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Educational Administration Essay Sample

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Educational Administration Essay Sample


In the present period of disarray, conflict, and diminished sense of potential, we think it worthwhile to understand how leaders of public education thought and acted in the past, especially with regard to the social meanings they and their contemporaries brought to the work of building and reconstructing public schools. An institution like public education gains coherence not only from organizational forms but also from the social meanings that people attribute to it. This study provides insight into how policies have affected decision-making processes in American education and how they may continue to shape the present and future. It should be noted that the research reported in this article was conducted using historical and analytical methodology. The basic method was library research. The work also examines the major perspectives developed in the field of educational administration.

Educational Administration


At the turn of the century the British educator Michael Sadler observed that “the American school is radiant with a belief in its mission, and it works among people who believe in the reality of its influence, in the necessity of its labors, and the grandeur of its task.” Americans have long had faith in the power of education to shape the future. “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening.

They want the ocean without the awful roar of it`s waters . . . power concedes nothing without a demand…it never did, it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows or both…The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress”( Douglass 1857).

Douglass rejects both the great-man theory that sees leaders essentially as unconditioned actors, and a deterministic viewpoint that argues that individuals are simply pawns of vast historical forces. We argue that there have been effective leaders in American education who achieved much in one period but would have been misfits or failures in another. For example, Horace Mann’s evangelical style was well suited to his era, for example, but could have appeared stiff-necked and priggish in a later time. We agree with Karl Marx’s aphorism that “men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.”

Those conditions are always specific to time and place —that is, historical and particular (Merseth 1997). The work discusses the history of educational leadership and focuses on the people who created, managed, and reshaped the public-school system. Our study is on three levels: that of individuals and the personal networks they formed; of the institutions they built; and of major policies that have acted as preconditions and precipitants of change in American education. Since our intent is exploratory, we develop a historical insigt in educational administration.

Literature review

The following literature review is based on a search of the research on the politics of education. Two major streams of research appear in this literature. One—the earlier to develop—has been carried out largely by scholars in comparative education. The other, which was established in the 1970s and blossomed in the 1980s, is largely the work of scholars in educational administration who specialize in the politics of education. For the most part, these bodies of research have been developed by two groups of scholars who do not overlap and do not cite each other’s work.

Comparative education came into its own in the 1950s; the major American journal in the field—Comparative Education Review—was founded in 1957. Its British counterpart, Comparative Education, was established eight years later. Scattered through their volumes and those of related journals are numerous articles about educational politics and policy. Most of these articles focus on the politics of educational reform; many also seem to be by-products of other research projects whose authors were so struck by the politics of a situation that they wrote an article about it. The comparative education literature includes research on a broad range of countries, both developed and developing.

However, Western Europe, Australia, and the USA are better documented in it than are other countries.  The literature produced by specialists in the politics of education developed later than the comparative education literature. It seems to have begun about 1970, when Wirt, Harman, and John Ewing published articles about the politics of education in the USA, Australia, and New Zealand respectively in the same issue of the Australian Journal of Educational Administration. Possibly it was their example which encouraged other scholars to explore comparative subjects, for in the mid-1970s scattered articles began to appear. For example, in 1973 Canadians John Bergen and Robert Lawson published separate pieces comparing Canada and West Germany.

Two years later Australian Ian Birch published an article comparing states’ rights in education in Australia, the USA and West Germany. Further impetus to comparative research was provided by the 1972 meeting of the Commonwealth Council for Education Administrations (CCEA), held in Fiji. American Jack Culbertson, then Executive Director of the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA), delivered a paper at that meeting in which he proposed ways to promote international research. One result of his suggestions was CCEA and UCEA cooperation in the development of an international directory of scholars interested in doing comparative research on the politics of education.

Another major step forward was taken in the late 1970s when the Center for Educational Research at Stanford and the Australian government began to fund the US-Australian Policy Project, directed by Wirt and Harman. In 1979 the project published a book by Jerome T. Murphy, comparing American and Australian education.  This volume of the yearbook was published in the UK, and simultaneously appeared as a special issue of the British Journal of Education Policy. Virtually every PEA yearbook since then has included at least one chapter about the international arena. Also in 1987, Boyd and Don Smart collaborated in editing a volume which compared Australian and American educational policy. It was followed in 1989 by a book edited by Boyd and James Cibulka about private school policy from an international perspective; in 1993 Hedley Beare and Boyd edited a book about school restructuring from an international perspective.

By the early 1990s articles on the international arena were appearing frequently in a broad range of journals familiar to the educational administration community. For instance, in 1990 EEPA published a comparative article about educational decentralization; and Education Policy (EP) published one about the United Kingdom’s Education Reform Act. The next year, James Guthrie published a comparative article about the politicizing of educational evaluation in EEPA; EP offered three comparative articles, two about Israel and one about reform in developing countries.

