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Leadership in the American Elementary Schools Expository Essay

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Updated: Oct 31st, 2019


The need to improve educational outcomes of learners in a bid to match the contemporary professional demands and current challenges associated with socioeconomic changes is augmenting. Without the proper knowledge economy and the required proficiency in the industrialised world, the future generation will face great challenges in coping with the expected harsh economic realties.

Education is currently one of the most integral development strategies with the main purpose resting upon investing in children and youth education. As professionalism becomes a key economic and social aspect in the modern world, complex industrialised societies are calling for improved educational systems.

Ylimaki (2012) notes, “Curriculum leaders who are grounded in understandings of cultural politics and curriculum theory recognise curriculum as complicated conversation and complicated decisions as political acts…they must have such understandings to navigate within a broader and increasingly conservative political sphere” (p.305).

This essay seeks to discuss this statement with reference to contemporary issues across the United States.

Curriculum leadership as a complex matter

Literature indicates that curriculum leadership has become one of the convoluted issues that seem to attract controversial debates in the U.S. (Ylimaki 2012). Educators in the American education system continue to believe in the presence of a great disparity in curriculum development and management, which has resulted in intense confusion.

The U.S. educational system should be guided by modernised content standards, but the system has not granted a standardised and mutually accepted norm on educational practices (Spillane et al., 2001).

In the present-day United States, developing a standardised curricula accepted by all operatives in the education sector has been confronting following a mixture of ideologies, principles, and perceptions on what seems essential to incorporate in the curricula.

As Schmidt et al. (2005) postulate, “defining what it is that students should be expected to know or do” (p.526) has been one of the controversial issues within the U.S. curriculum realm.

Several issues have protracted in the American elementary school curriculum development and management practices, thus making the competency of the education itself questionable as cultural, political, and social influences result in regular discourses (Spillane et al., 2001).

Despite having a long convention of shared responsibility in matters pertaining to curriculum decision making and curriculum development, there is a need to consider theory, critical studies, and modern developments that should have space of inclusion and consideration (Ylimaki 2012).

Two differences in managing and developing of standardised curriculum practice are prevailing with each having divergent views towards curriculum leadership. According to Schmidt et al. (2005), the U.S. political controversy regarding curriculum-making centre rests on convictions of individualism in curriculum leadership and local controls that include the district curriculum enforcers.

Confusion is rising from the federal or state levels to school administrations, which makes efforts of decentralising arrangements for schools and curriculum development and implementation difficult to commence.

The inception of the recent curriculum policies that involve development of the No Child Left Behind Act (2002) and the Race to the Top (2009) are among modern changes that have put principals and teachers in accountability issues and elicited more discourse (Ylimaki 2012).

Following stipulations of Interstate School Leadership Licensure Consortium (ISLLC), “the school leader/administrator must maintain standards and focus on creating a nurturing vision, maintaining a growth-oriented school environment, effective instruction and management, positive collaboration with family members and the broader community” (Hilliard & Jackson, 2011, p.1).

From the shared leadership perspective, defining what entails an ‘educational system’ and identifying the institutional centre mandated to establish and develop curriculum policies are incessant issues.

The national curricula designs present the content standards and other curriculum policies for principals and other leaders to adopt, implement, and make curriculum leadership visible and consequential. At this point, the concept of individualism and local control elicit sharp arguments in the shared curriculum power.

Persistent & current issues in American education

Contemporarily, education is the power to prosperity as people regard it as the best investment that enhances human capital when well utilised. The United States, as described by Kong (2011), is a religious set up and normally regarded as a nation of immigrants.

Historically, societies within the U.S. have touted education as the country’s potential equaliser where learners’ intellectualities and abilities, despite their ethnic background, place them in a better future (Spillane et al., 2001). Among the key issues that have hampered educational achievement among the American learners are ethnical biasness and school management.

Minority groups in the United States have been complaining of poor academic achievements with respect to poor governance from both the national level and institutional leadership where prejudice, lack of professional standards, and laxity are causing educational tumbles (Hilliard & Jackson, 2011).

Following such mayhem, the U.S. curriculum and its modern policies have come up with emphasis on standard-based conceptions where mathematics, science, and comprehension are the closely observed disciplines in educational standards.

The quality of education that learners receive ultimately depends on a number of institutional and national policies regarding school administration and pedagogical practices (Schmidt et al., 2005). A major tradition and practice that supports educational development is the formation of curriculum or pedagogical strategies and methods of student assessment.

