Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Educational Policy and Administration

  • Michael A. Oliker
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_310


In my 1992 Midwest PES paper “Analytical Philosophy and the Discourse of institutional Democracy,” I briefly discussed the hostile criticism of Analytical Philosophy of Education (APE) by Professor Walter Feinberg and contrasted it with Prof. B. Paul Komisar’s analytical discussion of the various forms of discourse in education. Contrary to Feinberg’s caricature of APE, Komisar does not restrict himself to analyzing “crystallized concepts” nor does he ignore “struggles over meaning.” “Komisar identifies four major categories of discourse in education, one of which is termed “Political Discourse.” The three kinds of Political Discourse in education are (1) Philosophy of Education, (2) Policy Discourse, and (3) Publicity Discourse. All of these uses of language in education can be vague or ambiguous and can serve as the battleground in Feinberg’s “struggles over meaning.”

In this paper, I shall examine some key concepts, images, and ideals that are the subject of controversy in educational policy-making and administration with the goal of showing the contribution that a philosopher of education can make toward understanding “struggles over meaning” in policy and administration. Let me state for the record that I reject the view that the proper task of the philosopher in this area would be to show the “implications for policy and administration” “of various “schools of thought” in academic philosophy and to urge practitioners to make a dogmatic commitment to a single “ism.” I suspect that my writing shows the influence of many of my teachers, colleagues, and students and the different views that they hold.

Policy and Administration

Educational policy and administration deal with the actual conduct and operation of educational institutions. A perennial problem for the philosopher of education is to demonstrate a connection between educational ideas and actual organizational processes. A possible strategy is to show that a particular ideology has become the basis for human action by showing that a proposed system of rules that the ideology advocates is actually followed. According to James E. McClellan (1968), policy-making is itself a rule-directed activity that generates the rules that govern the activities of office holders in an institution. Administration is commonly characterized as the maintenance of the rules that govern an institution (Lipham 1964). For McClellan, the process of policy-making must ideally: (1) acknowledge conflicting interests, (2) be generated by an organization that carries on a public and reasonable debate, and (3) produce rules that can be actually enforced. James M. Lipham contrasts “administration” and “leadership,” identifying “leadership” with activities intended to change the rules of an institution while “administration” maintains those rules. Notice that McClellan’s definition of “policy” is programmatic in that it treats policy-making as a rational process. An older distinction – going back to Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) – contrasts administration and politics and identifies “administration” with rational organizational analysis and “politics” with irrational social conflict.

Notice that in the above analysis, I employ John Rawls’s notion of an “institution” as an analytical tool. Educational policy and administration take place within the context of educational institutions. For Rawls, an institution is “a public system of rules which defines offices and positions with their rights and duties, powers and immunities, and the like. These rules specify certain forms of action as permissable, others as forbidden; and they provide for certain penalties and defenses when violations occur (51).” While John Rawls is not an analytical philosopher, I shall employ his metaphor in an explanatory fashion (see Pepper 1982). I have already attempted to show conflicting uses of “policy” and “administration” in the writings of McClellan, Lipham, and Wilson. Now I shall use Rawls’s metaphor as a “meta-metaphor” in an analysis of four metaphors that have had major historical influences on the practice of educational policy and administration.

An educational institution may be either an instrumental system (IS) or a noninstrumental system (NIS). In an IS, the institution exists to achieve a goal and the lack of attainment of the goal may threaten the existence of the IS. In an NIS, the institution exists because the activities that go on within the institution are seen as worthwhile – period. Also the rules that govern the institution may be either a tightly coupled system (TCS) or a loosely coupled system (LCS). A TCS has strict, precisely defined rules that prescribe virtually every activity that office holders participate in. In an LCS, the rules are vague or ambiguous and subject to continual reinterpretation. In the next section, I will describe four metaphors for educational administration that can be put into practice and become full-blown ideologies: the temple, the traditional factory, the human relation-oriented version of the factory, and the jungle (see March 1972; Weick 1982).
  1. 1.

    In the temple, the school is a TCS and an NIS.

  2. 2.

    In the traditional factory, the school is a TCS and an IS.

  3. 3.

    In the human relation-oriented factory, the school is still an IS but has become an LCS.

  4. 4.

    And in the jungle, the school has become an LCS and may be an NIS. (But the jungle institutions may not survive for long.)


Administration and School Images

Terrence E. Deal and Martha Stone Wiske see both policy-making and administration as heavily influenced by one’s vision of schools as organizations or school images. They identify three metaphors – the factory, the jungle, and the temple – as the bases of three contemporary school images. The main section of this article will discuss the history of these school images. The final section of this article will address parallels between the philosophical reflections on educational policy of Thomas F. Green and John Dewey and the policy-making of James B. Conant and his archenemy Frederick M. Raubinger.

