students into model citizens. As values in society change, education must change to reflect and reinforce these new values in order to produce citizens who will represent society in the future. As the values of society continue to change, forces should create change within society as a whole, which includes, but are not limited to, organizations and/or school systems. Authoritative positioning is vital to the success of any organization. Gender makes a big difference in the ways that authority is understood and reinforced within organizations (Rosener, 1990). Race also makes a tremendous difference in the ways that authority is understood and reinforced within organizations (Jackman, 1994). But, the combination of both race and gender is woven into the fabric of society, which continues to impact the ways that authority is understood and reinforced within organizations. The combination of both race and gender appears to negatively impact African Americans success and acceptance in the greater society. Overview of Discrimination and Authority American culture has been shaped largely by people of English ancestry (Borgardus, 1968). One reason for this emphasis could be because Europeans were said to be the original settlers of the United States. The extensive social inequality supported by American culture is one example of how culture works against the interests of some people. For example, women of all social classes have often felt powerless in the face of cultural patterns that reflect the power and privilege of males. The same observation 8

could be made for nonwhites in the face of cultural patterns that reflect white power and privilege. Racial and socioeconomic statuses are among the most prominent types of intergroup relationships that reflect types of social inequality in American society (Cose, 1993). Where social inequalities exist, discrimination is a key feature in intergroup relationships (Jackman, 1994). Discrimination can serve to reinforce the symbolic boundaries that separate the social groups from each other. Given the history of slavery and segregation based on law and custom, research has documented that discrimination based on race has affected a broad range of social outcomes for African Americans (Jaynes & Williams, 1989). Despite the end of the legally-imposed segregation and the expansion of opportunities for African Americans, more recent qualitative studies document the persistence of discrimination in a broad range of social settings for blacks (Cose, 1993; Essed, 1991; Feagin, 1991). Since the late 1950s, legal changes have reduced, but not eliminated, overt patterns of discrimination. As witnessed through anti-discrimination laws that were passed, making changes to laws does not always change the attitudes and behaviors of individuals (Marshall, Knapp, Liggett, & Glover, 1978). This lack of change is in part because anti-discrimination laws are not always actively enforced. For example, widespread opposition, especially in southern states, greeted the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segregated schools. The change occurred very gradually because the social separation of Blacks and Whites had been so deeply rooted in American society. Reports show that two decades later, educational segregation was still widespread in Topeka, Kansas (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1974). Other reports found that in 9

1983 almost two-thirds of white students still attended racially imbalanced schools (Woodall, 1984). Other examples of anti-discrimination laws would be Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which protects men and women who perform substantially equal work in the same establishment from sex-based wage discrimination. Despite many attempts to ensure that equal rights were afforded to all, role prejudice and discrimination exists. Unfortunately, role prejudice and discrimination are generated by social conflict among categories of people. Throughout history, minorities, especially African American women, have been denied equal access to jobs, income, education, and political rights. Some tend to think that minorities should be categorized as socially inferior and they have been treated that way. This happens in all aspects of society from schools to government, from minority youth to women. Apple (1982a, 1982b) reveals that not nearly enough energy has been spent on understanding the relationship between schools and the persistence and reproduction of social and economic disadvantages that systematically affect minority youth and women. As Black sociologists and feminist theorists continuously point out, both mainstream and radical educational researchers have tended to under theorize and marginalize phenomena associated with race and gender (McCarthy & Apple, 1988). Therefore, less is known about the specific content of racial or sexual oppression in schooling. However, discrimination by authoritative figures in education and other social systems tends to reproduce and reinforce the same prejudices toward each generation of African American women. African American girls who feel that they would be capable 10

of holding a position of authority, such as a governor, supreme court justice, chief surgeon, or superintendent of a school district are positioned into lower level career choices by stereotypes that society has created. In many ways, reality then is not a matter of hard facts, but of how people define situations (Berger, 1963). Stereotypes then become very real to those who believe them, including those who suffer as a result of them. This process helps demonstrate why discrimination still exists heavily within authoritative positions, which ultimately can help to explain why the pool of African American women to lead school districts is so limited. For these reasons, the intersection of gender and race continue to play a major role in who holds positions of authority (Goser, 1977). This dissertation study explores these issues, examining how the combination of race and gender might specifically impact the ways that authority is understood and reinforced within top school organizations, which causes the absence of African American women within positions of authority. General Statement of the Problem At a time when effective leadership is needed most and the leadership crisis is crucial, African American women, who are resources to aid the crisis, are still being met with gender and racial barriers while pursuing the superintendency and after they have obtained the position. While women comprise roughly half of the adult population, in 2003 only 13.4% of superintendents were women (Brunner, Grogan, & Prince, 2003), and in 2005,18% were women (Brunner & Grogan, 2005). The persistent shortage of women at the highest levels in a field otherwise dominated by women remains a troubling leadership issue in public education (Grogan, 2005). The Education 11

