School Leadership in the 21st Century Essay

Every year Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas selects experienced superintendents to join their Superintendent’s Academy.  I was one of the 20 superintendents chosen this year to participate in this prestigious academy.  The cohort of superintendents meets periodically throughout the school year to discuss educational topics considered to be in the forefront of the education field.  The group traveled to Columbia University in New York during the fall to discuss educational reform and visited a Harlem elementary school.  In addition, the superintendents along with board members attended a conference that featured futurist Ian Jukes.  Mr. Jukes’ presentation consisted of digital age education, global competition in education field, and leadership transitions.  This conference opened my mind to a wealth of information as well as made a lasting impression on my public education expectations since it highlighted the future perspectives of educational leadership of the 21st century.

Inquiry Statement

    What effect will digital age global markets have on educational leadership, expansion of school choice, and private sector’s competition for public school funds.



It is possible to presuppose that if school leadership impacts educational outcomes, than the type of leadership methods used will make some difference in the digital age global competitive market and the expansion of school choice.

Leadership Theories

In order to identify the leadership concept that meets the best to the digital age, the research must examine contemporary leadership theories. In the book, School Leadership that Works (Marzano, 2005 p. 13), James Burns referred as the founder of the modern leadership and credited for his work on transformational and transactional leadership conceptual theories. The former theory assumes that people will follow the leader because of the leadership inspiration. Leaders, using the principle of transformation, develop and sell their vision to followers.

Visionaries will have to expend a lot of energy and commitment to earn the trust of the followers.  The transformational leader seeks to transform the people that he leads.  The transactional leader adheres to the chain of commands and believes that followers relate to their motivation by the process of reward and punishment.

At the same time, subordinates are also very important to the concept of leadership. Changing Minds (2007) described the role of the subordinate, as follows: “The prime purpose of a subordinate is to do what their manager tells them to do.”Â  In other words, the transformational leader implements the “selling” style form of leadership, whereas the transactional leader takes the approach of the “telling” style of leadership.

In contrast to the “telling” style of transactional leadership, the succeeding two leadership theories of servant leadership and situational leadership serve their systems by using different leadership practices.  The philosophy of Robert K. Greenleaf’s (1977) book, Servant Leadership, promoted persons who serve and do not hold leadership positions.  The position of the servant leader is shifted to the center in the organization hierarchy. Nurturing is the primary role of the servant leader within the organization.  In the book School Leadership that Works, Marzano (2005) elaborated on the flexible leadership model that adapts to different situations. This type of leadership was coined by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard as situational leadership. Blanchard and Hersey, according to Marzano (2005), categorized all leadership styles into four categories. In a grid divided into four quadrants, Blanchard and Hersey identified Quadrant S1 as directing leaders that define roles and tasks of the followers. Quadrant S2 refers to coaching leaders that define roles and tasks of the followers, but the leader asks for suggestions from the followers.

Quadrant S3, the supporting leader allows the followers to decide how and when the leader will is involved.  Finally, Quadrant S4 leaders delegate the control to the followers, but involve themselves as part of the decision-making process.

Hersey and Blanchard linked the situational leadership theory S1-S4 to the development levels of the followers.

Chimaera Consulting Limited (2004) stated:  “By adopting the right style to suit the follower’s development level, work gets done, relationships are build up, and most importantly, the follower’s development level will rise to D4, to everyone’s benefit.”Â  The main objective of the servant leader is to serve the system or to serve the people working within the system.  The servant leader does not have to lead the system. On the other hand, situational leadership advocates using different leadership styles to support the followers using their personal competency levels as a gauge for intercession.

The Constructivist Leader, written by Linda Lambert and colleagues (2002), identified six key concepts behind the theory of constructivism. The first concept stated that “the lives of children and adults are inextricably intertwined.” (Lambert, 2002 p.xvi).  This constructivist principle encourages children and adults to work as partners in the areas of democracy and authentic work.  Individuals, in all personal, professional and community endeavors, must experience repeatable patterns of learning.

