The Massachusetts education reform principal (1993-2000): a view from the world of practice
McGrath, Marinel Dolores
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The focus of this study was to understand how public school principals perceived their roles changing as a result of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 (MERA) and to gain an understanding of the context from Which the changes in the principal's role evolved. The findings provide a basis for policy recommendations directed to the legislature and to policymakers at the state and local levels to ensure that our public schools have capable leaders to lead the Commonwealth's schools through ongoing education reform. There were three major findings of the study: (1) principals embraced the philosophical tenets of MERA and the conceptualization of their role as educational leaders; (2) principals perceived their roles to be more complex in the realm of interactions with constituencies (students, teachers, parents, community, and central office administrators) and in the kinds of tasks they encountered to meet student and program needs stemming from MERA implementation at both the state and local levels; and (3) principals experienced a restrained capacity to lead their schools due to lack of resources for leadership, comprehensive training, and the inability of the organization to modify its structures to meet new MERA governance designs. The findings of this study are clear: since the passage of MERA, principals perceive themselves to be school leaders confronted with complex jobs for which have neither sufficient authority nor sufficient training to effect reform to the level envisioned by MERA architects; even the most experienced among them is having difficulty. The findings further suggest principals need support to implement the ambitious MERA goals and the MERA vision for school reform will not be fully realized until policymakers provide principals with: (1) administrative structures and organizational cultures in which superintendents delegate authority to principals and provide them with the support that the MERA architects envisioned and which is commensurate with their changing and wide-ranging responsibilities; (2) employment conditions which provide contractual support and just cause protection so MERA expectations in the realm of innovation, change, human resource management, and increased student performance at the schoolhouse can be realized; and (3) comprehensive and sustained training programs and professional development opportunities in the areas of educational leadership and administration, instruction, organizational development, human resource management, and legal matters to realize the responsibilities required of their redefined roles. The research design was a qualitative study accomplished through personal interviews with five MERA architects and legislators and thirty principals representing both genders at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in urban and suburban school districts and relevant documents. Analysis of the data indicated that there were no meaningful differences among principals regarding their role change as a result of MERA.
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