Education and the Cult of Efficiency (Callahan, 1962 ) has been, and remains, a major work and a source referred to and read in education administration classes and circles. Since 1962, it has been cited hundreds of times (Wisener, 1992). Within mainstream academic educational administration, a number of articles have appeared on SER in journals such as Educational Administration Quarterly over the past 10-15 years (e.g. Hallinger and Heck, 1996; Hannaway and Talbert, 1993).

Within practitioner oriented educational administration, articles concerning effective schools and school improvement were especially numerous from the late 1970s through the mid-to late 1980s. For example, there were several articles on effective schools and school improvement published in the journal Educational Leadership during this period (e.g. Andrews, R. and Soder, 1987; Purkey and Smith, 1983).

Historical Background

Since 1960 much of the composite ideal of educational leadership has come under attack for being a “closed system” of governance by educational experts. Traditional leaders have been assaulted by dispossessed groups and delegitimized by competing elites.

Educational policy making has become politicized and fragmented. Beginning with blacks and their white allies in the civil-rights campaign, successive groups—feminists, Hispanics, the handicapped, Native Americans, and many others —have mounted powerful protest movements to win practical and symbolic gains. Within the educational system, an older professional consensus has eroded and internecine battles have erupted. Many factions have found the law a ready instrument of challenge and reform, and, as a result, a new kind and degree of litigiousness has emerged. Federal and state governments have created a kaleidoscope of new programmatic reforms, each with its own regulations and accounting system.

The Department of Superintendence, later the American Association of School Administrators, did become the chief forum of the new experts in educational administration (Starratt 1991). Through it they kept in touch with their former students, held important offices, and reached professional consensus. But astute leaders, like George Strayer and the superintendents and educationists who remained powerful in the NEA, realized that there were dangers in a kind of class and sex warfare in public education in which teachers (three-fourths women) and key administrators (almost all men) went their own ways organizationally—the teachers into unions such as Haley’s Chicago Teachers’ Federation or thenew American Federation of Teachers (AFT) whose chapters were growing rapidly; and the administrators into a separate association.

Not only would separate organizations create discord at the local level, but they would also prevent a “united profession” in education from achieving political power at the state and national levels. For a time in the second decade of the twentieth century it seemed to many observers that the separation of management from practice, of supervision from teaching, would split the one national educational association apart.

What actually happened, however, was that a key network of influential administrative progressives like Strayer in the universities and their allies in state departments of education and in the local school superintendencies managed to retain effective control of the NEA and its component state associations. Through building hidden hierarchies in such professional associations—in effect, powerful private governments —and in less evident ways in other groups such as the Cleveland Conference and their own placement networks, they gained an awesome power to define their own solutions to educational problems. Their solutions, accepted as standard by a growing number of educators, helped to create a potent professional consensus despite the formal decentralization of power in American public education.

During the decade after 1965, political pressures converged on schools and universities in ways that undermined their authority to direct their own affairs. New responsibilities were assigned to educational institutions, even as effective authority was dispersed widely among students, faculty, unions, courts, state and federal regulatory agencies, state legislatures, Congress, the judiciary, and special interest groups. Educational administrators found themselves in the midst of unfamiliar power struggles.

In colleges and universities, students demanded enlarged powers over the curriculum and the structure of governance; the courts and federal civil rights agencies required adherence to affirmative action programs to increase the representation of minorities and women on the faculty; faculties organized into unions; Congress, the courts, federal agencies, and state legislatures devised burdensome and costly new mandates.

The enlarged federal presence in educational institutions was founded in substantial measure of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which empowered federal officials to withdraw funds from any program violating antidiscrimination laws and regulations. The rapid expansion of federal funding for education at all levels after 1965 meant that the threatened cutoff of federal funds was a potent weapon. The federal government became a significant factor in setting rules for the nation’s schools, colleges, and universities. A school system whose budget relied on federal funds for about 10 percent of its revenues or a major university that received several millions for research programs and fellowships was not in a strong position to oppose federal directives.

By 1966, racial issues had become a central element in debates about educational policy. In order to receive badly needed federal funds, southern school districts had to assign children by race in order to meet federal standards for racial integration, and the success of their efforts was judged by numerical standards. This shift from color-blindness to color-consciousness, from the rights of the individual to the concept of group rights, reflected the rise of ethnocentrism in American politics.

When Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 (subsequently referred to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act), the act covered not just Hispanic children but “children of limited English-speaking ability” (a necessary political compromise in order to garner support for the bill in Congress), and it was focused on low-income children. Significantly, the bill neither defined “bilingual education” nor stated the purpose of the act, other than to provide money for local districts “to develop and carry out new and imaginative elementary and secondary school programs” to meet the special needs of non-English-speaking children.