The second concept stated: “Constructivism is the primary basis of learning for children, adults, and organizations.” (p. xvi). The statement implies that individuals and organizations bring prior experiences and worldviews in the process of their learning. New knowledge builds upon our personal perspectives and inquiry abilities.

The third concept states that “communities that encourage the growth of human potential are based on the principles of ecology.” (p. vii). The thought of participants that construct meaning and knowledge together become a community of learners as well as establish a focused professional culture.

The fourth concept stated: “Patterns of relationships from the primary bases for human growth and development”.

Additionally, this idea supports that relationships determine the persons past, present, and future possibilities.

The fifth concept states: “Diversity provides complexity, depth, multiple perspectives, and equity to relationships, thereby extending human and societal possibilities.” (p. vii). The book suggests that individuals bring something of value to the purpose and growth of the group.

The sixth and final idea states: “Leadership as critical social and intellectual transformation is achieved through reciprocal, purposeful learning in community.” (p. xviii). Lambert’s sixth concept established the belief that leadership serves to transform oneself, organizations, and others to enable participants to find a purposeful meaning in reconstructing the larger society.

Moreover, The National College for School Leadership defines the constructivist leader theory as, “the reciprocal processes that enable participants in an educational community to construct common meanings that lead toward a common purpose about schooling.” According to Lambert and colleagues, constructivist leadership emerged from the principles of transformational leadership. However, transformational leadership espouses one designated leader, whereas constructivism fosters leadership patterns among the participants.

Furthermore, Thomas J. Sergiovanni (2005) revisited the principles of value-added leadership in his book Strengthening the Heartbeat.  The value-added leadership theory has nine dimensions along and two corollaries that establish a framework to stress the importance of leading and learning together. Leaders, which put into practice the value-added dimensions, establish extraordinary performance investment, enhance symbols and meaning, build accountability systems, intrinsic motivation, collegiality, and leadership by outrage.  In contrast to the value-added dimensions, Sergiovanni lists value dimensions that include management, participation investment, manipulating situations, planning, and giving directions, providing a monitoring system, extrinsic motivation, congeniality, and calculated leadership. Sergiovanni suggests the importance of both dimensions to meet minimum standards of performance as well as achieving high expectations.  Sergiovanni adds that, in order to reach excellence, a shift must occur from value to value-added dimensions.  Value-added leadership sets one person or two at the helm of the organization, in contrast to constructivist leadership that places the emphasis on relationships among participants working toward a common purpose.


Globalization and the Technological Revolution

According to futurist Ian Jukes (2007), globalization and the technological revolution have a profound impact on relationships between business and governments. In such a context, it is important to review the expansion of technology and the globalization of business to understand the major transitional changes in the field of education.

Thomas L. Friedman (2005) identified in his book The World is Flat ten “world flatteners” that he advocated as an integral part of technological advances, which had a direct relationship to globalization. The ten technology advances detailed below:

1.  The fall of the Berlin Wall on 11/9/89 opened the doors to people of the Soviet controlled countries. The balance of power shifted to capitalism instead of communism and crated opportunities to develop a single global market.

During the same period, the Windows-powered PC enabled individuals to share information worldwide to enhance the free markets of globalization, which added to the fall communism[1].

2.  In the early 1990s, the emergence of the World Wide Web became a major force in globalization. In addition, the commercial browser Netscape went public in 1995. Netscape brought accessibility of the internet to more people. In turn, the demand for telecommunications networks increased. True to the competitive markets, “Windows 95” became an operating systems used worldwide[2].

3.  During the mid to late 1990s, people wanted to collaborate on business instead of handling business manually.

Flattener #1 and #2 allowed workflow to be handled by computers. Sales orders made by phone or through mail entered in a computer system, communicated the order within the departments, and the product sent to the customer included the invoice[3].

4.  Apache, a shareware program for web server technology produced by technology users and offered free to the user in the 1990’s.  The community-developed program, also known as “open source” software, serves as the underlying program that makes some software work[4].