While there exists an extroverted literature about what school programs, structures, and other essential processes deem necessary for instructional change, little knowledge exists on the curriculum participants and cultural-political issues influencing the learning processes (Spillane et al., 2001).

Curriculum development and management have been a global practice in the educational realm where school administrations expedite and enact policies developed at the state level.

The U.S. has a “long tradition of shared responsibility in curriculum decision-making as well as a complex decentralised arrangement for schooling and curriculum development” (Schmidt et al., 2005, p. 526). Curriculum leaders serving in modern politically influenced U.S. should understand curriculum development as a complex issue.

Having an important curriculum development role, educators assume significant responsibility in making critical decisions concerning personnel practices and instructional formation. Despite the increasing need to enhance educational outcomes in elementary schools, a major issue revolving around curriculum development regards curriculum decision-making (Hilliard & Jackson, 2011).

Notwithstanding calls for educational quality from different interest groups in the U.S., including parents, business communities, politicians, and the entire government, constant controversies are augmenting in curriculum development.

Educational reformists are controversially debating on grounds of developing standardised curriculum framework, where some have conformist ideologies towards curriculum development, while others are seeking to better curriculum through modernised practices.

According to Ylimaki (2012), the current American educational system suffers greatly from conservative ideologies that are creating lapses in curriculum decision making and subsequently affecting education achievement in elementary schools.

Conservatism is normally a social or political philosophy, which aims at promoting and retaining traditional ideologies, and it is something that is becoming apparent in the American education system.

Notion of conservatism in American curriculum development

Conservative ideologies have the attribute of focusing on traditional principles that significantly oppose modernism and seek means or revisiting historical approaches. Aiming at examining how recent conservative cultural-political shifts have strongly affected the intent and meaning of curriculum leadership in schools, Ylimaki (2012) discovered great existence of conservatism ideologies in the American pedagogical practice.

Curriculum reforms and development have been marred by critical politics that are surrounding the entire curriculum decision making, pedagogical strategies, and assessment of learners (Ylimaki, 2012).

Following the high educational expectations of many interest groups in the U.S., including parents, business communities, academicians, and politicians, conservative ideologies have been on persistent discussions in the current American educational system.

The U.S. educational realm faces significant challenges in developing standardised national curricula despite the shared responsibility in curriculum decision-making processes. As Schmidt et al. (2005) note, shared responsibility in decentralised arrangement for curriculum development and schooling management is making curriculum leadership an intricate matter.

Arguably, all is not well within the American education system as both school and national politics are significantly contributing to development lapses in the educational sector (Ylimaki, 2012).

Conservatism approaches in the American educational paradigm where efforts of conservative restoration characterised by elements of neoliberal, neoconservative, and neo-nationalist perspectives are increasingly causing discourse in educational modernism, is becoming an issue (Ylimaki, 2012).

Efforts to construct standardised curriculum faces stiff challenges from conservative ideologies as none of the recent curriculum reforms seem to demonstrate a significant shift alongside certain conservative ideologies.

A great tension is developing as institutional and schools competition intensifies, with evidence that ideological differences, accountability condemnations, and curriculum development controversies cause permeation among schools and communities (Ylimaki, 2012).

For a number of years now, the American educational system has faced sharp public and political debates that aim at establishing probable causes of laxity in the curriculum enhancement, upon which many have a strong conviction it would improve elementary education.

Inasmuch as the world professional realm is constantly changing with evidence pointing at substantial growth in international economic development, equipping the future generation with the most desirable educational proficiency is essential (Ylimaki, 2012).

Modernism needs a great understanding of the requisites that enable its achievement, and sustainable and competent education in preparedness of innovative future youth generation is significant. Curriculum leadership of the modern period should have a greater understanding of ways to improve educational outcomes through navigating beyond regional borders, political sphere, and even conservative principles (Ylimaki, 2012).

Currently, “there are two difficulties in applying this practice in the U.S. educational system the definition of what constitutes an ‘educational system’ and identifying the institutional centre that is to set curricular policies” (Schmidt et al., 2005, p. 526).

Notwithstanding the ability of numerous educational administration studies regarding curriculum and instructional leadership increasing understanding of importance of enhancing classroom practice, inclusive learning practices that promote positive learning, curriculum theories, and cultural politics have received little attention.

