Paradoxes of Reform

Change-Minded Superintendents, Language, Leadership, and Dualism of Progress

by Aleksey A. Tikhomirov (Author)
©2018 Textbook XX, 230 Pages


In this era of externally imposed mandates, regulations dominate education. Fortunately, there are schools where education thrives despite the pressures of test-driven agendas. Featured in Paradoxes of Reform: Change-Minded Superintendents, Language, Leadership, and Dualism of Progress are superintendents who manage imposed change without abandoning local visions of good schooling, and who are unafraid to uphold their own views of what is important to students. By embracing what this book calls boundary-spanning leadership and resisting the bureaucratization of the mind, these superintendents prevent their systems from becoming schooling machines with a non-democratic or counter-educative agenda.
Dualism can reign even among leaders known for their progressive qualities, masquerading as supposedly well-intentioned school reform that, in reality, makes schools more vulnerable to the workings of bureaucratic specialization, the technical-rational approach, administrative conformism, and an instrumental perspective on education. It can transform leaders into marionettes and immobilize local school reform.
Within Paradoxes of Reform is the humbling, tantalizing reality of dualism as more endemic to schools than reformers realize and are prepared to deal with. The text asks those pursuing educational change to seek a deeper understanding of schools themselves, and probe further into the reasons underlying mixed progress.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Paradoxes of Reform
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Figures
  • List of Tables
  • Tables in Appendix
  • Foreword
  • Acknowledgements
  • Chapter 1. Leadership in a Time of Reform
  • Meaning and Complications of Progressive Reform
  • The Purpose and Method of the Research
  • The Unfolding Character of the Current Narrative
  • Questions Asked
  • Prior Research on Superintendents
  • Theoretical Perspectives
  • Terminology
  • References
  • Chapter 2. The Field of Leadership Studies: A Critical Evaluation
  • The Ambiguity of the Leadership Concept and the Limitations of Research
  • Liabilities and Divides of Self-Referential Inquiry
  • The Abandoned World of Action and the Discovery-Action Divide
  • Summary
  • Asking Questions about Leadership and Reform
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Archetypes of Reform-Minded Leadership
  • Rationale for Selection of Historical Figures
  • The Revisionists and Images of Educational Leaders
  • Leadership Archetypes and Timeline
  • Stage 1: Man at the Desk: Pro-creational Leadership of the Founder-Harbinger
  • Stage 2: Man on the Horse: Mobilizing Leadership of the Crusader-Architect
  • Stage 3: Man on the Watch and Institutionalizing Leadership
  • Stage 4: Man on the Phone: Modernizing Leadership of the System-Ruler
  • Summary
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Life History Research Design
  • Participant Selection
  • A Geographic Criterion
  • A Career Path Criterion
  • A Gender Criterion
  • Expert Nomination Criterion and Process
  • Profiles of the Superintendents
  • Upbringing, Social and Career Mobility
  • Interview Location and Events around the Interviews
  • Interview Questions
  • Interview Process
  • Complexities with Language-Dependent Research
  • The Play of Political Talk and Language Games
  • The Interview Method and the Quality of Life Histories
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Echoes of History: Boundary-Spanning and Reform-Minded Leadership
  • Rationale for Choice of Examples from the Interviews
  • Rationale for Selection of Historical Figures for This Chapter
  • The Boundary-Spanning Dynamics from the Interviews and History
  • Spanning Outwardly: Social Reach, Then and Now
  • Spanning Inwardly: The Upper Echelon Bureaucracy and the Reach of Enlightenment
  • Spanners of Bureaucracy from History
  • Spanning Down: A Post-Structural Reach by Superintendents
  • The Difficulties of Downward-Spanning
  • Superintendent’s Lateral Reach to Student and Teacher Leaders
  • Life Histories and the Origins of Reform-Minded Leadership
  • Family Background and Reform-mindedness
  • Stories of Mentorship
  • Ascendancy to the Central Office
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 6. Dualism in the Interviews
  • Rationale for Selection of Examples of Reformers from History
  • School Café as Literacy Reform and Its Contradictions
  • The Banning of Community Access to the Café
  • The Dualism of Selective Access
  • Administrative Dystopia
  • Dual Ideals Within and Outside the Superintendent Peer Circle
  • “Mirrored Language”: Leadership Theories in the Interviews
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 7. A Panopticon View of Schools
  • On the Selection of Foucault’s Framework
  • An Overview of Foucault’s (1977) Framework
  • Jeremy Bentham’s Model Prison
  • The Panopticon’s Continuity Across Social Institutions
  • The Benthamian Conflict of Imperatives in Local Schools
  • Failing Democracy in an Incarcerated School
  • Blocking Access to Avoid Perceived Threat of Mediocrity
  • The Panopticon in the Superintendents’ Lives
  • Tyranny for All: The Panopticon “Watches” the Beholder
  • The Panopticon and Surveillance in Local Schools
  • Summary
  • References
  • Chapter 8. Conclusion
  • References
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • References
  • Index

