LeadershipChallenges Faced by African American Principals
LeadershipChallenges Faced by African American Principals
TheHistory of the African American in Principal Leadership
Todayin the United States, pupils from all racial backgrounds can accesseducation in any public school, and the practice of prejudice basedon race is prohibited in private school admissions. Nevertheless,this was not always the case in the old days. It took a real strugglefor racial equality to be established in the education system inAmerica. One of the ways through which this was made possible wasblack leadership in schools. Since, the Brown-era, public schoolscontinued appreciating African-American principals, which played akey role in making way for the present-day American system ofeducation.
Thehistory of African-American leadership in schools started before theBrown-era. Often referred to the pre-Brown era, it was characterizedby black principals who were committed to facilitate the education ofblack pupils (Gay,2004).The principals of this era worked in close ties with other blackleaders to establish schools for these children. In the post-Brownera, African-American principals spearheaded the implementation ofdesegregation and education of black children despite mountingresistance. Today, most Africa-American principals are employed inlarge urban school districts and continue to advocate for the social,emotional and academic achievement of students from the blackcommunity.
Cultureappeared to influence the leadership of African-American in schoolsby a huge margin. Therefore, the history of black principals inAmerican schools has a historical and cultural significance. Blackprincipals helped in the establishment and operation of schoolsthrough solicitation of funding and other resources (Gay,2004).These individuals played dual roles of being educators and activistsfor the education of pupils from the black community. The educationalideologies of black principals demonstrated the shared spirit of theblack community that education was key to their emancipation.
Blackprincipals in the post-Brown era faced a new set of challengescompared to those that served in the pre-Brown era. Their roles indesegregated schools were more sophisticated compared to thepreceding era. Different research studies have represented theprincipals of this era as caring leaders who embraced consistency intheir work. They were central to the academic achievement of studentsin their schools and the black community at large (Tillman,2004).Therefore, the leadership challenges of this era centered on changingdemographics and aspects related to urban areas.
Strengthand effectiveness were key to these leaders in a bid to maintain theimages of their schools, particularly those in large urban districts.They were charged with the mandate to set the schools` tones, decideon their desired instructional strategies and oversee theorganization and distribution of resources (Tillman,2004).Moreover, these leaders were responsible for defining the mission andvision statements for their schools together with their goals.
Nevertheless,this weight of the responsibilities placed on their shoulderstriggered the adoption of authoritarian styles of leadership thatsparked diverging notions from both the students and teachers. Forinstance, Norris Hogans, the principal of George Washington CarverComprehensive High School in Atlanta was deemed authoritarian in hisstyle of leadership (Karpinski,2006).Some students and teacher described him as a staunch individual, whowas unwilling to negotiate on issues that affected the school and thecommunity.
Thisera was characterized by more emphasis on the effectiveness ofleadership styles exhibited by African-American principals. There wasa powerful urge for these principals to perform well to boost theacademic performance of their schools while maintaining a high levelof discipline among the students. However, amid performance pressure,they were torn between compassion for their communities and loyaltyto their professional duties (Karpinski,2006).Therefore, they exhibited commitment, compassion and confidence whileat the same time remained concerned about the educational wellbeingof children from the black community. Furthermore, these principalswere charged with the responsibility to ease the barrier that existedbetween the schools and the community due to the cultural mismatchbetween black parents and students and white educators. Therefore,principals in the post-Brown era faced a tough challenge ofeliminating the racial differences that stalled unified relationsbetween the communities and the schools.
TheElimination of Black Leaders under the Guise of School Reform(Desegregation)
Theloss of jobs among black principals came as an unintended consequenceof the reform process. The reform, intended to rectify theinequalities in the segregated schooling system (Clotfelter, 2011).Through the reforms, black principals would be presented with theopportunity to continue advancing education opportunities to theBlack children. However, the excellence in African American schoolleadership took an unexpected direction courtesy of desegregation(Clotfelter, 2011). The impact was felt particularly in the Southwhere many Black principals lost their jobs. While a fraction ofBlack school principals kept their jobs, the Brown v. Board ofEducation decision had devastating effects on the careers of many ofthem. Desegregation ripped through the closed structure in whichBlack education was organized (Watras, 2013).
