A comparative study of the standardisation of the development of school leadership in the USA and South Africa

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During the mid-1990s the Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) was established in the United States of America with the purpose of creating a set of professional standards for school leadership. In 1996 this initiative resulted in the formulation of the initial set of ISLLC standards which were intended to provide a framework for reconceptualising leadership in schools. The ISLLC model has since been emulated in many areas in the world, notably Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and South Africa. In South Africa a Standards Generating Body (SGB) was established by the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) to generate unit standards that could serve as the basis for the continuing professional development of school management teams and departmental officials. These unit standards form the basis of the Advanced Certificate of Education: School Management and Leadership (ACE: SML) programme that was introduced in 2007. Although the ISLLC standards generally elicited favourable responses from various quarters and gained widespread acceptance in the United States, the standards also met with adverse criticism – especially from within academic circles. However, in South Africa the standardisation of leadership development has generally been accepted uncritically in spite of some intrinsic deficiencies. While some research has been done on the formulation and implementation of the ACE: SML, there has been a lack of systematic analysis of the conception of standards-based education as the basis for leadership and management development. This has served as the main rationale for the writing of this article.

The purpose of the research paper is to make a comparison of the standardisation of leadership development in the schools of the USA and South Africa. The article is guided by the following research question: What are the similarities and differences in the standardisation of leadership development in the schools of the USA and South Africa?

The study of the standardisation of leadership development in the USA is based on a literature survey of the various critiques of the implementation of the ISLLC standards. This study of the standardisation of leadership and management development in South Africa is based on an analysis of the unit standards as contained in official ACE: SML documents, official policy documents relating to the role and development of school leaders and managers, as well as the results of some South African empirical research on the implementation of the ACE: SML. A conscious decision was taken not to use the ACE: SML study materials as the basis of this study as these are not always in compliance with the unit standards.

In this article the foci of the comparative study are the following areas of concern: the origins of the standardisation of school leadership development in the USA and South Africa; the empirical base of the standards; the extent to which the standards address the issue of social justice; the managerialist orientation of the standards; the influence which the standards exert on the role of school leaders; and the review and revision of the standards. These areas of concern are derived primarily from the framework that was used to assess the ISLLC standards, and serve as the theoretical framework of the article.

The overarching aim of the ISLLC standards was to foster successful teaching and learning by providing a framework for leadership development in the schools of the USA. Within 10 years the ISLLC standards were accepted unaltered or with some amendments in the overwhelming majority of states. In the process leadership development in the schools of the USA was largely transformed. This can be attributed to various factors. A wide variety of influential associations in the USA were involved in the formulation of the standards. This ensured that the ISLLC standards were the product of a high level of collaboration among the most important stakeholders and role players. It is claimed that the ISLLC standards were based on a deep historical analysis, the best available research, and sound professional judgement. Furthermore, certain tactical decisions were taken to ensure the acceptance of the ISLLC standards.

Although the ISLLC standards enjoyed general acceptance within professional circles, it elicited fierce and often contradictory criticism from academic circles. Criticism was levelled against, among others, the lack of an empirical base of the standards, the managerialist orientations of the standards, and the neglect of the issue of social justice. To ensure the relevance of the ISLLC standards and to address the adverse criticism, the ISLLC standards were subjected to regular scrutiny and revision. The latest version of the ISLLC standards represents a remarkable improvement of the original version while a measure of continuity has been maintained. In spite of certain deficiencies that still persist, the ISLLC example is a model worth emulating on condition that cognisance is taken of the local context.

The South African example of the standardisation of leadership development in schools differed in many respects from the ISLLC example on which it was partly based. The SAQA unit standards were formulated exclusively to serve as programme standards, which gave it limited scope and influence. Unlike the ISLLC standards, the SAQA unit standards were thus never used to determine the accreditation of leadership programmes, to evaluate leadership and managerial effectiveness, and to determine the licensing and relicensing of school principals. Also, the origin of the SAQA unit standards was not well documented, and this resulted in speculation and suspicion. Conspicuously absent in the development of the SAQA unit standards was the collaboration of all influential stakeholders and role players, although interested parties were provided with limited opportunity to respond to the draft unit standards. The SAQA unit standards were based primarily on work done in first-world countries, and not on empirical research in South Africa. This makes the applicability of the unit standards suspect. In spite of these and other serious shortcomings – like the neglect of the issue of social justice – the SAQA unit standards were never subjected to any form of scrutiny and revision. In spite of this the footprints of the SAQA unit standards are clearly visible in the modules of the newly developed “Advanced Diploma in Education: School Management and Leadership”. Up to 2016 the greatest deficiency in the South African context has been the lack of a clearly defined circumscription of the role of school leaders. This has resulted in a fragmented and uncoordinated approach to leadership development in South African schools. The latest effort to provide such a circumscription in the form of the “Policy on the South African standard for principalship 2015” is doomed to fail due to the many deficiencies contained within the policy.

Although not beyond criticism, the ISLLC model provides a possible solution for the South African attempt to standardise leadership development in schools. It is imperative that any such standardisation should be accepted as official policy so that it can form the basis of initial and continuing development of leaders and managers, of the accreditation of leadership development programmes, of the appraisal of leadership and management effectiveness, and of the licensing and relicensing of school principals. Furthermore, it is important the standards should be the product of collaboration among all stakeholders and role players. It is also important that the empirical basis of the standards be made explicit and that the empirical sources be made readily available to allow the verification thereof. To ensure its relevance, social justice should underpin each of the standards. Lastly, the standards should be subjected to regular scrutiny and revision to ensure their continued validity and relevance. These are the lessons which can be learnt from the international experience. However, it is important that cognisance should be taken of the South African context with its various political, social, economic and cultural realities. Factors that should be borne in mind are, among others, the influence of vested interests in the policy processes, the professionalism and capacity of state administration, the availability of financial resources, and the ideologies and benevolence of educational organisations. It is thus not recommended that the ISLLC model or any other model be applied uncritically in South Africa.

Keywords: empiricism; leadership development; managerialism; social justice; standardisation

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: ’n Vergelykende studie van die standaardisering van die ontwikkeling van skoolleierskap in die VSA en Suid-Afrika

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