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Article Type: Guest editorial From: International Journal of Educational Management, Volume 29, Issue 6.
School leadership in Germany between low-stakes testing and high expectations
Since 2000, German school policy has changed considerably, driven by the unsatisfying PISA results. On the one hand, different measures were enacted at the federal state level (L�nder), as well as at the national level. The latter was coordinated by the Standing Conference for Cultural Affairs, which coordinates the school policies of all 16 German federal states. The following measures have been implemented:
educational standards were implemented in primary and secondary schools for several core subjects and different age groups;
in the majority of federal states schools are now obliged to develop school-specific programs to specify the main focus and objectives of their work and to determine internal evaluation methods and criteria;
a standard-based testing system, comprising different international and national tests, was established;
a monitoring system for policy makers and school administration was implemented at different levels of the federal system; and
school inspectorates were established in almost all federal states to evaluate the processes of teaching and management in each school.
According to the new public management approach on the other hand, some decision-making power was delegated from the school supervisory authority to schools, aiming at strengthening the role of school principals and increasing school autonomy. For example, schools are now allowed to develop curricula and school-specific educational profiles on their own and to command a small budget. With regard to staff development, responsibility for teacher evaluation was transferred from the school supervisory authority to the principal of each school.
Although the new educational governance approach in Germany intends to increase accountability and autonomy simultaneously, in practice the accountability pressure is still quite weak and the leeway for decision making at the school level is quite narrow compared to other states such as the USA, the UK or the Netherlands (Brauckmann, 2012). Despite the adoption of the new public management framework, German educational policy still relies heavily on the mechanism of bureaucratic control (Thiel et al., 2014). Legal regulation of subjects and contents is still very strict and decisions about staff and school development plans have to be approved by the school authority. While principals� real power for decision making is rather limited, the expectations regarding their roles are nevertheless high. Principals in Germany are expected to:
determine the objectives of school development and assure the implementation of accountability demands;
initiate the development of school improvement plans and ensure, that these plans are in alignment with the specific needs and resources of their schools;
identify developmental needs of teachers and take care of staff development; and
stimulate evaluation and continuous quality management.
A major difference between, for example, new educational governance in the USA or the UK and in Germany is that the new accountability mechanisms were implemented in a low-stakes framework. Schools are not facing serious consequences when they fail to meet educational standards. Evaluation data are primarily meant to stimulate organizational learning and professional development. If schools fail, only weak accountability mechanisms, such as external mandatory consulting, are activated. Weak accountability does not only characterize the relationship between politics and schools but also the internal relations between principals and teachers. Because German principals do not command significant incentives or sanctions to change their schools, they depend mainly on strategic competencies, on persuasive power and on personal leadership skills. Therefore the leadership quality of school principals is emphasized, specifically with regard to their role as �change agents� linking both state-driven reform measures and school-internal innovation endeavors. High hopes are also pinned on data provided for example by standard-based testing, classroom observations or school inspectorates. Data-based decision making should help principals to set the tone for changing educational practices and improving management procedures.
Objectives of the Special Issue
The effectiveness of different accountability systems and different degrees of autonomy to improve school processes depends on many factors, which mutually affect each other. While there are some studies analyzing the effects of high-stakes testing, there is less evidence on the effects of differently designed accountability systems on the roles and functions of instructional leaders in those settings.
The �new� measures and approaches to school governance (enhanced school autonomy, school inspection and standard-based testing) have been described more precisely in recent years, accounting especially for the assurance and development of school quality (Pont et al., 2008; UNESCO, 2007). In this context, school principals are generally denoted as key figures in their schools, since they possess the power to advance or impede school development processes (Huber and Muijs, 2010). However, to date there has been little empirical evidence examining the relationships between this mix of accountability instruments and increased autonomy on the one hand, and the roles, functions and tasks as perceived and executed by school principals on the other hand. As of yet, there is little empirical evidence to answer the following questions: how do German principals cope with the new working conditions? What different strategies do they use to meet the new requirements? What impact on school improvement and what unintended side effects are induced by different strategies?
Thus, this Special Issue will present the most recent research-based evidence dealing with the intended and unintended effects of different degrees of school autonomy and different accountability instruments on instructional leadership activities across seven German states.
