School administration in a changing education sector: The US experience

Karen Seashore Louis, James P. Spillane, Allison W. Kenney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


Research, spanning half a century, points to the critical role of school administration and to the successful implementation of US government policies and programs. In part these findings reflect the times and a US educational governance system characterized by local control, a constitutionally-constrained federal government, resource-poor state governments, and an overall system of segment arrangements for governing education. However, the US education policy environment has changed dramatically over the past several decades, with standards and high stakes accountability becoming commonplace. The purpose of this paper is to examine the entailments of shifts in the policy environment for school administrative practice, focusing on how school leaders manage in the middle between this shifting external policy environment and classroom teachers. The paper's focus is on how school administration manages the dual organizational imperatives of legitimacy and integrity in a changing institutional environment. This paper is an essay in which the authors reflect on the entailments of shifts in the education sector for school administration over the past quarter century in the USA. While considerable change for school administrative practice is suggested, the authors argue that organizational legitimacy and organizational integrity are still central concerns for school leaders. Although the paper's account is based entirely on the US education sector, several aspects of the framing may be relevant in other countries.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)541-561
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Educational Administration
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 10 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Administration
  • Educational administration
  • Government policy
  • Leadership
  • Schools
  • United States of America


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