| ix →


Figure 2.1. The Place and the Purpose of the “Bridging” Research

Figure 3.1. Leadership Archetypes and Timeline

Figure 4.1. Life History Probes and Examples of the Steered Versus Volunteered Evidence

Figure 5.1. A Birds-Eye View of the Boundary-Spanning Dynamics from the Interviews

Figure 5.2. The Extra-Institutional Spanning

Figure 5.3. The Intra-Institutional Spanning and the Reach of Enlightenment

Figure 5.4. The Intra-Institutional Spanning and Its Downward Reach

Figure 5.5. The Intra-Institutional Spanning and Its Lateral Reach

Figure 7.1. A 1791 Concept of a Penitentiary Panopticon

Figure 7.2. A Plan for a Penitentiary, Circa 1840

Figure 7.3. The State Penitentiary for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Circa 1855

Figure 7.4. Aerial View of the Main Building of the Greater Binghamton Health Center, Binghamton, New York, Circa 2009

Figure 7.5. U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, Springfield, Missouri, Circa 2006 ← ix | x →

Figure 7.6. School Dome, Broome County, New York, Circa 2009

Figure 7.7. Circa 1794–1795 Plan of an Inspection House by Jeremy Bentham

Figure 7.8. Circa 1940s. Interior View of One of the Panopticon Cell Houses at the Stateville Prison, Illinois

Figure 7.9. Circa 1920s. A Façade Image of the Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Figure 7.10. Circa 1940s. West Junior High School in Binghamton, New York

Figure 7.11. Circa 1903. “Lecture on the Evils of Alcoholism at the Auditorium of Fresnes prison, France” by Andre Castaigne

Figure 7.12. Circa 1933. The Benjamin Franklin Elementary School in Binghamton, New York

Figure 7.13. The Sight and Site of Entry (Non-Participant District)

Figure 7.14. The Sight and Site of Entry (Participant District)

Figure 7.15. The Partitioned Access (Non-Participant District)

Figure 7.16. The Banning of Access (Non-Participant District)

Figure 7.17. Surveillance-Free School Entrance, Circa 1954 (Non-Participant District)

Figure 7.18. Site of the Same School in 2011. Surveillance Camera in the Upper Left Corner Over the Entrance Doors

Figure 7.19. Street-Light Surveillance

Figure 7.20. A “Watching Community” Signage from the Neighborhood of the Participant District

Figure 7.21. The Sign in the Same District Reminds that the Community Is on Watch

| xi →


Table 3.1. Archetypes of Educational Leadership

Table 4.1. Selected Interview Questions

Table 4.2. Selected Statements to Illustrate the Dialectical Dynamics of the Talk

Table 5.1. The Continuity of the Clerical Side of Superintendence

Table 6.1. Inconsistencies in the Interview Reports

Table 6.2. Selected Cases of “Mirrored Language”

Table 6.3. Selected Illustrations of the Deeper Contradictions of “Mirrored Language”

Table 7.1. Selected Illustrations of Dualism

Table 7.2. Selected Illustrations of the Panopticon Schooling

Table 7.3. Selected Illustrations of the Benthamian Security Practices

Table 7.4. Selected Illustrations of the Panopticon in the Superintendents’ Lives

