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Educational Triage: A Comparative Study of Two High School Principals in Program Improvement Schools


The guiding question for this qualitative study centered on what it means to be a principal in a high school that has been put on notice as a failure and labeled Program Improvement (PI). The evidence shed light on the unique challenges, role expectations, and varying social conditions faced by two female principals as they managed underprivileged schools. It also pointed to the detrimental consequences of the continued emphasis on standardized testing in math and English, the pressures to raise standardized test scores to untenable levels, the scope of comprehensive professional expectation, and the reality of limited resources. Ominously, a culture of triage educational practices existed in which school district resources were narrowly focused on those activities and students thought to raise test scores in math and English most significantly, and the poorest and lowest-achieving students could potentially be disregarded within the teaching and learning process. These two principals were inconsistent in their resistance to the broader effects of triage measures by often complying with labeling and tracking systems while struggling to ethically manage interventions for the lowest performing students. Morale was persistent but low, and professional sustainability was tenuous given their inability to continually gain higher test scores each year, the long and taxing working conditions, the regular threat of job loss or transfer, and the difficulty in directly connecting their efforts with positive change.

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