5.  Outsourcing is a cost savings measure used by companies by delegating part of their product processing to other companies specializing in that area. Using the internet and fiber optics outsourcing of services, call centers, and business operations could now be digitized to be sourced to the most efficient provider anywhere in the world[5].

6.  The term “offshoring” describes the decision made by companies to move all their operations and physical plants to another country[6].  The company “produces the very same product in the very same way, only with cheaper labor, lower taxes, subsidized energy, and lower health-care costs.” (p.137).

7.  Supply-chaining is another important concept. According to Flattner, “supply-chaining is a method of collaborating horizontally ”“ among suppliers, retailers, and customers ”“ to create value.”(p.152) . Furthermore, “the more these supply chains grow proliferate, the more they force the adoption of common standards between companies.”Â  (p. 152). Global collaboration encourages supply chains to interface with each other establishing mega retail stores like Wal-Mart[7].

8.  Flattner underlines the importance of insourcing[8]. Companies such as United Parcel Service and Federal Express are providing “synchronized global supply chains for companies large and small.” (Friedman 2006, p. 168).

9.  Internet search engines provide research information on a wide variety of subjects to everyone, anytime, and anywhere[9].

10.  Friedman argued that “certain new technology the steroids because they are amplifying and turbo charging all the other flatteners.” (Friedman 2006, p. 188).  Thomas Friedman’s examples of technology steroids comprise of digitization of all analog content (digital), the process of shaping, manipulating the contents at high speeds (virtual), wireless technology (mobile), and that which accomplished by an individual (personal)[10].

Gordon E. Moore (1963), an Intel co-founder, predicted that the number of transistors on a chip would double every 2 years. Gordon Moore also predicted that circuits would run twice as fast.  At the same time, the price to produce this technology would experience a reduction in the same amount of elapsed time to double power. Michael Kanellos of CNET news interviewed Gordon Moore in May of 2005.  Mr. Kanellos asked Gordon Moore about the statistical data found in Moore’s Law and if the information was still relevant. Gordon Moore responded, “In 1975, I updated Moore’s Law and we’ve been on that pretty much ever since”. (Kanellos, 2005, p.1) “We’ve actually a little ahead of that, we’re doubling in less than 24 months these days”. (p.1)   Ian Jukes (2007) from the InfoSavvy Group interpreted the Moore’s Law statistical data and placed the information on a table to show the exponential growth of integrated circuits and possible costs of the circuits up to the year 2018 (Table 1).

Ian Jukes called this exponential growth in micro processing power “Exponential Trend #1: Moore’s Law”. He stated that the low cost of technology would have a riveting effect on schools worldwide.  In addition, Jukes advocated that the United States’ students would be competing for jobs with students from all parts of the globe. The following exponential trends are found in his website (Jukes, 2007):

The second exponential trend, “The Law of the Photon”, considered the bandwidth speed that allows gigabits of information transmitted without error in the presence of noise as increasing and making technology more accessible.

The third exponential trend, “The Internet Revolution”, Jukes implied that Moore’s Law along with “The Law of the Photon” created trend number three. Statistical information of the internet found on the website states that there are over 1.4 billion internet users in more than 170 countries. The web contains more than 100 billion web pages and estimates that by the year 2010 more than three billion people will use the internet. Increase in web pages, messages, e-mails, etc. continue to grow on a daily basis.

The fourth exponential trend, “The Age of Infowhelm”, Jukes contended that the age of information is fast becoming an overwhelming force that at times frustrates the user.  Furthermore, Jukes posted the following questions on his website as well as asked the same questions during his conference presentations (2007):

  1.  How will Moore’s Law affect the nature of the workplace?
  2.  Does this global exponential trend hold any implications for our schools and the children attending those schools?
  3. Given that this is a global trend, what skills will children need to have that we didn’t need to have growing up?
  4.  What will they (students) need to be able to do with these skills?
  5.  What are we doing in our schools right now to prepare children for a world that will be fundamentally different that the world we grew up in?
  6.  What should we in education be doing to help prepare them (students) for this world?

