Thursday, January 19, 2012

PRESIDENTIAL WELCOME: 21ST Century Leadership Challenges
to be Unveiled In Kansas City

            Over 300 professors and educators will convene at NCPEA’s annual summer conference in Kansas City, Missouri, August 7-10, 2012. Kansas City is a cosmopolitan, vibrant, creative, down-to-earth place. Did you know that the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is now open?—this new center in the downtown area is already heralded for its music, opera, theater, and dance. In this inspiring setting we will gather to work and play, and to discuss 21st century leadership challenges that span such important topics as social justice and competition.
We are excited to spend time with you in deeply important dialogue about such crucial issues as the neoliberal assault on public education and what Diane Ravitch has called the “Billionaire Boys Club” comprised of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and John Walton who are pursuing an agenda that de-professionalizes educational leadership, privatizes the public trust, and imposes an anti-democratic corporate agenda for America’s public schools using test scores as leverage to point to the alleged “failure” of current structures and leaders to deliver quality education.
            The Kansas City conference promises to lift the veil on the neoliberal platform and to expose such political dynamics that hold us back. We will seek new ways forward as an academic group of practical pedagogues and activists that wants to see beyond the veil to what is possible and good as a future-minded social justice community.
            If you are interested in learning more, my article in NCPEA’s Education Leadership Review of October 2010 is available at the NCPEA’s Connexions website as well. Check it out and join us in Kansas City to continue the conversation and share what’s on your mind. See you there!

Fenwick W. English, NCPEA President
R. Wendell Eaves Senior Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership
School of Education
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Teacher Unions: Dying dinosaurs or co-drivers of Democratic Decision Making?

A.    William Place
Director of Doctoral Studies and Associate Professor 

Department of Educational Leadership

The University of Dayton

Ohio’s governor and state legislators believed the time had come to move past employee unions, signing legislation which would have effectively done away with unions for teachers, police, firefighters and other public employees in the state.  However, the voters signed a petition to have the law placed on the ballot and it was defeated 61 percent to only 39 percent. While many administrators felt Ohio’s law is too favorable to unions and was in need of some revisions, the attempt to totally do away with unions went too far.  New Jersey also has moved to limit the unions in terms of pensions and healthcare benefits.  Other states appear to be taking similar steps Olson (2011) notes “many states have taken swift action to limit the power of organized labor in public schools.  Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Idaho and Michigan were the first, and Tennessee added itself to the list” (para. 3). 

Personally, I find this to be incongruent with concepts of empowerment and democratic leadership that many educational leadership programs espouse.  Murphy (2002) proposed reculturing the field using “three key concepts that provide new anchors for the profession—school improvement, democratic community, and social justice” (p. 66).  Furman and Starratt (2002) place even more emphasis on the concept when they note,
In considering democratic community as the center for educational leadership, we make these claims:
·         Democratic community is not a “marginalizing center for the field because it is based on acceptance and appreciation of difference.
·         Democratic community “recultures the profession” by focusing on what leadership is for—serving the common good in a multicultural society and world.
·         Democratic community is the most appropriate focus for school leadership in the “postmodern” world of diversity, fragmentation and cross-nationalism.  p. 129
Furman and Sheilds (2005) caution that “democratic community is an ideal, a moral purpose toward which educators strive, one that is never fully realized; thus, democratic community is not a specific structure to be reified, defined, reduced, observed, and replicated” (p. 120).  These conceptualizations of democratic community would move educational leadership far from the traditional authoritarian approach used in schools for most of the 20th century (the approach which these movements to kill teacher unions seem to be reverting).

While these scholars of educational leadership do not address the role of teacher unions, I find it hard to imagine a real democratic community without an important formal structure involving unions.  Employees must have a voice in the work place.  I believe there is an important place for unions as we forge a new way for education in the twenty first century.  Some have suggested that the role of unions should evolve.  For example, Barnett Berry (2011) states “unions must be transformed into results-oriented guilds in which teaching and learning are paramount” (p. xiv).

Teachers have a long history of caring deeply about students and the teacher unions, despite what their critics claim have often, but not always demonstrated that they are focused on improving education for all children.  Administrators get frustrated when traditional negations seem to move us away from improving education for all children, but that, I argue, would be a reason to push for alternatives to traditional barraging, rather than doing away with teacher associations altogether.

Berry, B. & the TeacherSolutions 2030 Team.  (2011).  Teaching 2030.  New York, NY:
Teachers College Press.
Furman, G. C., & Shields, C. M. (2003, April). How can educational leaders promote and support social justice and democratic community in schools? Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL.
Furman, G. C. & Starratt, R. J. (2002). Leadership for democratic community in schools. In J. Murphy (Ed.),  The Educational Leadership Challenge: Redefining Leadership for the 21st Century (pp. 105-133).  Chicago, IL: National Society for the Study of Education.   
Murphy, J. (2002). Reculturing the profession of educational leadership: New blueprints.  In J. Murphy (Ed.),  The Educational Leadership Challenge: Redefining Leadership for the 21st Century (pp. 65-82).  Chicago, IL: National Society for the Study of Education.
K Olson.  (2011, June 5).  Tennessee trumps Wisconsin:  Kills teacher collective
bargaining. Dead. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Please share your thoughts on how educational leaders might best support democratic communities and should there be a structured role for teacher unions.* Please participate in the poll below. Thank you!
Are teachers unions