Tables in Appendix

Table A.1. A “Bill and Barbara” Test: A Potpourri of Findings from Mintzberg (1982) ← xi | xii →

Table B.1. Interview Questions

Table C.1. Cases of “Mirrored Language” from the Interviews

Table D.1. The Man on the Watch and the Social Efficiency Language in the Interviews

| xiii →


We are living through an era of externally imposed mandates dominating schools. Regulations reign. Fortunately, so do progressive views of schooling by leaders, who question mandated reform. To learn more about schools where progress endures despite mandates I turned to the districts and superintendents with reputations for education that thrives beyond standards and tests. These were leaders who knew how to manage imposed change and reconcile external demands without abandoning their vision of what is important to their students. They negotiated the administrative reality of standards and accountability effectively, by traversing regulatory demands in ways that kept their districts operationally intact and of sound governance. Unafraid of upholding their own views regarding the test-driven agenda for schools, they shared the ability of navigating school districts without abandoning local views of good schooling.

I also found that dualism reigns even among leaders known for their progressive qualities. It can wear a mask of school reform that is supposedly well-intentioned, when, in fact, it is far more mixed on progress, making schools more vulnerable to the workings of bureaucratic specialization, technical-rational approach, administrative conformism, and instrumental perspective on education. It can also steer leaders into being marionettes of expert ← xiii | xiv → authority and misguide schools to embrace outside visions while immobilizing local school reform. The dualism I encountered in supposedly “progressive” efforts highlights the multi-sidedness of progress. Rarely it is without contradictions. Its unintentional, unwitting effects on students are more common than we know. Reform and its hidden difficulties reveal the limits of the blanket progress and its zero-sum “goodness-for-all” view. Present herein is a humbling, tantalizing reality of dualism as more endemic to schools than reformers realize and are prepared to deal with. It asks those pursuing educational change to seek a deeper understanding of schools themselves, and probe thoughtfully into what makes them so delicate and mixed on progress.

| xv →


Many, many individuals offered a great deal of help and contributed generously to the work that led to this book. I am indebted to Dr. Lawrence C. Stedman for years of dedicated mentorship. Larry has been a tremendous teacher and a friend. My hope is that one day I will be to those around me what Larry has been to me—a kind, generous colleague, helping to navigate the craft, art, and politics of inquiry; an ideal of integrity, open-mindedness, and work ethic; an enthusiastic, empathetic supporter and advocate of students. Cele Klotz—Larry’s spouse—always gave me her heart-felt embrace. “You’ll have a great time” were her words to Larry ahead of many meetings with me. Cele was right, a great time it was and I enjoyed every moment of it!

Dr. Thomas Sinclair has been a terrific mentor and encourager. He took me under his wing when I came to Binghamton as Edmund Muskie Fellow in 2002, was my advisor in the Master of Public Administration (MPA) program, and is now a great colleague and a friend at the Department of Public Administration at Binghamton. I can still recall very vividly one of my first semester courses in the MPA program, which was Logic of Inquiry taught by Tom. One day we were reviewing the final paper requirements in the class. Covered in chalk, Tom was pacing by the blackboard he filled with bell curves, standard deviations, and outliers, stressing the role of an abstract in a paper. He also ← xv | xvi → shared his own experience with writing as a doctoral student, recounting it as rewarding, but also how consuming—even agonizing—it can be, and that it took Tom many weeks to craft an abstract for his dissertation. So, years later I humbly concur,—“Tom, you were ‘right on’ about all that dissertation business”!


XX, 230
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (July)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 230 pp. 29 b/w ills., 15 tables

Biographical notes

Aleksey A. Tikhomirov (Author)

Aleksey A. Tikhomirov earned his doctorate at Binghamton University, where he currently is a College of Community and Public Affairs Public Adminstration faculty member. His research has appeared in The Journal of Management History; The Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies; The Russian Journal of Management; The Leadership Quarterly; Management and Organizational History; and Public Administration Review.


Title: Paradoxes of Reform
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