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Title:School leaders as both colonized and colonizers: understanding professional identity in an era of no child left behind
Author(s):Lewis, Alisha L.
Director of Research:Shields, Carolyn M.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Shields, Carolyn M.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Hunter, Richard C.; Kose, Brad W.; Johnston-Parsons, Marilyn A.
Department / Program:Ed Organization and Leadership
Discipline:Ed Organization and Leadership
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):No Child Left Behind (NCLB)
School leaders
Professional Identity
Postcolonial Theory
Abstract:This study positioned the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002 as a reified colonizing entity, inscribing its hegemonic authority upon the professional identity and work of school principals within their school communities of practice. Pressure on educators and students intensifies each year as the benchmark for Adequate Yearly Progress under the NCLB policy is raised, resulting in standards-based reform, scripted curriculum and pedagogy, absence of elective subjects, and a general lack of autonomy critical to the work of teachers as they approach each unique class and student (Crocco & Costigan, 2007; Mabry & Margolis, 2006). Emphasis on high stakes standardized testing as the indicator for student achievement (Popham, 2005) affects educators’ professional identity through dramatic pedagological and structural changes in schools (Day, Flores, & Viana, 2007). These dramatic changes to the ways our nation conducts schooling must be understood and thought about critically from school leaders’ perspectives as their professional identity is influenced by large scale NCLB school reform. The author explored the impact No Child Left Behind reform had on the professional identity of fourteen, veteran Illinois principals leading in urban, small urban, suburban, and rural middle and elementary schools. Qualitative data were collected during semi-structured interviews and focus groups and analyzed using a dual theoretical framework of postcolonial and identity theories. Postcolonial theory provided a lens from which the author applied a metaphor of colonization to principals’ experiences as colonized-colonizers in a time of school reform. Principal interview data illustrated many examples of NCLB as a colonizing authority having a significant impact on the professional identity of school leaders. This framework was used to interpret data in a unique and alternative way and contributed to the need to better understand the ways school leaders respond to district-level, state-level, and national-level accountability policies (Sloan, 2000). Identity theory situated principals as professionals shaped by the communities of practice in which they lead. Principals’ professional identity has become more data-driven as a result of NCLB and their role as instructional leaders has intensified. The data showed that NCLB has changed the work and professional identity of principals in terms of use of data, classroom instruction, Response to Intervention, and staffing changes. Although NCLB defines success in terms of meeting or exceeding the benchmark for Adequate Yearly Progress, principals’ view AYP as only one measurement of their success. The need to meet the benchmark for AYP is a present reality that necessitates school-wide attention to reading and math achievement. At this time, principals leading in affluent, somewhat homogeneous schools typically experience less pressure and more power under NCLB and are more often labeled “successful” school communities. In contrast, principals leading in schools with more heterogeneity experience more pressure and lack of power under NCLB and are more often labeled “failing” school communities. Implications from this study for practitioners and policymakers include a need to reexamine the intents and outcomes of the policy for all school communities, especially in terms of power and voice. Recommendations for policy reform include moving to a growth model with multi-year assessments that make sense for individual students rather than one standardized test score as the measure for achievement. Overall, the study reveals enhancements and constraints NCLB policy has caused in a variety of school contexts, which have affected the professional identity of school leaders.
Issue Date:2010-05-19
Rights Information:© 2010 Alisha Lauren Lewis
Date Available in IDEALS:2010-05-19
Date Deposited:May 2010

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