Overview of the Special Issue
This Special Issue is going to present empirical evidence of four research projects which collaborate in a major German research network, scrutinizing educational governance. The papers will explore different approaches to instructional leadership in schools initiated by test-based school reforms in a low-stakes institutional environment and in the context of increased school autonomy. The first two papers aim to examine the impact of different domains and degrees of school autonomy (personnel development, organization of instruction) on the self-reported working conditions of school principals. The subsequent two papers will focus on the relationship between different kinds of school accountability systems and school principals� abilities to fulfill the role and functions of an instructional leader.
Thillmann et al. report from a study investigating the use of staff development as an instrument of professional development and school development controlled by school leaders. With a comparative field study design they show remarkable differences of activity patterns among schools of two federal states as well as different school types but also high variance of activities within the school types. The study gives empirical evidence to the assumption that school form-specific and school-specific strategies interfere in the activities of staff development.
The use of data and evidence by schools under different socio-spatial circumstances is in the focus of the contribution by Demski and Racherb�umer. Against the background of the Theory of Planned Behavior they conducted a mixed method study by collecting qualitative interview and quantitative survey data from more than 300 principals. The most principals regard internal evaluation to be more useful than external evaluation; the study also shows that principals of school under difficult circumstances tend to withdraw from attention long term oriented activities and invest in short term activities instead.
The study of Brauckmann and Schwarz sheds light on how principals organize their work and focus their responsibilities under the influence of new public management regimes. One very interesting result shows that principals of German schools, who use to spend a lot of time for instruction themselves, do regard management activities as the most important of their job. But the subjective rating of an activity�s importance is not the only influence on the actual time spend on it. Especially the principal�s investment of time in additional working hours predicts the amount of time spend on management tasks.
Ramsteck et al. conducted a study on the link between school�s principals and school supervisory authorities. They ask whether the framing of schools as autonomous or managed professional organizations is related to the activities subsequent to mandatory proficiency testing and whether the supervisory authorities support one of these framings. The results from a comparative interview study in four German federal states show a prevalence of the model of autonomous professional schools among principals and supervisory authorities independent of the federal state.
These four papers that emerged from research within the overarching Ministry-funded research program �Evidence-Based Governance in the German Educational System� (SteBis) are finally framed by a viewpoint article by Rick Mintrop who annotates the public management reform in Germany from a cross-national comparative perspective on school principalship.
We would like to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to Herbert Altrichter, Nils Berkemeyer, Martin Bonsen, Claus G�nter Buhren, Kathrin Dedering, Tobias Feldhoff, Petros Pashiardis, Michael Pfeifer, Barbara Kohlstock, Julia Warwas and Sebastian Wurster for reviewing the papers to maintain the high standard of research.
Jasmin Tarkian, of the Freie Universit�t Berlin, supported this Special Issue in the function of SteBis coordinator. Jasmin is the contact for this Special Issue and her e-mail is: mailto:Jasmin.firstname.lastname@example.org
Brauckmann, S. (2012), �Schulleitungshandeln zwischen deconcentration, devolution und delegation (3D) � empirische Ann�herungen aus internationaler Perspektive�, Empirische P�dagogik, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 78-102
Huber, S. and Muijs, D. (2010), �School leadership effectiveness: the growing insight in the importance of school leadership for the quality and development of schools and their pupils�, in Huber, S. (Ed.), International Perspectives on School Leadership, Springer, Oxford, GB, available at: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/165857/
Pont, B., Nusche, D. and Moorman, H. (2008), Improving School Leadership, Volume 1: Policy and Practice, OECD
Thiel, F., Cortina, K.S and Pant, H.A. (2014), �Steuerung im Bildungssystem im internationalen Vergleich�, in Fatke, R. and Oelkers, J. (Hrsg.), Das Selbstverst�ndnis der Erziehungswissenschaft: Geschichte und Gegenwart [Beiheft], Zeitschrift f�r P�dagogik, 60, pp. 123-138
UNESCO (2007), Educational Governance at local levels. Models for capacity, Paris
Guest editor bios
Professor Stefan Brauckmann is based in the Institut f�r Unterrichts- und Schulentwicklung (IUS) at Alpen-Adria-Universit�t Klagenfurt, Austria. Professor Stefan Brauckmann is the corresponding author and can be contacted at: mailto:Stefan.Brauckmann@aau.at
Professor Felicitas Thiel is based in the Department of Education and Psychology at the Freie Universit�t Berlin, Germany.
Professor Harm Kuper is based in the Department of Education and Psychology at the Freie Universit�t Berlin, Germany.
Jasmin Tarkian is based in the Department of Education and Psychology at the Freie Universit�t Berlin, Germany.