The vagueness of the legislation was intentional. Supporters of bilingual education thought that they had won a victory for preservation of non-English cultures and languages, but congressional supporters thought of bilingual education as a remedial program to help children become literate in the English language and then join Englishspeaking classes.

Prudence was not, however, the hallmark of guidelines fashioned in the summer of 1975 by a task force that was appointed by the commissioner of education, Terrell Bell, and was composed of bilingual educators and representatives of language minority groups. Known as the “Lau remedies,” the task force’s report prescribed in exhaustive detail how school districts were to prepare and carry out bilingual programs for nonEnglish-speaking students (Starratt 1991).

Since the Bilingual Education Act was up for renewal during the crisis-ridden days in the summer of 1974 as pressure was building for President Richard Nixon to resign because of the Watergate scandal, his administration’s opposition to the legislation merely strengthened its support in the Democratic Congress.

University presidents, burdened by the cost and complexity of federal regulations, joined the chorus of critics. Because of the burst of new laws and regulations in the 1970s, universities had to add new administrative staff to process the paperwork and had to spend millions of dollars to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Act, with environmental regulations, with Section 504 for the handicapped, with requirements for affirmative action, and with directives on providing equal athletics for men and women.

In 1980, a new federal regulation (Circular A-21 from the Office of Management and Budget) outraged research universities by requiring that faculty members who had any portion of their salaries paid by federal research funds must account for 100 percent of their “time and effort,” to the satisfaction of government auditors. Federal rule makers assumed that research universities, like other contractors, were hierarchically organized corporations of managers and employees; they could not understand the faculty’s somewhat anachronistic conception of collegiality or its resistance to hourly monitoring of its time.

The unhappiness of the colleges and universities was not the whole story, however. What had also changed was the dependence of many large universities on federal research funds, which by 1980 were close to $6 billion annually. Just as school districts had come to count on federal funding, even when it provided only 10 percent of the district’s total budget, so universities found that their research faculties, their laboratories, their graduate students, and their prestige depended to some degree on maintaining their funding from the federal government, no matter how nettlesome their relationship with federal agencies might become.

And while their complaints were well grounded, the fact was that in the most important matters colleges and universities had preserved their integrity and their freedom of action. With rare exceptions, the institutions continued to decide for themselves, on academic terms, who would teach, what would be taught, how it would be taught, and who would be admitted to study. Federal regulation was costly, and it added a new layer of administrators within institutions, but it did not destroy what was best about American higher education.

Besieged as they were by the rapidity of change, the public schools sustained yet another blow when the College Board revealed in 1975 that scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), taken each year by more than a million high school seniors, had declined steadily since 1964. More than any other single factor, the public’s concern about the score declines touched off loud calls for instruction in “the basics” of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

By 1980, regardless of who was elected president, there was no turning back to the days when local school boards were near-autonomous and when higher education was as remote from the government as were churches (Merseth 1997). The changed situation was a new fact of life, like the discovery of nuclear energy. No matter how much one might deplore it, and no matter how many might deplore it, it did not go away. As John Dewey might have observed, the new relationship between education and the government was a problem, and as a problem, it was a challenge to critical intelligence. As such, it was to be studied, debated, criticized, and acted on. No one could doubt the value of efforts to rethink flawed assumptions, to reconsider unsatisfactory regulations, or to rewrite legislation that had adverse consequences.

Much had been gained because of the active dedication of the federal government and the courts to the rights of all children (Merseth 1997). To the extent that the pursuit of good ends jeopardized equally valuable ends, like academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and diversity; to the extent that absorption by educators in bureaucratic procedures overshadowed the educational function of the schools; and to the extent that government programs gave new responsibilities to academic institutions while depriving them of the authority needed to carry out those responsibilities, there remained a compelling agenda for future educational reformers.

Conflicting Goals for Education

The educational leaders of the period 1890-1954 were social engineers who sought to bring about a smoothly meshing corporate society. In some respects their optimism about the potential of education was as utopian as that of the earlier crusaders, but their version of a millennial society was far more secular. Their task was not to create but to redesign the public-school system, not to arouse public participation in education but to constrain it, not to campaign for a common denominator of education so much as to differentiate it according to the needs of a complex society (as they interpreted those needs). Most of these leaders made education a lifelong career and were pioneers in its professionalization. They wished the state to take an active role in transforming public education.

The members of the “educational trust” (as the administrative progressives were sometimes called) embraced the new managerial models developed in business. Rarely self-conscious about their cultural assumptions, they incorporated many of the values of their small-town pietist upbringing into what they regarded as an objective “science of education.” They sought legitimacy through expertise rather than through deference to character or through broad public participation in policy making. Linked in networks that combined university leaders with influential superintendents and foundation officials, these leaders sought a form of private power: they gained, as did leaders in other occupations, authority to define what was normal or desirable.

