Better Known As No Child Left Behind Education Essay

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In 2002, Public Law 107-110 dramatically changed the accountability of public schools. Better known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), this law requires schools to annually document improving student performance through standardized testing. Since all schools must prove Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), Fullan noted that remediation programs, after school tutoring sessions, extra tutoring in mathematics and reading, specially designed individual programs, and many other student remediation efforts have been employed to help students achieve proficiency. Districts have hired additional teachers to provide remedial mathematics and reading instruction, and benchmark assessments chronicling student progress have become common place (Fullan, Hill & Crevola, 2006). Fullan observed that schools utilize data management systems to warehouse student information, giving teachers access to real-time performance data, and have developed building schedules to give teachers the ability to flexibly group students based upon their individual performance needs. In reality, all schools seeking to achieve or maintain AYP continually search for strategies that will give them any advantage in improving overall student performance on mandatory high stakes tests (Senge, 2000). Yet, more needs to be done to assure that no child is left behind (Fullan, 2008).

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The researcher in this study stepped away from the microscopic examination of how innovative curricular programs and high-impact strategies increase individual test scores for students. Rather, the researcher looked at the practices identified and developed by the business community at large that have been shown to raise the level of employee engagement which then improves a) performance, b) profitability, c) customer satisfaction, d) productivity, and e) lower turnover of business units (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999). Since Buckingham noted that there is a profound relationship between success in business and employee engagement, the researcher in this study will analyze principals' perceptions of practices that raise employee engagement in the business community and their perceived effectiveness in improving teacher engagement in the schools where they lead.

According to Scarlett, employee engagement "is essential in business, yet few organizations successfully define, measure, or manage this leadership model." Top-performing businesses understand this force in driving performance metrics (Coffman, 2003). For this study, employee engagement is defined as the "measureable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues, and organization which profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work" (Scarlett, 2011). In order to raise engagement, organizations seek to build partnerships between the organization and its employees such that employees fully understand and are committed to achieving the organization's objectives and the organization respects the personal aspirations and ambitions of its employees resulting in innovation and forward movement (Coffman, 2003). Buckingham and Coffman (1999) have outlined a strong case that shows the importance of the manager and their managerial practices in raising the level of employee engagement. So, if implemented by principals, would these same strategies and practices that have been shown to drive up levels of employee engagement and performance positively impact teacher engagement?

Bellamy and others noted that performance expectations for principals in this high-stakes testing era are at unprecedented high levels. While principals still hold the responsibility for effective building management, at no other time has the pressure to improve test scores so significantly weighed upon their shoulders and focused their attention more on instructional leadership. "Once responsible primarily for internal operations, principals now are accountable to the community, school district, state, and even federal government for improving student learning and closing the achievement gaps between diverse ethnic and socioeconomic student groups" (Bellamy, et al., 2007, p. 1).

Pollack and Ford noted that school systems and communities still expect principals to a) create safe environments, b) develop effective schedules, c) hire and supervise quality staff, d) speak well in public, e) effectively discipline students, f) manage mountains of paperwork daily, and g) address an endless stream of issues that vie for their time. Pollack continues that while deftly handling all of these normal expectations, principals are also expected to a) analyze data, b) develop programmatic improvement plans, c) plan and run high quality professional development, d) follow a litany of state mandates related to student data, and e) create environments conducive to high-performance. They are expected to be change agents while not angering any constituency (Pollack & Ford, 2009). Porras and Thompson surmised that with all of these expectations, it is critical for principals to understand their unique abilities and responsibilities and allocate the right amount of time to each, not equal or balanced portions, but rather their own individually chosen preferences. They need to have the freedom to choose what is important to do and then have the confidence to act on what they have chosen (Porras & Thompson, 2007).

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Fullan (2008) noted that the solution to over-taxed administrative responsibilities is "not to unfetter the principal to act autonomously, but rather to enable focused cohesion" (p. 13) in their actions. One aspect of this cohesion is to engage teachers at high levels in the mission of the school, a key to effectively managing schools. Teacher engagement is critical to school improvement, measured by the three dimensions of classroom teaching and learning: a) teacher-student relationships, b) pedagogical practices, and c) teacher relationships with the organization (Lesko, 1986). The principal is expected to lead schools where his or her teachers are given the opportunity to engage in action research on a sustained basis in a collaborative environment. "The leader's function is to provide opportunities for teachers to work together in self-managing teams to improve their own instruction, always with the expectation for improved learning" (DuFour, et al., 2005, p.147). In a sense, this transfers leadership for learning to and raises the engagement of the teacher. The relationship between engaged teacher leaders and student achievement is profound and significant (DuFour, et al., 2005).

Gordon noted that there are organizational barriers to raising teacher engagement levels such as a) association agreements, b) school board mandates, c) limited teaching strategies, d) student schedules, and e) past practices; those established practices not part of formal agreements. These barriers can and do impact the teacher's "emotional attachment to their job, colleagues, and organization" (Scarlett, 2011). It is critical, therefore, to focus on increasing teacher engagement (Gordon, 2006) in order to raise school performance. Gordon observed that the literature on raising performance through raising employee engagement in the workplace is plentiful in business-oriented literature. Gordon continued to observe that raising the level of employees' engagement is not yet as influential in educational settings as it is in the workplace; however, the effort to engage teachers is gaining ground. Research has studied the characteristics of the best employees for decades. As more studies of the characteristics of the best teacher continue to emerge, a similarity is that they have a high level of engagement (Gordon, 2006).

