Balancing accountability and ethics : a case study of an elementary school principle

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Hall, Dorothy Ledbetter

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In recent years, the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has increasingly had a major impact on daily decisions in schools, especially for principals' performance. Depending on the accountability rating, schools are in jeopardy of closing, and principals and teachers are at risk of being fired (McGhee [and] Nelson, 2005). As a result, it is increasingly difficult to make daily ethical decisions on behalf of students and teachers when much of the focus is on standardized testing and accountability. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe the leadership practices used by an elementary principal in her effort to balance accountability and ethics. Models of ethical, educational leadership including Servant Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Moral Leadership, Ethical Leadership, and Democratic, Ethical, Educational Leadership have described the practices implemented by ethical leaders. However, research concerning how an elementary principal is able to balance the pressures of accountability and ethical practices to meet the needs of the students, teachers, and parents is less prevalent. This qualitative single-case study of a principal in one high achieving, low socio-economic status elementary school examined the leadership practices in an accountability context. Semi-structured interviews, field notes of observations at the school, and relevant documents were collected and used as the data for the study (Marshall [and] Rossman, 1999). Findings revealed that a clear vision, positive relationships, honest communication, and school-wide systems lend strong support to teaching and learning. Meaningful curriculum, instruction, and assessment; caring, supportive relationships; and a student-centered school culture, are essential components of intended efforts to balance the pressures of accountability and the needs of the students. Resources, shared decision-making, and a culture of mutual respect and responsibility may lead school leaders to address the pressures of accountability and meeting the needs of the teachers. A welcoming environment, pertinent information in English and Spanish, and opportunities for parents and families to get involved are critical avenues to meet and address the concerns of parents. This information may generate recommendations to educational leaders and serve as suggestions for pre-service and in-service training programs which are designed to prepare future ethical school leaders.