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May 20, 2010

The Magic of Leadership

Magic In my experience, organizations take on the qualities of their leader. In public schools, it is the principal and the superintendent. If a school principal is straightforward, proactive, and positive the staff will be also. This is the magic of leadership, and I believe it is why for so long, theories about leadership have focused on the personality of the leader as a reason for organizational change. It also explains how an unprincipled leader unwilling to make hard political choices sets an example that affects everyone down the chain.

The idea that how a leader goes, so goes the state, is the cornerstone of Pre-K Now’s yearly report, “Leadership Matters”. In the new Web-only version, Pre-K Now describes the variety of ways state governors approach pre-k in their budget proposals. Some governors fully support investing in pre-k even in tough economic times, as they have in Iowa and Alabama. In states like Virginia and Michigan, state leaders are maintaining their support of early childhood programs because they know the research supports these programs.

In other states, though, governors are unwilling to support pre-k, even though it is in the best interest of children. In states like Illinois, which had proposed and passed legislation to support universal pre-k, Gov. Pat Quinn is proposing cuts to the already successful pre-k program. In Arizona, a state that is facing a 27% budget gap, Gov. Jan Brewer is recommending that the Early Childhood Block Grant, the major source of funding for the state’s pre-k program, disappear. That is the “magic” that a leader has, to cause opportunities for children to disappear with a scratch of a pen on the state budget.

It could be that state governors are taking their cues from someone higher up. President Obama campaigned on promises of a comprehensive birth-to-five educational system and then, when it came time for him to waive his magic pen, there was no federal leadership on the issue. There are no funds to support state-funded pre-k even though the administration has continually supported early education in its rhetoric.  In November, at the National Association for the Education of Young Children annual conference, Arne Duncan said it was time for education to, “Stop playing catch-up with the achievement gap,” and that high quality early childhood education was how we would do that as a nation. The President’s “Blueprint for Reform”, the administration’s proposal for the reauthorization of Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) includes no mention of state funded pre-k in the states.

Over 50 years of research supports the effectiveness of pre-k to create better educational outcomes for children. The Obama administration has chosen to support reforms that are considered more “middle of the road” politically even though they are less effective. Maybe it is time for the president to make some principled decisions instead of political ones, and make a little magic happen for young children.


Great post. I found a great non-profit that has been helping
disadvantaged school districts and has had many success stories
improving student achievement in Math, SAT and ACT including Collier County, FL and St. Landry Parish, LA. Their site is www.cyberlearning.org. CyberLearning also offers Technology courses that many schools could find useful.

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