The School as a Temple

The metaphor of the school as a temple places the administrator in the role of a priest whose task is to enact rituals and ceremonies that maintain the faith. William Torrey Harris (1835–1909) – a well-known advocate of idealistic philosophy – rose to the position of Superintendent of Schools in St. Louis and subsequently served as US Commissioner of Education. Harris would have insisted that only those activities carried on through social institutions have educational value (Dunkel 1973). In the nineteenth century, States increased the power of school administrators (Karier 1982). William Estabrook Chancellor (1867–1963) narrowed William Torrey Harris’s faith in American institutions to a faith in public schooling. Chancellor was contemptuous of politicians and businessmen. He explicitly compared schooling to religion and superintendents to ministers. Chancellor advocated an increased authority for school administration and the abolition of school boards. Like his hero Woodrow Wilson, Chancellor sought to separate administration from politics. Ironically, in 1920 Chancellor’s career temporarily ended because he became involved in a smear campaign against presidential candidate Warren G. Harding. He was dismissed from his teaching position, hunted by a lynch mob, forced to leave the country, and had his book on Harding burned by Harding Administration. Books on school architecture of the late nineteenth century explicitly referred to the school building as a temple (Cutler 1989). After several years as a traveling salesman in Canada, Chancellor returned to the United States and resumed his teaching career (Mason 1986; Russell 1968).

The School as a Factory

Chancellor’s textbooks were displaced by those of Ellwood P. Cubberley (1868–1941). While Cubberley was sympathetic to Chancellor’s authoritarian views, Cubberley’s ideology was based on a different metaphor: the factory. Cubberley sought to establish a profession of educational administration, promoted the use of intelligence tests as a selection device, and urged the increased presence of businessmen on school boards. The rhetoric of the school as a temple was being displaced by the new rhetoric of efficiency (Scott 1915). Like Chancellor, Cubberley deplored the presence of women and minorities on school boards, but unlike Chancellor, Cubberley idolized businessmen. He saw children as the product of the school as factory – designed by the professionals to meet the needs of society. Cubberley saw the American educational system as the apex of civilization and the professional school administrator as one of history’s greatest heroes. But – like Chancellor and Wilson – Cubberley sought to free administrative decision-making from the conflicts of politics. Cubberley believed that the presence of businessmen on school boards would give the professional school administrator greater freedom of decision-making (Callahan 1962).

The Human Relations Approach

Douglas McGregor (1906–1964) opposed the authoritarian inclinations of both the temple model and the factory model. He studied psychology at Harvard during the 1930s – a time when Harvard psychologists sought to identify themselves as scientists and divorce themselves from philosophy. Like many early writers on organizational behavior, he based his views of organizations on means-ends rationality and argued that, in a congenial work environment, employees will seek to integrate personal objectives with organizational goals. McGregor deplored the carrot and stick approach to management. As President of Antioch College from 1948 to 1954, he sought to include students, faculty, and blue-collar workers in discussions of college policy, but his openness left McGregor vulnerable to the machinations of professional anti-communist informers who were willing to spread outright lies about student activities on the Antioch campus. In McGregor’s view of management, we see a tension between the rhetoric of the democratic institution and the image of the school as a factory (Oliker 1976).

The School as a Jungle

A 1960 paper by McClellan applauded administrators’ efforts to develop scientific administrative theory but warned that the then new behavioral science-based administrative theory assumed a centralized model of decision-making. But the administrative theorists discussed by McClellan may have been engaged in wishful thinking. During the mid-1950s, a popular film (based on a popular novel) introduced a phrase into the national vocabulary that contained a new and disturbing metaphor for the school: The Blackboard Jungle (see Hunter 1955).

The need for constant negotiations, the exercise of power, and the flux of symbolic meaning that are characteristic of the school as jungle seem to be the school image that informs the administrative theory of James G. March – a distinguished social scientist on the faculty of Stanford University. During the 1970s, March conducted extensive studies of college presidents and school superintendents. His resulting works can be understood as a rejection of most of the assumptions of educational administration theory in the twentieth Century. Specifically, March rejects the assumptions that: (1) organizations exist to achieve goals; (2) individuals act on their beliefs; and (3) only actions based on goals or beliefs are rational. He sees schools as “organized anarchies” or “loosely coupled systems” which have ambiguous goals, unclear relations of means and ends, and decisions made in the context of chance interactions of people, problems, and solutions. For March, actions on the basis of intuition and tradition are just as rational as actions toward a goal mind. His work even hints at a convergence with the long-forgotten views of W.T. Harris. March’s disciple Karl E. Weick urges school administrators to consider the leadership style of a clergyman as possibly more appropriate to schooling than that of a management scientist.

Ideals of the Educational System: Democracy or Rationality?

While the metaphors of temple, factory, and jungle do seem to identify four kinds of educational institutions, we lack any clear intuitive characterization of educational systems. And the question of the very existence of educational systems is still controversial in some circles. Philosophical inquiry about educational systems and the making of educational policy at the national level seems to involve at least three central questions:
  1. 5.