Conservative cultural and political shifts witnessed

The United States has been receiving substantial acknowledgement on its support and campaign over modernisation in almost all forms of leadership that include political democratisation.

Nonetheless, efforts to acquire democratised nation has not been successful as important curriculum educational matters have been undermined especially in the presence of neoconservative, neoliberal, and augmenting neo-nationalist elements of conservative restoration in the curriculum leadership (Ylimaki, 2012).

Slowly, the resurgence of conservative principles across the school administration field relating to curriculum development and leadership has been eminent from the year 1995 to 2003. The involvement of both state policies and educational regulations seem to restrain significant developments in curriculum leadership with new hegemonic alliances becoming more eminent in the recent days.

These new hegemonic alliances encompass significant contradictions and tension that mar success in various sub-movements. Considering the new cultural and political shifts witnessed, Ylimaki (2012), identifies four main new hegemonic alliances within the conservative era as neoliberals, authoritative populists, neoconservatives, and the new middle class.

Neoliberals are dominant political and economic influencers or proponents involved in the modernisation of the educational curriculum development and the state’s economy as well, with students and parents forming the active educational consumers (Ylimaki, 2012).

The authoritarian populist is a group largely comprising majority of the white working-class and middle-class earners, who doubt the state and its leadership and their main concern hinges upon national security, conventional religion, family development, and customary values and knowledge (Ylimaki, 2012).

Another hegemonic alliance is the neoconservative group that involves economic and cultural conformists who opt to embark on the extraordinarily high educational standards beyond the ability of the current nation’s status.

The last group that compose the new hegemonic alliance circle is the new middle class, which form a portion of individuals who may fail to harmonise or recognise the rest of the groups, but who from their professional understanding, strongly believe on elements of accountability, efficiency, and proper management procedures that have their own cultural resources.

Conservative restoration has conquered effective modernism through many ways established by the trend in the development of recent federal legislations and policies towards curriculum leadership. As postulated by Ylimaki (2012), “recent federal policies and state mandates likewise reflect the conservative restoration in a new paradigm of educational leadership” (p.307).

The emergence of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 and the Race to the Top Act of 2009 was propelled by the federal government’s efforts of enhancing educational performance outcomes and standardised curriculum reforms (Ylimaki, 2012).

The No Child Left Behind Act requires schools to demonstrate expertise and in the states’ tests and failure to attract adequate annual progress goals, schools attract strict policy penalties that include conversion of the schools to charter school status, reconstruction, or staff reformation (Ylimaki, 2012).

The Race to the Top intends to offer recognition rewards for learners with high performances. Curriculum leaders or principals communicating such policies normally support discourse coming from conservative restoration in their respective institutions.

From the conservative ideology, the school administration is a repository of cultural values; something that principals and teachers, who compose the majority of anti-conservatism, view as a forgone practice, which national curricula is enforcing (Ylimaki, 2012).

The schools act as the agencies for transmitting these forms of cultural heritage and values from their adoption to complete implementation, hence preserving these ideologies for the future generation. For the conservatives, the national curricula is competent and efficient in transmitting the general culture of inclusive learning, which is perceived to provide appropriate education to the diverse groups of the society (Hilliard & Jackson, 2011).

The contemporary national curriculum of the United States entails competency-based life skills curriculum that includes generally accepted basic skills instituted in most school programs comprising of writing, reading, and arithmetic practices (Schmidt et al., 2005).

The teacher within the conservative educational paradigm thus acts as an agent of conveying this cultural heritage and such teachers must appreciate and cherish this form of culture.

Going against expectations of curriculum theory

As earlier mentioned, educational administration studies of curriculum leadership and instructional or pedagogical setting comprehend and focus on enhancing how to promote classroom practices, but they fail to recognise the imperativeness of related curriculum theories (Ylimaki, 2012).

From a concise definition, curriculum theory can denote the interdisciplinary study concerning educational awareness in which subjectivity, academic knowledge, and societal involvement are inseparable. According to Ylimaki (2012), curriculum theory and critical curriculum theories have great inferences for understanding issues associated with curriculum leadership in a conservative period.

Central to the provided definition of curriculum theory, public school curriculum should entail a deeper understanding of the association involving academic knowledge, the process of curriculum self-formation, the contribution of societies around schools, differences between old the contemporary world, as well as the future of our successors.

