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The Role of Education Leaders

Who's in charge of educating the children?

One would think that it would be easy to define the roles of educational leaders, but it is not. Even the educational leaders themselves can’t seem to agree on how their roles should be defined. Despite huge, glaring discrepancies in research material, this essay will attempt to answer the unanswerable questions of who controls the schools. Who makes the policies that govern schools? Who determines the ethical, social, and economic goals of education? Who sets the curriculum? Who determines instructional materials used in a school/classroom?

Who Controls the Schools?

Power comes from everywhere. “Power means control of people, money, and things” (Marburger, 2003). At the school level, the power lies with the school principal and administration, because they have “control of information and control over decisions that affect the lives of children in schools” (Marburger, 2003). In the case of the school where I work, the Board of Directors also controls what happens in our school. The principal answers directly to the board, and the board has the ultimate say on policy changes and procedures.

“Recent calls for increases in school-based management would suggest that teachers currently may not play a key role in many school decisions” (Riley, Robinson, & Conaty, 2000). While one might think teachers should have a great amount of control over what happens at the school, this is not the case, at least not where I work, and I imagine other schools are the same. Teachers are left feeling that they have little control over school policies, establishing curriculum, or determining disciplinary policies.

Who Makes the Policies that Govern Schools?

“American schools are subject to cycles of reform brought on by multiple political groups” (Beezer, 2002, p. 320). In setting policy at the local level, it seems to be a toss-up between whether the local school district, the school board, or the principal has more control. If the goal is to improve children’s education, it would make sense to have the principal, teachers and students set policies in line with the goal of improving education. These parties are the ones most affected by the decisions, but they seem to have the least amount of say in setting policies that govern schools.

“Implicit in this call for greater school-level influence is the belief that those closest to the children--principals, teachers, parents, and community members--know best what is needed to improve their schools” (Riley, Elliot, & Conaty, 1993). Unfortunately, according to the survey conducted by Riley, Elliot, and Canaty (1993) “40 percent [of principals surveyed] said districts had the most influence on setting...policy” (p. 1). Even though I work at a Charter school, and we are not ‘officially’ a part of the district, we are still required to follow many of the policies set at the district level. We have some leeway, but the school board takes their cue from the district, and often overrides policies set at the school level.

Who determines the ethical, social, and economic goals of education?

The answer to this question indicates a chain of influence that has led to the train wreck that is the current educational system. At the top of the chain is the President. This person is, “The elected official responsible for setting national educational priorities affecting all public schools” (Fletcher, 2006). Next is the US Supreme court that is responsible for ensuring schools are meeting the standards set forth by the President. The line dwindles down through congress, the US Secretary of Education, and the US Department of education. These groups are responsible for putting the President’s plans into action. Their tasks include setting budgets, and monitoring rules and regulations. (Fletcher, 2006)

Once the Federal government has had their say, we move on down the line to state representatives. These include the state board of education, other educational leaders including the state legislature and state administration. Once they’ve had their say in interpreting the rules and regulations from above, it’s time to move on to district legislation and educational leaders including district school boards, administration, and superintendents. Finally, we get down to the local school where the principal has some say. The principal shares the responsibility of complying to the agendas set forth by numerous groups up the food chain with assistant principals, school counselors and teachers. (Fletcher, 2006)

Please note that at the very bottom of the chain are the parents and the students. Not only do they have no say in what social, economic, and ethical goals are set, they are the group most influenced by the conflux of regulations from above. It seems to me that this is all backwards. What does the President of the United States know about what a poor, rural school might need for those students to succeed? Probably nothing. When was the last time the President spent time in an impoverished school classroom instead of a ritzy private school suitable for his aspiring offspring? Probably never, or at least not since childhood, and schools have changed a great deal since then.

Who Sets the Curriculum?

While you would think it would be up to the educators to set the curriculum, this is rarely the case. The truth of the matter is that, “in every discipline, control is shared by politicians; administrators, educators, and parents in a complex, interlocking grid of joint responsibility, and any number of other groups and special interests also exert influence” (Lehman, 1995, p. 16). In our case, it is the Lincoln County School District, and the agencies above them, who are setti9ng the curriculum in local schools.

We have recently had a change at my school in regard to curriculum. Because we are a charter school, teachers were largely allowed to setup their own curriculum provided their plans complied with state standards regulations. Now curriculum is set through the district school board, and all lessons must be taught to meet the exact specifications of one or more standards. Any lesson plans or class events that do not strictly adhere to this new precedence are to be discarded and replaced with district standards compliant lesson plans. There is no longer any room for deviation, and considerations for students with special learning requirements are once again being pushed to the back.

Who determines instructional materials used in a school/classroom?

Here at last, the teacher has some say in the instructional materials used in their classrooms. Although the final say is still dependent on budgets that are set far up in the chain, teachers are at least able to request the books and other materials they need for successfully teaching their subject matter. I managed to get lucky this year because a private grant was made available to purchase the software felt was needed in my classroom. Had this grant not been available, I would have had to make do with the inadequate software that school has been able to afford.

What are the Motivations to Control Education?

I think the motivations behind controlling education come from good intentions. When President Bush signed the No Child Left Behind act in 2001, he did so with the intention of closing achievement gaps between low-minority and high-minority schools. He also had the intention of improving teacher quality, “achieving 100% proficiency for all students in mathematics and English language by 2014...[and] providing an Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for all students in order to show that schools are improving in raising students’ scores (Shirvani, 2009, p. 49).

Sadly, even the best intentions can go astray. The NCLB Act continues to leave students behind because it does not consider the individual educational requirements of a diverse group of students. Teachers are no longer motivated by seeing the light of understanding go off in a student’s eyes. Instead, they are motivated by achieving state mandated standards to keep their jobs. Because schools must now spend most of their time ‘teaching to the test’, students are no longer motivated by much of anything. School has become a chore for them, and it is seen as something they are forced through rather that a way to improve themselves and their situation in life.

What is My Philosophical Prospective?

I think the time has passed to put education back in the hands of the educators. After all, teachers have first-hand experience with their students, and know what they need to learn to succeed. According to Evans (1997):

School board members have no business dictating classroom matters. Local boards should not determine what is taught in the schools, how it is taught, or by whom it is taught. These complex and crucial issues should be determined by educators - --educators who are knowledgeable of applicable theory, research, and best practice” (p. 38).

Educators like me are the people who have the most influence over our students during the school day. I know my students are fully capable of learning the lessons I must teach, but I also see how they are stuck in a rut of boredom brought on by constantly adhering to standards that mean nothing to them. It’s high time we started putting the student first again and teach them how to learn instead of teaching them how to test.


Beezer, B. (2002). Who Controls Our Schools? American Values in Conflict. Educational Studies, Book Review , 319-322.

Evans, D. (1997). Who's in Charge? Teacher Magazine , 38-39.

Fletcher, A. (2006). Who Makes Decisions in School. Retrieved November 3, 2010, from Sound Out: Promoting Student Voice in School

Lehman, P. (1995). Control of K-12 arts education: Who sets the curriculum? Retrieved Nov 3, 2010, from Arts Education Policy Review

Marburger, C. (2003). Parent Advocate. Educational Leadership , 118.

Riley, R., Elliot, E., & Conaty, J. (1993). Who Runs the Schools? The Principal's View. Education Research Report , 1.

Riley, R., Robinson, S., & Conaty, J. (2000). Who's in Charge? Teachers Views on Control Over School Policy & Classroom Practices. US Department of Education , 1.

Shirvani, H. (2009). Does the No Child Left Behind Act Leave Some Children Behind? The International Journal of Learning , 49-57.