Themove from dual to unitary schooling system appeared to target blackprincipals. In many cases, these principals were the only individualsin black communities who had undergone formal education. They servedas role models for black students and motivated them to embrace theopportunity for black education to eliminate the high levels ofpoverty. Therefore, by eliminating them, desegregation alsoeliminated the most influential people in black schools. In thepost-Brown era, the displacement of black principals came in the formof demotions as well as sackings (Heath, 2011). In other cases, theprincipals were transferred to other central positions such asserving as coordinators in federal programs. Some of the titles ofthe jobs were foreign to the education industry. They were assignedsecretaries and desks but had no specified responsibilities. This wasdevastating for many former black principals since they appeared tobe lacking authority (Heath, 2011).
Thedecade between 1954 and 1965 had the most devastating results for theblack principals. Immediately after the Brown decision, Whites sharedthe belief that African principals were largely ineffective inadvancing education to Black children (Watras,2013).The post-desegregation legal proceedings included expert witnesseswho testified in the proceedings and called for the replacement ofall Black principals with Whites as well as the dismantling of allBlack schools. First, the dismantling of black schools wouldimmediately render the black principals jobless. Missouri, Delaware,Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky closed most of theall-black schools (Watras,2013).These closures occurred between 1954 and 1965, therefore renderingmany principals jobless. More than half of the principals weredismissed from their jobs. Despite the fact that the country neededabout 6000 Black principals to reach national parity, thedesegregation system led to the loss of thousands of Black jobs(Watras,2013).
Thesegregated schooling system favored Black principals because of thecircumstances in black communities. During this time, professionalemployment opportunities outside the segregated system were almostnon-existent for blacks. Therefore, the system ensured blackprincipals played a professional role in the lives of theircommunities and black children. Therefore, the dismantling of thesystem interrupted their assured status. Desegregation exposed Blackstudents, parents, teachers, and principals to an unfamiliar space(Clotfelter, 2011). The racist context of the education system becamemore evident and pronounced than before. Black principals now had noinfluence over the direction of the education of black children.Initially, the black principals provided the liaison between thewhite power structure and the black community. Black principals hadno power to influence the direction of school policies outside theirschools. The Brown decision made them more powerless than before byejecting them from the places where they could influence theeducation policies (Clotfelter, 2011).
TheImpact of the Desegregation Movement
Schooldesegregation led to the emergence of schools that had better qualitythan during the segregation era. The quality schools resulted in bigimprovements in adult attainments among African Americans (Heath,2011). These improvements increased the occupational and educationalattainments among Black Americans. The dropout levels among theblacks reduced in significant proportions. Therefore, there werehigher transitions from high school to college, which helped developthe careers of many young African Americans.
Thehigh successful transition rates meant that more African Americansenrolled for college education. College enrollment transformed theirlives since they would secure decent employment in government andpublic organizations (Watras, 2013). In this regard, theincarceration rates among black Americans went down significantly.High school dropout levels and the inability to secure decentemployment was synonymous with high incarceration rates. Even today,the incarceration rates among the black community are very high.Without the benefits of disintegration, the numbers would have beenhigher. Additionally, desegregation improved the adult health statusin the community (Watras, 2013). As individuals attained moreeducation and better jobs, they could afford a decent living and takecare of their health. Better jobs meant the development of safe andclean neighborhoods that improved the health outcomes of theinhabitants.
Disintegrationincreased interracial contact in the country. The segregated systemmeant that children and parents of different races rarely met. Underthe desegregated system, children from different races chose toattend whatever school they wanted. Parents met during PTA meetingsand therefore interacted objectively (Watras, 2013). The interracialcontact helped reduce the ethnic tensions that existed between themajority and minority races in the country. Moreover, thedesegregated system provided a platform for the initiation of equitymeasures to amend the historical injustices.
Astudy by West (2016) showed that under the disintegration system,black students performed better on average than during the segregatedsystem. The main factor he pointed out, however, is that theimprovements resulted from the ability of the desegregated system toinstill discipline among black students (West, 2016). He argues thatthe segregated system provided a platform for many black students tobreak school laws because they were in school settings dominated bythe black community. This level of comfort allowed them to challengetheir teachers, also bearing in mind the lack of standardizeddiscipline mechanism in the segregated system. Therefore, thedesegregated system helped black students to be disciplined becauseof the changes in the school environment (West, 2016).
