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Leadership and school results


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Silins, H and Mulford, B (2002) Leadership and school results. In: Second International Handbook of Educational Leadership and Administration. Kluwer Academic, Norwell, MA, pp. 561-612.

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This chapter focuses on three aspects of high school functioning in the context of
educational reform: leadership and the school results of organisational learning and
student outcomes. A brief review of recent and significant work in these areas provides a
framework for a discussion of what makes a difference to high school performance. The
findings of a three-year study of high schools in two Australian states is used to extend
our present knowledge of these areas and the nature of their interaction and influence on
school processes and outcomes.
Prior to the review of recent and significant work in the areas of leadership,
organisational learning and student outcomes, it is relevant to place the chapter within the
ongoing debate on the value of school effectiveness and improvement research. The
central themes of critics of the school effectiveness movement are that it overclaims the
success of effective schools and that it is a socially and politically decontextualised body
literature which, wittingly or unwittingly, has provided support for the inequitable
reform programs of neo-liberal and managerial governments (Angus, 1993; Anyon, 1997;
Elliot, 1996; Hamilton, 1996; Slee et al., 1998; Sammons et al., 1996; Sammons &
Reynolds, 1996; Stringfield & Herman, 1996; Thrupp, 1999, 2000). Another major theme
centres on the respective emphasis given to 'top down' or 'bottom up' approaches to
school effectiveness and improvement (Scheerens, 1997).
The social and political decontextualisation and inequitable use of school
effectiveness research arguments are important and need to be addressed. However, it is
the overclaiming argument that has the most relevance for this chapter. Most school
effectiveness studies show that 80% or more of student achievement can be explained by
student background rather than schools (Teddlie & Reynolds, 2000). On the other hand,
school effectiveness supporters believe that, even with only 20% of achievement
accounted for by schools, their work has convincingly helped to destroy the belief that
schools do not make any difference. They argue that schools not only make a difference
but they add value despite the strong influence of family background on children's
development (Reynolds & Teddlie, 2000; Sammons, 1998; Thomas, et al., 1997).
Other within schools research suggests that it is teachers in classrooms rather than
the school and how it is organised or led that makes the difference. Hill and his
colleagues, for example, who found that almost 40% of the variation in achievement in
mathematics was due to differences between classrooms, explained this difference as a
result of teacher quality and effectiveness. (Hill, 1998; Hill et al., 1993; Rowe & Hill,
1997) More recent research based on results from the Third International Mathematics
and Science Survey (TIMSS), questions this explanation. Lamb and Fullarton (2000)
found that the variation in mathematics achievement in high schools was due mainly to differences within classrooms (57%), between classrooms (28%) and between schools
(15%). However, the reasons for the differences between classrooms and schools were
related to more student background and attitude toward mathematics and the types of
pupil grouping practices schools employ than to teachers. In brief, organisational and
compositional features of schools and classrooms had a more marked impact on
mathematics achievement than the quality of teachers.
Of course, student achievement in mathematics and science represents a very
limited understanding of the full purpose of schooling. But little evidence is available
concerning non-cognitive student outcomes. We have tried to take this and the other
points made in the debate on the value of school effectiveness research on board in our
own research. School performance is measured against student outcome measures which
include student participation in and engagement with schools, their views of their
academic performance, as well as school retention, completion rates and academic
results. In respect of the context for school improvement, we include analysis by student
SES and home educational environment as well as school size. In this way we believe we
are able to test the relative contribution of a range of individual, school and societal
factors on student outcomes. Because of this approach to our research, the unfinished
nature of the debate on school effectiveness and improvement and the fact that we can do
little to determine how our results might be used by others, we believe we are justified in
our pursuance of the links between leadership and the school results of organisational
learning and student outcomes in the manner described in the chapter. Our emphasis is
clearly at the 'bottom up' end of the 'top down'/'bottom up' debate. As we will show,
both through the following literature review and our research findings, a 'bottom up'
emphasis does not preclude 'top down' approaches if a strong 'bottom up' approach is
first in place.

Item Type: Book Section
Publisher: Kluwer Academic
Page Range: pp. 561-612
Additional Information:

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Date Deposited: 27 Aug 2007
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 03:21
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