    Does nation N have a system of education?

  2. 6.

    Can policy for that system be made rationally?

  3. 7.

    Can policy for that system be made democratically?


According to Thomas F. Green, the Educational System began to take shape around 1910. The System is a well-organized institution defined by rules that operate with the rigor of an Aristotelian practical syllogism. The System as Green sees it as composed of primary and derivative elements.

The primary elements are:
  • P1: Schools

  • P2: A medium of exchange

  • P3: A principle of sequence

While the derivative elements are:
  • D1: Size

  • D2: A system of control

  • D3: A distribution of goods

And the System “behaves” according to such laws as:
  • L1: The Law of Zero Correlation

  • L2: The Law of Last Entry

  • L3: The Principle of the Moving Target

Green paints a picture of the System as a well-programmed computer that will continue to function in spite of the misguided (he thinks) efforts of reformers. This claim may be reassuring to the conservative who fears the breakdown of the System, but it is hardly reassuring to those who see the System as perpetuating social injustices. Green’s L1 asserts that educational credentials become worthless once everyone attains them. L2 can be summarized as the claim that the least advantaged social groups cannot benefit from the System until the higher status groups have exhausted the System’s resources. And L3 maintains that the attainment of educational credentials can change from being sufficient conditions for social status to being necessary conditions.

Why did the System come into being? In the nineteenth century, a wide variety of schools existed with drastically different functions. John Dewey favored the organization of a national system of education as an expression of the evolution of America into a democracy. In teacher education the normal schools which taught teaching methods existed completely separate from university education departments which prepared educational researchers. Dewey’s ideal was a unified college of education that integrated both functions and prepared teachers in the public interest.

Dewey would have rejected Green’s suggestion that the logic of the educational system is unassailable by any external standards. He warned in a 1903 paper entitled “Democracy in Education” that the authority structure of any kind of educational institution must be evaluated by the standard of whether it impedes or encourages the freedom of thought that is necessary in a democratic society. Thirty-five years later, Dewey reiterated this point in a paper entitled “Democracy and Educational Administration.” In that paper – an address to a group of school administrators – he chided his audience for their failure to develop structures that allowed teachers a sufficient role in decision-making.

The conflict between the views of Green and Dewey on educational policy-making can be termed a conflict between rationalist and democratic philosophies. This conflict is not just a theoretical debate for the philosophy of education classroom. During the 1950s and 1960s, New Jersey State Commissioner of Education Frederick M. Raubinger (1908–1989) attacked the work of the Educational Testing Service – located in Princeton, New Jersey – and its guiding inspiration former Harvard University President James B. Conant (1893–1978) as an undemocratic elite who had seized educational policy-making from public officials. Like Chancellor, Conant was fond of dismissing critics of public education as being misinformed. Raubinger, by contrast, was a firm believer in local control of education (Shine 1975) who devoted an entire chapter of his 1974 educational administration textbook to a discussion of democratic theory. In the early 1970s, Conant sought to establish the Education Commission of the States which took as its mission the expansion of the 2-year community colleges. Raubinger pointed out in 1972 that the ECS has also sought to increase the power of the 50 State governors over educational policy at the expense of education officials. In his autobiography “My Several Lives,” Conant clearly advocated the expansion of the 2-year college at the expense of the 4-year college. Because of the influence of Conant and the ETS, Raubinger was forced to resign as New Jersey State Commissioner of Education in 1966. From 1966 to 1976, Raubinger taught in the Department of Educational Administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

During the 25 years since Conant completed his autobiography, the 2-year college has continued to be the subject of fierce debate (Levinsohn). The conceptual framework of this entry can illuminate controversies over this new kind of institution. The earliest type of 2-year college – the junior college – satisfied a public demand for access to higher education while rationally fitting into the educational system and enabling students to transfer to bachelor’s programs. But the junior college was never seen as a “temple of learning” like the traditional university. Almost immediately, the factory model of administration with greater emphasis on vocational education and a rational fit with the job market became the controlling ideology of the junior college. However, recent demands on these institutions by ethnic minorities have placed faculty in a jungle environment wherein the role of the teacher is poorly defined. Cynical administrators see this situation as an opportunity to deprofessionalize teaching and expand vocational programs that do not terminate either in a degree or in the opportunity to transfer to a bachelor’s program. But newer nondegree programs and the reduction of faculty can be seen as antagonistic to the demands of the community for more course offerings. Jungle-oriented administrators’ attempts to save money may backfire and antagonize the community and threaten the survival of the institution. Perhaps a return to the more ministerial role by educators that was characteristic of the school as temple could even be defended as democratic (see Weick 1982)!


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© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Midwest Philosophy of Education SocietyChicagoUSA