Since 2000, German school policy has changed considerably. Measures were enacted at the federal state level and on a national level. Educational standards were implemented in primary and secondary schools for several core subjects and different age groups, in the majority of federal states schools are now obliged to develop school-specific programs to specify the main focus and objectives of their work and to determine internal evaluation methods and criteria, and a standard-based testing system, comprising different international and national tests, was established. A monitoring system for policy makers and school administration was also implemented at different levels of the federal system and school inspectorates were established in almost all federal states to evaluate the processes of teaching and management in each school. Some decision-making power was delegated from the school supervisory authority to schools, aiming at strengthening the role of school principals and increasing school autonomy. Although the new educational governance approach in Germany intends to increase accountability and autonomy simultaneously, in practice the accountability pressure is still quite weak and the leeway for decision-making at the school level is quite narrow. Despite the adoption of the new public management framework, German educational policy still relies heavily on the mechanism of bureaucratic control. While principals’ real power for decision-making is rather limited, the expectations regarding their roles are nevertheless high. School principals are generally denoted as key figures in their schools, since they possess the power to advance or impede school development processes. However, to date there has been little empirical evidence examining the relationships between this mix of accountability instruments and increased autonomy on the one hand, and the roles, functions and tasks as perceived and executed by school principals on the other hand. As of yet, there is little empirical evidence to answer the following questions: How do German principals cope with the new working conditions? What different strategies do they use to meet the new requirements? What impact on school improvement and what unintended side effects are induced by different strategies? This eBook will present the most recent research-based evidence dealing with the intended and unintended effects of different degrees of school autonomy and different accountability instruments on instructional leadership activities across seven German states. The papers in this eBook present empirical evidence of four research projects which collaborate in a major German research network, scrutinizing educational governance. The authors explore different approaches to instructional leadership in schools initiated by test-based school reforms in a low-stakes institutional environment and in the context of increased school autonomy. The first two papers aim to examine the impact of different domains and degrees of school autonomy (personnel development, organization of instruction) on the self-reported working conditions of school principals. The subsequent two papers will focus on the relationship between different kinds of school accountability systems and school principals’ abilities to fulfill the role and functions of an instructional leader. The papers are framed by a survey article by Rick Mintrop who gives a commentary from an international perspective.
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