Buckingham and Coffman (1999) touted the importance of having highly engaged employees, and organizations like Gallup, the Harvard Business School, the Albert Shanker Institute, and the Academy of Human Resource Development have each noted the positive economic impact of engaged workplaces. Odell (2007) showed that companies with the highest percentage of engaged workers experience greater profit. "In a 12-month study across 50 companies: companies with the highest percentage of engaged workers had a 19% increase in operating incomes and a 28% increase in earnings per share" (p. 1). Statistics like this give increased incentive to determine whether the level of principals' perceptions of best practices in business management has any impact on teacher engagement. Building on the work of countless business-oriented studies, this study will examine specific practices that have been identified and shown to raise business unit performance and examine principals' perceptions as to whether these same practices may impact teacher engagement in a positive manner.

Need for the Study

Parents, regardless of socio-economic or ethnic background, want to send their children to schools committed to excellence (Beare, et al., 1990). Every teacher longs for the professional vigor of working in an environment of educational excellence (McEwan, 2002). Principals dream of leading a community of learners committed to excellence (Whitaker, 2003). Superintendents, school board members, policy makers, even real estate agents all imagine that their communities will be led by schools of excellence (Fullan, 1993). The search for schools of distinction is a regular part of endless conversations about student learning (Sparks, 2007).

No Child Left Behind legislation has forced schools to a) examine test scores, b) study teacher methodology, c) research curriculum initiatives, d) observe instructional foci, e) investigate building schedules, and f) consider multiple data from a variety of sources. It has also required the review and study of practices of every component that comprises the make-up of schools (Pa. Dept. of Ed., 2009). The high pressure, high stakes environments within schools can hinder attitudes and perceptions causing many to rethink the profession (Gordon, 2006). The demands on principals continue to expand as the search for practices that will improve student learning intensifies (Gordon, 2006).

Stronge (1988) found that a typical principal's day was characterized by multiple managerial tasks and diverse functions, including a) clerical, b) budgetary, and c) other generalist tasks. At that time, Stronge stated that converting principals into instructional leaders would require a drastic role redefinition. Since Stronge's research in his 1988 paper, principals' training and support have since shifted away from management to instructional leadership. Instructional leadership has become the focus of a) seminars, b) doctoral programs, c) national organizations that support education, d) literature, e) professional journals and d) state legislation mandating continuing education training for principals (Hallinger, 2003). The managerial tasks that Stronge references, however, have not disappeared, and today, some principal training programs exclude managerial training. The day to day management of buildings still exists (Stronge, 2008).

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Through the Gallup Corporation, researchers like Buckingham and Coffman (1999) and Harter, et al. (2009) have studied high performing work places for years. Business literature has documented the positive performance impact of having engaged employees. Gordon noted that there has been little interest in developing resources to study engaged schools. Reeves (2008) proposed a new framework that would promote effective change through raising the level of teacher leadership and stated that teachers must be actively engaged in pursuing increases in student learning. Marzano, et al. (2005) and Whitaker (2003) have documented that the practices exhibited by principals make a difference in raising student performance. This education-based literature gives limited attention to best practices in business management. Has the beneficial shift of focus onto best practices in instructional leadership moved principals' training too far away from best practices in management as described in business-oriented literature?

In today's educational environment, every advantage, no matter how small, is pursued in order to give schools increased student performance; therefore, are there business management practices implemented by principals that impact teachers' engagement level that would then result in improved student performance? The researcher in this study will examine principal perceptions of best business management practices in operating schools and study the impact of these perceptions on overall teacher engagement.

Statement of the Problem

Businesses expend considerable resources in order to develop engaged employees. Buckingham noted that an increased level of employee engagement drives up a) performance, b) productivity, c) customer satisfaction and d) reduces turnover of individual business units. Therefore, would there be similar outcome on improved learning when teachers are more highly engaged? Buckingham attributes the success for raising employee engagement directly to the manager. Whitaker (2003) has shown that the best principals are leading schools to improved student learning. Therefore, will the actions of the principal drive up the level of teacher engagement, having a concurrent positive impact of student performance? The researcher in this study assessed the principals' perceptions of business management practices and their impact on teacher engagement.

Definition of terms

Several definitions are necessary to clarify items for describing this study regarding principal practices, teacher engagement and student performance. These operational definitions will be referenced throughout this study.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). A signaling system indicating whether schools are on track to teach all students what they need to know each school year (Education Trust, 2004).

Business Management Practices. Evidence and data-based practices that can be imitated, adapted, and continually improved to increase a) performance, b) productivity, and c) profitability (Welch & Welch, 2005).

Business Units. The lowest institutional member of the corporation varying from industry to industry: for banking, it is a branch; for hospitality it is a restaurant or a hotel; for manufacturing it is a factory; and so on (Buckingham and Coffman, 1999).

