Educational reform in the USA: Superintendents’ role in promoting social justice through organizational justice

Lars G. Björk, Tricia Browne-Ferrigno, Amanda U. Potterton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Since its inception, the role of the school district superintendent in the USA has reflected changes in society, shifting from managerial oversight to more complex responsibilities. The introduction of the school district superintendent position during the middle of the nineteenth century and myriad social, economic, political, and technological changes have had a profound effect on the nature of schooling and on the refinement of superintendents’ work. In retrospect, public education has served as a crucible of change and facilitated the nation’s shift from an agricultural and industrial economy to an information-based economy. Over time, schools served an increasingly urbanized and complex society, assimilated unprecedented waves of immigrants, meliorated the effects of poverty on leaners, and prepared successive generations of children to enter the workforce successfully. Further, as society changed, the purpose of schooling was redefined. During the last half of the twentieth century, education policy shifted from simply ensuring that students were literate and numerate to addressing more challenging issues of broadening their access to schooling and ensuring that all children learn. Public education in the USA is thus situated at the confluence of two policy streams that are decidedly different yet complimentary: Neoliberal educational reform mandates the focus on ensuring that the nation is completive in the global economy and that the press for accomplishing social justice in public schools is achieved. A discursive analysis of superintendents’ work suggests that it was and continues to be defined by changing circumstances and may be described by several role characteristics (i.e., teacher-scholar, organizational manager, democratic leader, applied social scientist, communicator). As school district chief executive officers (CEOs), superintendents have the position and considerable authority to make changes. Consequently, they need acuity not only for recognizing societal changes but also for interpreting how these shifts may influence their administrative roles, district organizational structures, and work focus and culture. In this regard, the role of superintendent is central to accomplishing social justice in public schools. Thus, an examination of educational reform initiatives, demographic shifts, and superintendents’ role characteristics provides a framework for understanding how social justice, organizational justice, and organizational learning are intricately entwined and for understanding how superintendents may contribute to accomplishing a more socially just and democratic society. In the long term, successful efforts at changing the organizational and social architecture of school districts are a powerful way to improve the lives of children specifically and society generally.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook on Promoting Social Justice in Education
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9783030146252
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020.


  • Education reform
  • Organizational justice
  • Social justice
  • Superintendent
  • USA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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