Oppression, conflict, and collusion: high-stakes accountability from the perspective of three social justice principals
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This research is a qualitative research study involving three social justice principals in a collective investigation of the dissonance they experience between their social justice orientations and their work within a high-stakes accountability system. The three participants were successful principals of urban elementary schools in Texas. The purpose of the study was to explore the nature and the cause of the dissonance the principals experience and to identify strategies for dissipating that dissonance. The method of inquiry was participatory action research (Whitehead, 1993; McIntyre, 1997) that included individual interviews, reflexive journaling (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) and group sessions. The data revealed three themes. The first theme, oppressed oppressor, refers to the principals being both oppressed by the accountability system and being oppressors themselves. The second theme, clash with caring, refers to a conflict between aesthetic and authentic caring (Noddings, 1984). The third theme, coerced collusion, refers to the pressure the principals’ feel to participate in a system they believe perpetuates educational inequity. This study offers implications for policy, research, and practice. This study suggests that the high-stakes accountability system in Texas may be an enactment of the “Fixes that Fail” systems archetype (Senge, 2000). This archetype suggests that while the high-stakes accountability system in Texas may appear to be improving education, there may be serious unintended consequences of this system, and, therefore, policy makers may need to reconsider the use of this system. This study further suggests that practitioners, particularly superintendents, may have the power to either intensify or diminish the unintended consequences that may result from the high-stakes accountability system in Texas. Lastly, this study suggests that the effects of the high-stakes accountability system in Texas warrant further study. In particular, this study suggests that researchers need to consider whether there are unintended long-term consequences of this system.