Effective Schools. A school characterized by a) strong administrative leadership, b) effective instruction for ALL children, c) an orderly atmosphere, d) learning taking precedence over all other activities, e) reallocation of resources to further fundamental objectives, and f) frequent monitoring of student progress (Edmonds, 1979).

Engaged Employees. "A measureable degree of an employee's positive or negative emotional attachment to their job, colleagues, and organization which profoundly influences their willingness to learn and perform at work" (Scarlett, 2011).

Engaged Teachers. Measured by the three dimensions of classroom teaching and learning: a) teacher-student relationships, b) pedagogical practices, and c) teacher relations with the organization of teaching (Lesko, 1986) and a process, parallel to student engagement, in which the teacher is consciously aware of his or her role in the learning process (Kennedy, 1998).

Leadership. The act of providing guidance and supervision to subordinates while initiating new structures, procedures, and goals (Sergiovanni, 2000).

Moral Purpose. Principled behavior connected to something greater than ones self that relates to human or social development (Fullan, 2003).

No Child Left Behind (NCLB). A reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 intended to close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice. (US Dept. of Ed, 2002).

Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA). A standards-based, criterion-referenced assessment used to measure a student's attainment of the academic standards while also determining the degree to which school programs enable students to attain proficiency of the standards (Pa. Dept. of Ed., 2012).

Principal. The individual who is charged with the responsibilities to a) direct, b) operate, and c) administer the activities of a school (The Pennsylvania Code Online).

Principal practices. The way in which principals allocate their attention across major areas of responsibility, the extent to which principals emphasize different areas of responsibility in different contexts, and the extent to which personal, individual attributes affect how principals allocate their time and attention (Camburn, 2008).

Site-Leadership. A process to transform schools into communities where the appropriate people participate constructively in major decisions that affect them (Elmore, 2000).

Sustainability. "The capacity of a system to engage in the complexities of continuous improvement consistent with deep values of human purpose" (Fullan, 2005, p. ix).

Test Cycles. The annual process of completing state required testing (PA Department of Education).

Transformational Leadership. Style of leadership in which the leader identifies a) the needed change, b) creates a vision to guide the change through inspiration, and c) executes the change with the commitment of the members of the group (Kotter & Cohen, 2002).

Limitations

This study surveyed and interviewed principals from central Pennsylvania and asked the same principals to respond to open-ended questions. The small number of school districts included and the small participant pool may impact the findings of this study. The survey was completed electronically and could have been impacted by the network administrative settings at each respondent's school. The interviews of these principals could have been impacted by attitudes resulting from current complicated issues occurring at their specific schools, such as a) changing curriculum, b) rapid changes in demographics, c) reduction of funding for specialized programs, d) reduction in staffing, e) increasing enrollment, f) changes in attendance boundaries, g) retirements of key personnel, and h) curtailment of support from outside agencies like Intermediate Units. Other limitations may have occurred if too many a) strategies, b) programs, and c) initiatives were implemented simultaneously, thus interfering with the ability to identify specific programs that impact student performance and school climate. Finally, the level of experience and training of the principal in instructional leadership and business management may have significantly influenced the data and its correlations to teacher engagement. This may have caused difficulty in accurately analyzing the data and could have led to inaccurate correlations impacting teacher engagement.

The routine activities of the subjects in this study were minimally interrupted. Each subject was asked to constructively analyze their understanding of business practices and their perceived efficacy in impacting the level of teacher engagement. Principals who agreed to participate in this study could have felt a sense of insecurity since they might assume that not utilizing these practices may influence them in a negative way. There was minimal risk to subjects due to the confidential nature of the study, the anonymity of the survey participants, and the confidentiality protocols put in place to assure the anonymity of the interviewees.

Research Questions

The purpose of this study was to analyze principals' perceptions of business leadership practices and their impact on teacher engagement. Surveys, open ended responses, and interviews with principals were used to gather perception data. The following questions guided this study:

What business management practices do principals find valuable to raising the level of teacher engagement?

What does the principal do to implement his or her top five business management practices in order to raise the level of teacher engagement?

From the principal's perspective, how does teacher engagement impact student performance?

Summary

The search for activities and actions that will give schools performance advantages on standardized tests is continuously expanding. Over the last 20 years, much has been written about the principal's role as instructional leader. From Blasé to Fullan, from Lambert to Lezotte, from Marzano to McEwen, Reeves, Schmoker, Sergiovanni, Stronge, and Whitaker all have called principals to greater roles in instructional leadership. However, during that same timeline, much has been left unsaid about principals' role in effective management of their assigned school. Concurrently, an explosion of research and writings related primarily to the business community has clarified the actions, beliefs, and strategies of best managers. Blanchard, Buckingham, Coffman, Collins, Gordon, Kotter, Lencioni, Maxwell, Porras, Rath, Welch and many others have filled the shelves of book store business sections with information about excellence in management. This study analyzed principals' perceptions of business management practices that have been shown to raise employee engagement and when implemented in schools; their perceived impact on teacher engagement.