In order to answer the questions asked above and further address the inquiry statement of the comprehensive paper, it necessary to investigate the evaluate private sector’s influence on school choice.

Private Sector Influence and School Choice

School choice advocates and the private sector have established a major influence on legislation and have made gains to acquire public money for private schools. Many states are now funding charter schools, allowing vouchers, and using school choice as competitive vehicles to fund private schools. Charter schools, perceived as a school reform initiative, have been attributed to Albert Shanker, Ex-President of American Federation of Teachers. US Charter Schools (2007) reported that over 3,000 new charter schools opened their doors since state legislation allowed the concept to flourish.

Charter schools run independent from public school systems and modify the schools according to their personal designs. Charter schools usually establish their performance contract with a state agency to receive public funding and exempt themselves from some state regulations.  The National Education Association (2007) believes that nontraditional public schools such as charter schools have the potential to establish themselves with education reform in mind. The National Education Association’s (NEA) (2001) resolution concerning charter schools stated that “education reform mechanisms that promote decentralized and shared decision making, diverse educational offerings, and the removal onerous administrative requirements” (p.1). Along with other criteria, the NEA’s representative assembly adopted their stance on charter schools. The NEA (2001) advocated that in return for autonomy from regulations charter schools should be held accountable for results set forth by their charters.  In the past few years, the state of Texas started holding charter schools accountable for student achievements just like the public schools.  Senator Florence Shapiro, the head of the Senate Education Committee, stated that “what we’ve done over the years is granted a lot of charters in the hopes that they would all be good, but that hasn’t been the case.” (LaCoste-Caputo& Russell, 2007)

In contrast to charter schools, voucher certificates are awarded to parents so that their children can attend the school of their choice. The funds go directly to the families. The families then select a school, whether private or public, for their children to attend. Advocates for vouchers state that competition between public and private schools will improve education, in spite of vouchers meeting resistance in most states. Critics of the voucher system say that government fueled vouchers would not create free educational markets.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin has the biggest and oldest metropolitan voucher program. After 15 years of the voucher program, Alan Borsuk and Sarah Carr of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (2005) reported that voucher schools look like public schools.  It is possible to single out the following among their findings:

1.  Approximately 10% of the choice schools have alarming deficiencies, but state that there are about the same amount of excellent schools.

2.  About 70% of the students attend religious schools with the vouchers.

3.  School choice does not show that private schools recruite the best students from the Milwaukee public school system.

4.  Many private schools in Milwaukee use drill-oriented instruction instead student-centered programs. (p.1)

Amit R. Paley, a writer from the Washington Post (2007), reported that President Bush unveiled an education plan January 24, 2007 that would allow federal money as vouchers to attend private or religious schools. The parents that remove their child from failing public schools could use the $4,000 voucher.  President Bush hopes to have this piece of legislation in the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act. The Democrats proposed to fight the plan and many across the nation are still opposing school vouchers.

School choice allows using public funds to finance private schools and gives the parents the right to choose the school for their children.  The Heritage Foundation (2007) presented the following options under the school choice umbrella:

1.  Residential choice and tuition ”“ Private schools that charge tuition and provide room and board is the primary method of school choice. The US Department of Education reported that residential choice accounts for 24% of the students that can attend public schools.

2.  Tax credits, tax deduction, and education savings account ”“ States that allow tax credits are Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania. Parents can claim credit on tuition, books, tutors or transportation. Education Savings Accounts allow parents to save $2,000 per year tax-free as long as the money is used for K-16 expenses.

3.  Vouchers, scholarships, tuitioning, contracting ”“ Voucher certificates may be applied toward tuition. In Maine and Vermont, towns without public schools can contract and pay the cost to educate their children. In addition, school districts can contract with private schools to provide educational services for children with disabilities.

4.  Home schooling ”“ Parents teach their children at home. A fast growing method of school choice that increased by over 700,000 students between the years1994 to 2003.