From the perceptions of Ylimaki (2012), curriculum itself equips students with the moral obligation to understand the importance of caring for themselves and others whilst encouraging students to act intelligently.

The current practices of conservatism and relative arguments centralised at curriculum development and management are demonstrating a potential breach of critical conceptions articulated in the curriculum theory. Curriculum theory (C.T.) entails an academic discipline, which is devoted to analysing and improving educational curricular.

Therefore, from such understanding, according to the convictions portrayed by Ylimaki (2012), curriculum development is solely an educational concept and since it enables students to think or even act intelligently, it is autobiographical and political in nature. It entails the element of complicated conversation in which aspects of subjectivity, academic knowledge, and societal interaction are simultaneous (Ylimaki, 2012).

Conservatism that comes with neo-conservative ideologies, in this case, seems to be hampering academic development as intended by the curriculum theory. As the main curriculum theory seeks to analyse historical development of the curriculum and improving contemporary educational curriculum, including its policies, conservatism is withdrawing to its chronological approaches through conformist restoration.

Curriculum concerns emerging against conservative ideologies

The recent federal government policies and its related laws hold that the curriculum reforms are defined by standardisation of the elementary school curriculum through competency-based life skills national curriculum. For principals, their daily interaction with students from diverse cultural, economical, and social backgrounds is giving them much worry.

According to Schmidt et al. (2005), the fundamental discourse is that while it “may deem desirable to have children within the nation working within the same content standards, desirability of this uniformity remains outweighed by the undesirable nature of having such standards imposed from beyond a local district” (p.526).

Principals have noticed several issues concerning curriculum discrepancies in the U.S. While approximately 90% of Americans claim that they strongly believe in God and 80% state that religion is an important issue in their lives, there are profound differences on how this populace perceive the world (Kong, 2011). Currently, the role of religion is poorly understood, undermined, and less valued in the national curricula.

While the national curriculum gives much attention to standard-based conceptions of mathematics, language arts, and sciences in the national curriculum, there is a great conviction that important contributions of religions have become futile (Kong, 2011). By implementing standards developed from national levels, the importance of nurturing learners in desired moral standards has been unsuccessful.

Curricula can barely be value-neutral as certain political, social, and economic interests will remain served at the expense of other fundamental interests through the national curricula content. The curricula standardisation carries aspects of individualism in which the government itself can and may never manage to ascertain lapses in curriculum leadership.

The principals consider themselves as having a better understanding on what curriculum should entail and disapprove that the national curricula professionals should not use the state power to develop controversial curriculum stipulations.

According to Kong (2011), there are no mandatory national standards since the U.S. curricula has many standards, each with fragmented visions as individuals with personal interests have engaged in developing the curricula.

The United States is known as a migrant nation with diverse racial populace and the plight of the marginalised communities continues to protract in the national curriculum (Spillane et al., 2001).

Despite the framework for curriculum development focusing on competency-based learning practices, a common issue just akin to the American politics is the concern for marginalised racial and social population within the educational system (Ylimaki, 2012). The efforts to develop neutrality in learning mystify and obscure values that never exist in conventional schools.

The rise of conservative ideologies of recent days has failed to acknowledge the interests of minorities, women, the poor, labour children, and people living in non-industrialised areas.

Knowing that it deems essential to direct curricula efforts in balancing prevailing ethics and attitudes eminent within the larger societal context, the national curriculum professionals have failed to recognise the unending ethical issues regarding neutrality as race, gender, and internationalism continue to be issues. There is a great discrepancy in performance of African Americans and native whites in schools.

Contemporarily, there is a significant concentration on the following principles developed in the national curricula as teachers and principals are strongly focusing on the state testing requirements and subsequently portraying decreased attention desired curriculum leadership.

As Ylimaki (2012) notes, “Currently principals use standardised academic performance measures as a basis to denigrate their district peer principals who support more traditional holistic philosophies and practices and to portray themselves as better curriculum leaders” (p.327).

The power manifested in the national professional organisations including National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and National Research Council (NRC), who are mandated by the federal government to design policies in the national curricula is increasingly becoming politically polarised (Schmidt et al., 2005).

So far, neo-conservatives who are mainly the professionals working for the national curricula development organisations firmly understand that elementary schools need to retain cultural learning heritage within the dynamic technological society in a bid to sustain a stable curriculum core. The curricula seem to develop from the U.S. cultural core found on traditions of Western civilisation.