Again,the integration of Black students with white students led to fastsocial adjustments in the personalities of black students. The racistnature of the political, social and economic circumstances in thecountry had subjected African Americans to inferiority complex.Therefore, their enrollment in interracial schools helped boost theirself-esteem, thus enabling them to fit in the white-dominated society(Heath, 2011). Despite the numerous advantages of disintegration tothe educational attainments of Black students, the decision disruptedthe social and economic lives of many black American principals. Theylost their jobs at a time when it was difficult for African Americansto move freely from one job to another (Heath, 2011). The demotionsdisrupted the social set up of Black communities especially where theprincipals were regarded as the most elite in the communities.
TheElimination of Black Leaders under the Guise of School Reform (SchoolChoice)
Schoolchoice ranked as one of the educational reforms intended to transformpublic education in the United States. Under school choice, parentsand guardians could choose the schools they deemed ideal for theirchildren, and public funds would be allotted to these schools. Thismodel was intended to promote excellence in schools competitively.However, this reform was used to drive away black principals fromtheir professions in the name of community control. Through thisreform, the white administrators directed public funds to selectpublic schools with the aim of weakening the resources and governanceof the schools led by Black principles.
Therefore,most parents would take their children to schools that seemed betterfits in terms of their capacity to satisfy the needs of theirchildren. The performance in these schools was also better comparedto those that did not have adequate resources. Therefore, mostparents continued to withdraw their children from the schools deemedunfit for their children and enrolled them in schools deemed better.Through this mass withdrawal of children due to lack of sufficientresources and excellence, most of these schools had to close down(Carl,2011).Closing down the school signified the end of the black principals`regimes as professional, and they had to find placements as regularteachers in other schools or find other means of eking a living.
Althoughthere may have been other factors behind these guise eliminations ofblack principles, racism is believed to have played a significantrole. The closing of black schools was intended to dismiss all theblack principals. Most of the black educators who worked in blackschools lost their jobs and were left unemployed when the schoolswere closed. They were left on their own to find other jobs toutilize their professional capabilities. In some cases, these leaderswere compelled to seek legal advice to be restored in theirpositions. Seemingly, school choice was a good reform, but the peoplebehind it anticipated different results that would favor the whitecommunity (Carl,2011).The closure of schools sent all black kids to schools in white areas,which often had enough educators. Consequently, the black educatorsfrom the closed schools were left with nowhere to go and with nostudents to teach. Another reason for this strategy was to eradicateschools located in black neighborhoods to gain the control of theeducation system.
ChallengesFaced by African American in Principal Leadership
Inthe history of African-American leadership in schools, the positionof the principal was the highest in the academic ranks and wasrevered by most of the people. The principal was not only the leaderof the school but also the authority leader in the community.However, their leadership roles were crowded by an assortment ofchallenges, and some still affect their leadership in the currentera. Some of the challenges faced by black principals in theirleadership include racism, glass ceiling theory, institutionalsilencing, misogynistic notions and cultural preconceptions amongothers.
Tostart with, most African American principals faced the challenge ofracism in the leadership positions. Most of them served in schools oflocated amidst diverse communities. The achievement gaps between thestudents were huge, and it continues to be big today. The historicalcontext of racial challenges set the platform for all kinds ofchallenges to success faced by black principals in the 21stcentury (Echols,2006).Through racial discrimination, most principals would be defined asincompetent. They were required to guarantee that the students wouldperform well, ensure cultural responsiveness towards the diversity ofstudents in schools, and facilitate a functional means ofcommunication among the parents, caregivers and all stakeholders ofthe school without the interference of racial barriers.
Again,there were numerous misogynistic notions directed towards femaleprincipals. In most cases, black female principles suffered hostilityand exclusion from their black colleagues (Peters,2012).In the same way, all black principals experienced seclusion in whiteschool districts. They could not fit-in given the ethnic differencesbecause they were often deemed inferior (Echols,2006).Through the theory of racial identity, this challenge could beattributed to the emersion developmental stage, which ischaracterized by people’s desire to surround themselves with peoplefrom their racial identity.