5.  Magnet schools ”“ Magnet schools offer students a special academic focus. According to the US Department of Education, there are over 1,700 magnet schools in the United States.

6.  Interdistrict and Intradistrict School Choice ”“ Intradistrict choice allows parents to choose a school within the school district. Interdistrict choice programs allow parents to choose a school outside their home district.  The No Child Left Behind Act permits students to transfer out of schools that did not meet adequate yearly progress.

7.  Dual enrollment – This concept enables high school students, usually junior and seniors, to attend college courses.

8.  Charter schools ”“ Previously discussed at length.

Additionally, parents have the ability to choose a school by moving to a new attendance area. The versions of school choice may be limited to the children that can afford to pay the extra dollars needed to supplement the school choice dollars. Public schools that contract with school management companies are not necessarily offering school choice.

Most managerial firms only have to meet test score requirements and please the school board that hired them. Myron Lieberman (1989) in his book Privatization and Educational Choice stated that the major political movement in the United States is moving toward the privatization of schools. Arguments for or against privatization is a complex issue and the debate will continue.

The private sector has started collaborating with public schools to offer e-learning coursework. The major component of e-learning is the concept of virtual high schools. Although the majority of virtual high schools are driven by state funds, some virtual high schools are privatized. Virtual high schools offer courses to meet all high school graduation requirements. The student never reports to a “bricks-and-mortar” school to graduate from high school.

Proponents of virtual high schools promote that these schools offer rare classes, remediation, overcome schedule conflicts, course acceleration for early graduation, and bringing back home-schoolers to public education. More than 24 states offer virtual high schools for their students. Virtual High School Inc., a nonprofit foundation, serves 200 schools in 28 states and eight countries. Each member school must contribute a teacher to teach an on-line class.

The involvement of state governments is attributed with the emerging support for this educational trend. Developing technology will give on-line courses a richer experience for future students.

However, on-line courses do not meet the needs of absolutely all students. If a teen performs better with social interaction and needs encouragement, there is strong possibility that a traditional classroom is better for the student.

If a teen is self-motivated or if an adult can supervise the student then an on-line course may be a better option.

Parents and teens should research on-line high schools to ensure school accreditation. In addition, selecting the appropriated high school degree program for the student becomes an essential part of the research. The critical factor of technology experience along with technology hardware is important for completion of coursework.

Considering all the issues of on-line courses, distance learning classes, virtual high schools, and other e-learning educational programs, it is clear that there still is a viable option for students that need different learning environment besides the traditional “bricks-and-mortar” school.

Critical Analysis

The research on leadership models and pinpointing the best philosophy that would correlate with the digital age demands were inconclusive. In spite of the research clarity, future leaders will be experiencing constant changes as educational transitions are made to accommodate technological advances.  Taking this fact into consideration, a combination of transformational, situational, and constructivist leadership theories could answer the inquiry statement. The combination of the three philosophies will offer the leader the ability to set a vision as advocated by transformational leadership.

Prior research has proven that persons will compare new knowledge to prior experiences, which makes constructivist philosophy a viable option. Furthermore, a community of learners will set a structure for learning effectively more than the individual learner, thereby enhancing the constructivist theory as an option. The combination of the three leadership theories mentioned above sets the stage for leaders and future leaders to confront the digital age demands as well as deflecting the possible impact of the private sector competition for public school dollars.


Thus, in conclusion, it is necessary to remind that the individuals right to a free and appropriate education is a birth right of every US citizen. Consequently, since the inception of public schools in the United States school reform has driven educational institutions to make changes to the system. It is worthy of mention that changes in the school system occur periodically to meet the demands of the public, markets, and parents that also change in the course of time. By the sheer number of public school institutions, some of these educational systems will fail to provide a high-quality education for their students. However, much more public schools provide the students with a good education to the approval of their parents.

