Leadership for Schools in America

Mar 17, 2012 by

Dr.Martin Haberman, Distinguished Professor, Emeritus, University Wisconsin, Milwaukee 1932-2012, Author of Star Teachers Serving Children In Poverty,(1995) and Star Principals Serving Children in Poverty (1999), Kappa Delta Pi, Publisher, Star Teachers the Ideology and Best Practice of Effective Teachers of Diverse Children and Youth in Poverty 2005 Published by The Haberman educational Foundation, Inc (reprint 2009,2010) answered questions in a personal interview with regards to school leadership. Dr Haberman never waivered from his core beliefs and values about schools , children and youth of America, especially those living in poverty, responsibilities of university educators, school boards, superintendents, principals and teachers. He always thought and believed that school for children and youth was a matter of life and death, and if you believed that as well, that it would change everything you do for the profession. A Legend in His Own Time Leaves a Legacy for All Time.

Delia Stafford
President & CEO
Haberman Educational Foundation

  1. Define “Educational Leader”

Haberman: A leader in a democratic society helps people demand what is in their own best interest. An educational leader, working with all the constituencies that make up a school community, helps them create a common vision and the means for realizing that vision.

2. What are the administrators greatest challenges in the future?

Haberman: An administrator is not necessarily a leader as defined above. An administrator is the officially designated head of something, e.g a school. S/he may or may not be a leader. If in this question you are asking about the educational leader’s greatest challenge I would say the following: “First, all of the constituent groups have somewhat different agendas and perceptions of what a good school would accomplish, how it is organized, how it is evaluated, who should be involved in making decisions, etc. The leaders greatest challenge is getting these divergent groups to share a common vision and then to work together to achieve it. The second greatest challenge is securing and maintaining sufficient funding to do everything that is needed and desirable. The third is implementing a real system of accountability so that everyone involved is responsible for real learning outcomes for the students. Accountability must include consequences as well as rewards for individuals who are not productive. Fourth, making certain that the teachers hired and retained are outstanding teachers with knowledge of their subjects and the ability to relate and connect to the students; that teachers who are not outstanding are never hired or not retained.”

3. Advice to an administrator with “visionary” ideas. Haberman: All of the above just mentioned:

In addition, it is imperative that certain management matters be taken care of.

4. For example:

-building safety

-providing conducive work places for children and teachers

-meeting fire codes

-meeting health and sanitation codes

-providing insurance coverage




-equipment and materials

– a lawyer or law firm on retainer

– a financial officer to manage budget

– an organization with clear decision making lines of authority. Precisely who can tell who to do what and by whose authority?

– a job description for every employee full or part time

– a thorough and complete system for dealing with students with handicapping conditions. Federal and state mandates must all be implemented.

– a system for dealing with employees, including teachers, who may have handicapping conditions

-a system for connecting with health and human service providers who are servicing the students and their families.

-a system of priorities to guide specific decisions on what type of teacher or specialist will be hired next as programs expand.

-a thorough ongoing system of complete evaluation so that all aspects of student learning are assessed annually.

-a clear set of written policies for transferring in and out of the school

-a clear set of policies on suspensions and expulsions.

-a clear set of policies on grading, promotion and retention

-a staff handbook that provides these and other answers to the staff

-a parent handbook that is written in clear, jargon-free English to answer parents’ questions on these and other matters.

-a system of student transportation that is clear to all

-a system of transportation that is clear to staff regarding field trips, etc.

-a building with capacity for computers and related technical needs

-a clear policy statement of how various religious holidays will be handled

-a clear and open salary schedule for teachers

-a clear and open salary schedule for administrators

-a clear and open salary schedule for staff

-a system of professional development for all staff

-a set of written documents teacher contracts disclaimers which protect the school from lawsuits all written forms that teachers and staff will be expected to complete school report cards or some other system for reporting to parents that will be used for school records what will be transferred to other schools what is confidential policies for determining who can see what and under what conditions I could go on and give you another thirty five but the point I would make is that being a “visionary” will only be useful after you have ensured that you can take care of all the management issues that cause schools and principals to fail.

5. How can visionary leaders impact the field of education?


a. If by “impact the field” you mean scholars in universities I don’t believe there are any because what is happening in universities and colleges has no impact whatever on the schools of the nation. If by “impact the field” you mean what is happening in schools there are a great many who impact the field but they are largely people working locally without national reputations. Star teachers and principals are all over the country creating successful schools within failed districts. I learn from these unsung heroes by meeting them in various places or by visiting them.

b. Why? Haberman: The reason for this is that schooling remains an essentially local affair where the unit of analysis is the school building .

6. What is right about the American educational system?


. The top ten percent are getting world class educations.

2. Girls as well as boys attend school and except for math and science have equal opportunity.

3. The higher education system is sufficiently open and varied to account for almost anyone who wants post-secondary education.

4. The public, including people without children in school, are taxed.

5. There are compulsory education laws and minimum ages for quitting.

6. There are federal, state and local laws which generally safeguard health and safety.

7. There is a constant public debate about how to improve quality.

8. Adults of any age have access to continuing education.

9. Instructional technology and learning systems are widespread.

10. The system produces the top researchers in the world in almost every field.

7. What is wrong?


1. Diverse children in poverty do not have access to equal educational opportunity.

2. Local districts which are enclaves of ignorance can still prevent the teaching of science and foreign languages.

3. Teacher certification is assumed by state laws to assure teacher quality.

4. Over half the states still enable corporal punishment at local district discretion.

5. Schools of education in universities still focus on preparing young, white, monolingual girls as teachers.

6. There is no system of accountability for success or failure.

7. There is no agreed-upon knowledge base for what teachers need to know and be able to do.

8. Exploding health care costs for educators and staff are sopping up the funds that should be used for educational purposes.

9. “Successful” students who graduate from high school and college know very little.

10. The education of those with handicapping conditions is an extremely expensive failure.

8.How should future leaders plan to create a dynamic education system in the United States?

Haberman: Future leaders cannot create such a system. The system is already “dynamic” in that it responds to all sorts of change in the society. The problem is that a great deal of this dynamism has negative consequences. Education reflects society it does not change it.

9.Who is your role model and why?

Haberman: My role models are unknowns who affect change in the variety of bureaucracies that impinge on people’s right to learn and grow. These are individuals who change the rules in a state department of education, the central office of a school district, the graduate school of a university. They are largely unknown and unsung but the results of their efforts are to increase equity and access for others.

Thank you, for asking. Martin Haberman

You can learn more about The Haberman Educational Foundation,Inc, and the on-line test for teachers and principals based on Haberman’s research at: http://www.habermanfoundation.org

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