Thischallenge often culminated in the lack of connection for most ofthese individuals. Most of the educators missed opportunities becausethey did not have connections of respected individuals from the whitecommunity. In most cases, the black principals were not aware ofopportunities that included leadership institutes, stipends fordegree programs, professional memberships, social invitations,mentors, and grant monies among other things. This often created afeeling of isolation to most of these principals.
Therefore,to create a feeling of belonging, most of them had to obtain socialcapital through the practice of shifting. Shifting entailed adoptinga different method of communication. This strategy was mostly used toincrease one`s chances of survival in a new environment or around newpeople. Regarding misogynistic notions, women principals werebelieved to be the leading code-shifters. Black women were believedto change their behavior more than any other minority group inhistory (Peters,2012).They were believed to conceal their true character to impress theircolleagues (black and white). They were believed to shift toaccommodate variations in class, gender, and ethnicity.
Moreover,black principals were subject to the glass ceiling theory andinstitutional silencing. In most cases, they were deemedunder-achievers and incompetent because of their racial orientation.Most black principals could not contribute ideas to school panelsbecause their voices were not heard (Echols,2006).Their role was to act as a liaison for the school to the corporateindividuals, politicians, and members of the school boards. Theirrole was reduced to custodians of the schools they led, without anyadditional roles. This often stimulated the shifting practice becausemost of them strove to amuse the whites to gain relevance andrespect. Through this shifting, most of the principals went out oftheir ways in the name of gaining significance in an environmentcharacterized by widespread racial preconceptions and prejudice.
Mostblack principals experienced extreme difficulties on their way up tothe leadership level. This is because people who thought they werenot good enough to take up the leadership positions could pull themdown. This was the same case when these principals took transfers towhite schools. When a black individual took a leadership role, itoften resulted in backstabbing and a competitive environment, ratherthan creating a welcoming atmosphere that could induce unity andcollaboration. As a result, these principals could use duress toaddress some of these problems.
LeadershipStrategies of African American Principals
Thetype of leadership offered by school principals is critical to theacademic excellence of students as well as the reputation of schools.African American principals are known for their ability to embracenew organizational structures and leadership roles to achieveinstructional innovation (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012). In thepre-Brown era, black principals stood out as motivators and rolemodels to the Black students. Their elevated leadership level asschool principals meant that their leadership strategies emanatedfrom their role as role models and motivators. They, therefore,worked with the understanding that the entire black communityrecognized their privileged role.
Blackprincipals were instrumental in bringing up high achieving schools.They set realistic goals for students and formulated practical planson how to achieve them. Historically, black principals focused oninfluencing the attitudes of Black students. The depth of segregationand inequality in the country gave Black students wrong attitudesregarding their ability to match the academic achievements of thewhite students. Black principals realized the importance of havingthe right attitude for the students to have the zeal to learn. Inmany cases, Black principals reached out to parents to influence andsupport their children and left no child outside the concern of theirschools (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012).
AfricanAmerican principals instilled teacher leadership skills among thestaff. The foundation of the teacher leadership approach lay on theneed to have high levels of commitment and involvement amongteachers. Black principals emphasized the role of collectivism inachieving academic success (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012). Thecollective participation of the community, students, parents andteachers was very important to achieving integrative leadership.However, the collective involvement had to be purposeful, with thestudents at the center of every decision and action taken to promotethe collective involvement. Since black principals were among themost elite in their communities, they were able to command theattention of their communities and followers to implement theirleadership strategies (Sebastian & Allensworth, 2012). In thepre-Brown era, black principals embraced the collective ownership ofthe education process. As school leaders, African American principalsembraced the principle of fairness and consistency. Despite outsideinfluences such as political pressure, black principals alwaysrecognized the need to be consistent especially when dealing with thedifferent personalities of teachers, parents, and students.
Strength,fairness, consistency and paternalism have been at the core ofachieving success in the urban educational environment. The mentoringrole among Black principals and students help develop productive andpurposeful relationships in the school setting (West, 2016). Theyhave always exhibited a strong sense of self-being within theircommunities and the school setting. Moreover, they strive to embodythe external contingency of education stakeholders. Through theseleadership strategies, black principals have been able to influencepositive educational development among the black community,regardless of the continuous difficulties before and after the Browndecision.
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