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The New Accountability For School Systems Calls For New Roles For Virginia’s School Leaders

March 17, 2003-- Government policies that make educators accountable for student performance have resulted in dramatic shifts in the responsibilities of Virginia’s principals, superintendents and other school leaders, according to an analysis headed by a group of University of Virginia researchers.

Strong leadership has always been a hallmark of successful schools, but school leaders today have multi-faceted new roles to play, the research team said.

The newly published book, “Educational Leadership in a Age of Accountability: The Virginia Experience,” was edited by U.Va. Curry School of Education professors Daniel L. Duke, Pamela D. Tucker and Walter F. Heinecke with University of Missouri professor Margaret Grogan. It explores changes in Virginia’s schools as the result of ambitious accountability plans calling for standards of learning, statewide high-stakes tests and annual school performance report cards.

The new mission of schools “is now crystal clear -— get students to achieve state-dictated passing scores on state-commissioned tests” so schools will be accredited, said Tucker, an expert on education ethics. Educators have a duty to follow the state-mandated reforms, she said, but they also have a duty to demand the full resources to meet the diverse needs of all students.

The new systems have brought “a new understanding of what it means to be an education leader,” said the researchers. School leaders have always needed to promote high commitment from teachers, but leadership today means “not just cheerleading” for test scores, they said. More than ever, educators need a complete understanding of how young people learn. And principals must free teachers to focus on teaching and buffer them from “punitive aspects” of the standards mandates.

In addition to working with policymakers, teachers and students, school leaders today must also win the support of parents, “who in many cases harbor serious reservations about high-stakes tests.”

The new demands require nimbleness and perhaps “more leadership than any one individual can provide,” the researchers said. One solution is building “distributed leadership” -- a network of relationships among educators all working to improve student performance with collective accountability.

It is just possible, the study concludes, that by removing ambiguity the new accountability programs may actually make the job of educational leadership easier. “The question that remains, of course, is whether educational leaders will embrace this clarity or instead long for a return to ambiguity.”

Reporters: For additional information or interviews Daniel Duke, Pamela Tucker and Walter Heinecke may be reached at U.Va.’s Curry School of Education at (434) 924-3334.

Contact: Bob Brickhouse, (434) 924-6856

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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Last Modified: Monday, 17-Mar-2003 15:00:39 EST
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