The present trend of school choice has propelled the private sector to compete for public school funds. In spite of the private sector’s competition, resulting from the spread of vouchers, charter schools, school choice, it will be extremely difficult for the private sector to compete with public schools. The latter have more money at their disposal than the majority of private schools. At the same time, the political lobbying of public schools is more substantial than the support for private schools to receive public school funds. Nevertheless, this does not mean that the private sector does not have any influence on legislation.

The discussion of school choice at the legislative level reveals the affirmative lobbying efforts of private schools along with some parental influence. Most states have embraced the school choice concept that has established a competitive environment and the potential of accelerating school reform.  The research has revealed the fact that both the public schools and the private sector are making changes to the curriculum to meet the demands of parents and job market. Students’ choice in favor of public schools may be explained by social interactions along with the offered educational programs. Disenfranchised students and parents with their local public school opt to participate in virtual schools, charter schools, or use vouchers to attend a different school.  The competitive market in any field, inclusive of education, offers the customer a choice. This choice sets up the challenge for the school leadership to offer an educational environment that meets the demands of the global markets in the fast-paced environment of the digital age.

The challenges that lay ahead for school leaders in the early part of the 21st century will perplex even experienced leaders.  Present school leaders, referred as “digital immigrants” because they were born prior to the latter part of the 20th century, will have to adjust the leadership practices to accommodate the learning styles of the “digital natives” (the students). Globalization demands of a more educated populace to compete in the open global markets will have a direct correlation to changes in the present school systems.

Furthermore, parental demands on the school system to reform or lose their business to the private sector will pressure school leaders to adjust their personal leadership styles. In my opinion, the type of leadership style needed for the first part of this century will be a combination of leadership concepts.  The necessity of the constant adjustments needed to meet the demands previously mentioned lends itself to the situational leadership concept.

The school leadership also needs to promote the vision of the digital age school reform to the public.  School leaders utilizing the concepts of transformational leadership will have a higher probability of success in selling the vision to the public.  Finally, in order to hold all stakeholders accountable for the education of all children, the constructivist leadership concept is ideal to achieve the complex demands of the digital age. Although, nobody can be sure of the future at least one thing is certain to happen and that is the exponential growth of technology in 21st century and the lasting impact on the way students learn.


After the presentation by Ian Jukes, I made a personal commitment to research the area of digital age globalization and the impact on education.  Particularly, I wanted to explore the technology initiatives that would enhance instructional delivery, thereby preparing myself to lead a school system toward school reform. In the inception of the research project, I had the opinion that the private sector would have the perfect platform to provide school choice to students and their parents. The research revealed the fact that the private sector is not necessarily leading school reform toward the demands of the digital age. Private and public schools are taking steps in accomplishing this goal, but the entities cannot claim that they have fully accomplished the goal. The comprehensive paper research opened other possibilities to other topics such as the impact of funding sources, the United States’ wireless infrastructure as well as the collaboration of private and public entities. It proves to be beyond doubts that the educational benefits from the comprehensive research process will allow me to prepare for my doctoral study and eventually success in Walden University Ed.D program.

[1] Flattener #1 11/9/89, “The New Age of Creativity: When the Walls Came Down and the Windows Went Up” (Friedman 2006, p.50).

[2] Flattener #2 8/9/95, “The New Age of Connectivity: When the Web Went Around and Netscape Went Public” (p.59).

[3] Flattener #3 “Work Flow Software” (p. 76).

[4] Flattener #4 Uploading, “Harnessing the Power of Communities” (p. 93).

[5] Flattener #5 Outsourcing, “Y2K” (p. 126).

[6] Flattener #6 Offshoring, “Running with Gazelles, Eating with Lions” (p. 136).

[7] Flattener #7 Supply-Chaining, “Eating Sushi in Arkansas” (p. 151).

[8] Flattener #8 Insourcing, “What the Guys in Funny Brown Shorts are Really Doing” (p.167).

[9] Flattener #9 In-Forming “Google, Yahoo!, MSN Web Search” (p. 176).

[10] Flattener #10 The Steroids “Digital, Mobile, Personal, and Virtual” (p. 186).

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