Personal views and comments

Prior to observations made from the conservative era, it is clear that decision making regarding curriculum leadership and development is becoming controversial between schools and state ideologies. The state enforces development of the district curriculum principles that demand schools to use test-based approaches in the curriculum leadership where the government strictly ensures annual assessment of schools’ performance.

The main argument protracting is that this form of conservative curriculum leadership of government involves the use of holistic materials, thematic units, and literature as the main pedagogical strategies. This dominance of such curriculum practices enforced by district curriculum administrators is affecting modernised learning, as conservatism of cultural-political ideologies is a key obstruction to achieving equitable learning.

This aspect hampers critical learning success as inclusion of marginalised groups remains undermined since performance of these students differs depending on their social and economic backgrounds. However, critically examining the convictions of participants is that principals seem to be much aware of enhanced pedagogical instructions, but they can barely distinguish the best steps in them.

By failing to acknowledge contemporary changes and shifts and focusing on reforming conservative measure in the American educational system, failure to enhance modernism will push curriculum into a position where successive generations struggle to delineate themselves from the evolving world.

Ylimaki (2012) notes, “Someday—if we remember the past, study the future, analyse, then mobilise in the present-education will permit the progressive pursuit of “new modes of life, eroticism, and social relations” (p.308).

Contrarily, if the American conservatism continues with its influence on the public education that entails conformist behaviour, people working within the schools, including their administration will be condemned of racism. Sticking to conservatism will eventually lead to production of incompetent and unskilled prospectus workforces or even lack of modernised innovators (Ylimaki, 2012).

The main objective of the curriculum theory thus is to examine and investigate historical learning practices and improving them while considering important policies that improve educational curriculum, something which conservatism is hampering.

In enhancing the understanding of the connection prevailing between curriculum theory and its implications for curriculum leadership, it is clear that curriculum theories demonstrate how curriculum entail complicated interdisciplinary conservations that involve knowledge self and society (Ylimaki, 2012).

From a simpler perspective, modern generation should keep up with the pace of modernisation and educational curriculum can be best assisted by improving curriculum development. According to Ylimaki (2012), “since the young at a given time will at some later date compose the society of that period, the latter’s nature will largely turn upon the direction children’s activities were given at an earlier period” (p.308).

Based on stipulations of the curriculum theories in respect to curriculum leadership, new formulations, special selection, and informed organisation are essential in improving learning outcomes for the new generation. The intent of curriculum development and its leadership thus should consider, stimulate, and sustain crucial consciousness while considering the plight of oppressed and treating them justly.


There is a growing conflict over instructional and pedagogical development in the curriculum leadership in the American elementary schools and principals have a great feeling that pedagogical development is undermined by conservative cultural and political shifts.

Nearly all the modern policies developed recently have stuck to traditional forms of instructional delivery managed and manipulated by the government educational agencies. There is a great discourse on how to develop standardised curriculum, with modern curriculum leaders required to navigate beyond boarders and increasingly conservative cultural-political dimensions to enhance modernised learning.

The American educational system has witnessed challenges in development as hegemonic alliances are developing with the intent of retaining and maintaining traditional learning practices where neoliberals, authoritarian populists, and neoconservative groups are all causing contradictions in curriculum decision-making process.

Within schools, principals have a greater feeling that learners are struggling to understand this traditional learning, but the state and its district administration personnel have a conviction that the curriculum serves best learning practices.

Hence, it would still be imperative to integrate a new field of curriculum leadership at the point of educational leadership to avoid controversies between national and institutional curriculum interests.

Reference List

Hilliard, A., & Jackson, T. (2011). Current Trends in Educational Leadership for Student Success plus Facilities Planning and Designing. Contemporary Issues in Education Research, 4(1), 1-8.

Kong, Y. (2011). Issues of Culture in the U.S.A Elementary Public School Curriculum. International Journal of Information and Education Technology, 1(1), 80-89.

Schmidt, W., Wang, C., & McKnight, C. (2005). Curriculum coherence: an examination of US mathematics and science content standards from an international perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(5), 525–559.

Spillane, J., Halverson, R., & Diamond, B. (2001). Investigating School Leadership Practice: A distributed perspective. Educational Researcher, 30(3), 23-28.

Ylimaki, M. (2012). Curriculum Leadership in a Conservative Era. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(2), 304-346.

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