Commission of the States (2000) reported that committed and capable leadership for public education always has been a critical issue. The Commission believes that effective leadership sets the tone and conditions for schools to serve children well. If that belief is indeed true, more African American women should pursue the executive school leadership position. In 2007, for example, in one particular state, the state-level Association of School Administrators reported that there were 523 superintendents of K-12 public school districts of which 126 are women. The state-level Association of African American Superintendents reported that of the 523 superintendents, 22 were African American, and 10 of the 22 were African American women. With the current data on this state alone, women, and specifically, African American women, are still largely missing from the superintendency. Today, effective school leadership, starting with the superintendent, remains a focal task for our nation (Cooper, Fusarelli, & Carella, 2000; Glass, Bjork, & Brunner, 2000; Hodgkinson & Montenegro, 1999). Public education needs effective diverse leadership to manage the changing demographics of school systems, which brings about a multitude of needs from all of its existing stakeholders. Research needs to be done that would describe and analyze the superintendency from the voices of current African American women superintendents holding the position. From their stories, the research should lead to recommendations about how to deal with and overcome gender and racial bias in leadership positions in general, and specifically school leadership, so that those most suited for the job can gain access to the leadership positions, specifically, the superintendency. African American women need research and recommendations on how 12

to continue to overcome odds and break the glass ceiling, while aspiring to the superintendency and filling the urgent need for effective leadership. Specific Research Questions The three specific research questions for this study were as follows: 1) What are the key assets that contribute to African American women becoming superintendents? 2) Concerning barriers to the superintendency: A. What kinds of barriers do African American women experience while pursuing superintendent positions? B. What kinds of barriers do African American women experience once they have accessed the position of superintendent? C. How have those barriers been overcome? 3) Concerning authority in the context of the superintendency: A. How do African American women attain authority as superintendent? B. How do African American women maintain authority as superintendent? These research questions were designed to better understand the journey of African American women who have broken the glass ceiling, and obtained entry into the ranks of the superintendency. Their stories are guides for others to follow. Research Question One is designed to examine the background history of the African American women superintendents. This question focused on the childhood, educational, and professional experiences of the respondents. Research Question One was designed to explore the lives of the African American women superintendents, for 13

the purpose of informing the study by detailing the research so that there was a clear picture of who the respondents are and specifically what they have experienced en route to the superintendency. Research Question Two was designed to explore the barriers, if any, faced while pursuing the superintendency through the eyes of the African American women participating in the study. The question also sought to find the barriers, if any, faced once the African American women obtained the superintendent positions. The intent of Research Question Two was designed to pinpoint and clarify what the African American women experienced upon becoming the superintendent and the actions they have taken to deal with those experiences. The question also intended to describe the experiences of the African American women superintendents as described as barriers, and the actions they have taken to deal with and/or overcome while maintaining the position. Research Question Three was intended to investigate the disposition of the African American women participating in the study. As superintendents, they ultimately were the authority, yet, the authority must be maintained. The intent of Research Question Three was designed to examine the disposition needed to act as the authority. The question also looked to examine the behaviors or actions of the African American women, as it related to how they maintained their authority as superintendents. The question was designed to examine the things the African American women had to do to establish themselves as the leader. It was designed to allow the respondents to share any adjustments they had to make to be understood as the authority figure. 14

Significance of the Study As the United States becomes a majority minority country in the next 20 years (United States Census Bureau, 2000), it must come to some real awakenings. First, overall the current educational system has not done a good job of educating poor and minority students. Second, this neglect threatens the future stability and security of the nation both economically and socially. Third, everyone must have a place at the table. Fourth, education is instrumental and essential to the viability of the country's future. Fifth, progressive minority educators, specifically African American women, can play pivotal roles in the process of inclusion. Sixth, systems, policies, and attitudes must change so that progressive minority educators, specifically, African American women teachers, and administrators alike, are not chased out of the profession. Finally, we must provide an answer to the leadership crisis within education, by extending the opportunity to enter the ranks of the superintendency more frequently to African American women, and supporting the idea that they are capable of successfully leading any one of our nation's school systems. This research is significant because it relates to developing educational theory, knowledge and practice. This study provides knowledge by supplying detailed descriptions of naturalistic events that have not been described fully in the limited literature on African American women superintendents. It also provides knowledge about the enduring practice of racial and gender bias when it comes to authority, and in this case, the position of authority which is the superintendency, as seen through the eyes of African American women. Investigations have been limited on African American women superintendents, and how their authority is reinforced and understood is nonexistent. This 15

Full document contains 179 pages
Abstract: There is a leadership crisis that exists in our schools creating an urgent need for effective leadership. Even though African American women have made slight gains, throughout the country people of color and women are dramatically underrepresented in the superintendency. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study is to provide African American women who aspire to top leadership positions, specifically the superintendency, a candid view of the experiences of those who have dealt with and/or overcome obstacles and cracked the "glass ceiling," obtained superintendent positions and successfully maintained authority as superintendents. While providing insight this study sought to examine the gender and racial issues in top school leadership positions. This study attempts to address why there are so few African American women superintendents by investigating the key experiences that contribute to African American women becoming superintendents. This study attempts to address the concern of African American women being underrepresented in the superintendency by identifying and describing barriers that African American women experience while pursuing superintendent positions and once they have obtained superintendent positions. Barriers present obstacles that must be dealt with or overcome; therefore, this study attempts to provide insight on how current African American women superintendents deal with or overcome barriers that attempt to hinder their success. In this qualitative study, I examined the superintendency through the eyes of current African American women superintendents in a selected Midwestern state. The results indicate that African American women are one of the best resources to remedy the leadership crisis that currently exists. Clearly, the 10 African American women superintendents in the study earned their position of authority despite apparent barriers based on what society feels they are capable of doing because of their gender and race. Therefore, the time has come to change who becomes superintendent. Overall, this study reveals how African American women have pursued and obtained the superintendency and provides a road map for others to follow. The findings are presented in narrative form.