The Promise of Transformational Leadership for Closing the Achievement Gap
High-stakes accountability mandates such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top set minimum achievement criteria for students in US schools. Instituting the change necessary to meet these student achievement goals requires leadership. School leaders often need to implement changes to the curriculum and culture of schools to meet the academic needs of the students served. Especially in schools that are identified as underperforming, principals are held accountable for transforming failing schools into systems that provide academic support. Prior research suggests that transformational leadership may be a critical factor in school improvement. Through the lens of transformational leadership, this study sought to discover the key leadership attributes shared by principals and other personnel in schools formerly under sanction, specifically Program Improvement (PI) Schools. Using case study methods, this research focused on principals and teacher leaders of two California middle schools formerly designated as PI schools in order to understand which leadership attributes help middle schools transition out of PI status. The following seven themes were discovered in relation to the leadership attributes and practices shared by principals and teacher leaders in two middle schools formerly under sanctions: (1) teamwork, support, and collaboration; (2) accountability; (3) planning and structure; (4) modeling and leading by example; (5) using data in decision making of data; (6) fostering increased parent involvement; and (7) promoting respect. Transformational leadership played a key role in the two schools studied. Findings from this study also suggest that school leaders who implement the tenets of transformational leadership could promote the requirements for a school to improve and exit PI status. As such, transformational leadership does hold promise for helping to narrow the achievement gap in schools.