Transmuting numbers into norms, they shaped their preferred policies into a standard template of reform which they applied to state after state, district after district, in their school surveys and legislative proposals. They successfully changed the structures of decision making and sought to turn political issues into matters for administrative decision, confident that the schools could rise “above politics.” They believed that school leaders could do their part in shaping the smooth and conflict free evolution of a complex urban-industrial society. This was their own version of managing the millennium.

With few exceptions, public educators have believed in the basic soundness of the American social order and the belief systems supporting it, including the value of controlled competition in such domains as politics, religion, and the economy. Within public education, however, they have sought to prevent organized opposition by stressing consensus, by claiming schools should be “above politics or by absorbing, co-opting, or deflecting outside forces. A sign of their success in defusing conflict has been that the major American political parties, unlike, for example, their counterparts in England or Germany, have rarely differed substantially about educational policy. Another sign has been the fact that competing Protestant sects have generally called a truce at the schoolhouse door.

The genius of the public-school establishment, like that of the Roman Catholic Church during much of its history, has been its ability to absorb dissidence and to accommodate demands from influential groups, ruling only a few claims beyond the pale (and those usually stemming from groups that lacked power). Some leaders have actually believed their own claims that schools were apolitical, while others have simply regarded the rhetoric as a smart policy strategy. In the conclusion, the analysis of conflicting goals for American education can help us in our thinking about the problem of educational standards. It can help explain the long-standing and powerful resistance to standards, and it can also help explain why some approaches to establishing standards are quite different from others (Behar 1994).

Conclusions and Recommendations

In one form or another, education has always been important to Americans. We realized almost from the beginning that some level of learning was absolutely necessary to allow us to practice our religion, maintain our freedom, conduct our civic affairs, and get more out of life. Education is significantly more important today than it was in the past.

Even though we agree about the importance of education, we have not always agreed as to how it should be provided. Today, almost 90 percent of American children attend public schools. The fact that all children are given the opportunity to receive a basic education is something of which we should be proud. The fact that they are not receiving a much better education is something that should concern and challenge us.

Today educational decision making expanded beyond the traditional state-local district connection. What a given school decided to do regarding its curriculum, its personnel policy, its disciplinary procedures, and its allocation of resources is no longer a local matter. Of course, the schools had always been “in politics,” in the sense that they had to compete with other public agencies for funds, they awarded contracts for services, they selected teachers and administrators, and they made their peace with the mores of the surrounding community (Crow & Slater 1996).

Yet if one had the courage of those who served on the President’s Committee on Civil Rights in 1947 and the vision of those who projected the growth of American higher education in the same year, it would be possible to counsel against despair. In the crusade against ignorance, there have been no easy victories, but no lasting defeats (Anderson 1990).

Those who have labored on behalf of American education have seen so many barriers scaled, so much hatred dispelled, so many possibilities remaining to provide the basis for future reconciliation. To believe in education is to believe in the future, to believe in what may be accomplished through the disciplined use of intelligence, allied with cooperation and good will.

Anderson, G. (1990). “Toward a critical constructivist approach to educational administration.” Educational Administration Quarterly, 26(1), 38–59.
Andrews, R.L. and Soder, R. (1987). “Principal leadership and student achievement”, Educational Leadership, 44, 3, pp.9-11.
Behar, L. S. (1994). The knowledge base of curriculum: An empirical analysis. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Bredeson, P. (1993). “Letting go of outlived professional identities: A study of role transition and role strain for principals in restructured schools.” Educational Administration Quarterly, 29 (1), 34-68.
Callahan, R. E. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of the public schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cronin, T. E. (1992). “On celebrating college teaching.” Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 3, 149-168.
Crow, Gary and Slater, Robert. (1996). Educating Democracy, Reston, Va.: National Policy Board in Educational Administration.
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Jenkins, J. M., & Behar, L. S. (1994). “Preparing instructional leaders: Perspectives on the principalship.” International Journal of Educational Reform, 3, 343-377.
Maehr, M. L., Midgley, C., & Urdan, T. (1992). “School leader as motivator.” Educational Administration Quarterly, 28, 410-429.
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Newlon, Jesse. (1934). Educational Administration as Social Policy, New York: Scribner’s, P. 93.
Pounder, D.G. & Merrill, R. (2001). “Job desirability of the high school principalship: A job choice perspective.” Educational Administration Quarterly, 37 (1), 27-57.
Purkey, S. and Smith, M. (1983). “Effective schools”, The Elementary School Journal, 83, pp.427-52.
Smith, J. M. (1989). Experiential learning in educational administration: A proactive view of principal preparation. ERIC Document Service Reproduction No. ED 310 554.
Starratt, R. J. (1991). “Building an ethical school: A theory for practice in educational leadership.” Educational Administration Quarterly, 27 (2), 185-202.
Thompson, S. D. (1991). “Principals for America 2000.” Journal of School Leadership, 1(4), 294-304.

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