A study to identify cognitive frames accessed by special education administrators under conditions of required change
Shipley, Steven Dale
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Educational decisions by school administrators inevitably shape the lives of all students. With the passage of IDEA, the decisions made by special education administrators have been primarily concerned with how to implement the changes required by this legislation. How these required changes are implemented can impact significantly on the effectiveness of that implementation with a probable reduction of litigation and excessive costs. Organization theory and leadership theory inform the subject of school administration. This study grew from the research by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal describing the management decision-making process through the use of the cognitive frames approach. In this model, an instructional leader views situations from different perspectives depending on the unique characteristics of the particular situation. Their research describes how through the use of reflective analysis of each situation, the instructional leader can find clarity and meaning amid the confusion of organizational life (Bolman & Deal, 1997). They have found that everyone has preferred frames through which they (1) gather information, (2) make judgments, (3) guide behavior and, (4) explain behavior (1991). The four cognitive frames are the Structural Human Resource, Political, and Symbolic. This study was designed to examine whether special education administrators when faced with required change access a cognitive frame inferred by the required change or access their preferred frame. The following research questions were addressed: • Based on the data, do special education administrators "reframe" their perspectives to fit a given situation? • Do the results vary significantly based on gender? • Do the results vary significantly based on rural or urban location? • Do the results vary significantly based on the size of the district? Statistical analyses include chi-square analysis to determine the correlation between the two instruments and multivariate analysis of variance to examine the existence of statistically significant mean differences among the demographic data. Analysis of the data revealed that in conditions of required change, special education administrators do employ frames other than their preferred frame. This finding was contrary to the findings of Bolman and Deal. However, the alternate frames they did access were not the one(s) inferred by the required change. Implications for fixture research and application include staff development for special education administrators in the utilization of appropriate frames, particularly in conditions of required change and research into the cognitive processes that would lead special education administrators to switch from their preferred frame to other more appropriate frames in conditions of required change.