Preparing leaders for wicked problems? How the revised PSEL and NELP standards address equity and justice


  • Amy N. Farley University of Cincinnati
  • Joshua Childs University of Texas at Austin
  • Olivia Johnson University of Texas at Austin



Principal standards, wicked problems, leadership, equity, justice


The past 20 years have seen a shift in school leaders’ work that can best be characterized by an increasing complexity in expectations and greater demands for accountabilities. Educational leadership preparation programs and professional associations responded to these shifts, in part, with the development and proliferation of standards for both pre-service (ELCC and NELP) and practicing (ISLLC and PSEL) educational leaders. Both sets of standards have undergone significant revision in the last five years, largely in response to shifts in the work required of school administrators in today’s 21st century schools. However, what remains an open empirical question is whether the leadership standards are robust and pragmatic enough to tackle the various educational issues that school leaders face. In other words, do various school leadership standards prepare and assess school administrators appropriately? Using the wicked problems framework, we examine the extent to which the revised PSEL and NELP standards capture the challenging work required for school leaders to act as inclusive leaders and “equity-oriented change agents” (Maxwell, Locke, & Scheurich, 2013, p. 1). We utilize qualitative content analysis (Weber, 1990) to analyze the content of the leadership standards, focusing in particular on the ways those standards represent evolving conceptions of equity and justice. These analyses suggest that although both sets of standards have changed considerably from their predecessors, they may not go far enough to help leaders determine how to implement the proper administrative authority to solve complex issues. This is particularly true as it relates to the persistent, wicked equity problems facing our schools.


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Author Biographies

Amy N. Farley, University of Cincinnati

Amy N. Farley is an assistant professor of Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Cincinnati. She relies on quantitative and qualitative methods, program evaluation, and policy analysis to explore the impact of policy on students, educators, and educational equity and opportunity. Her substantive research focuses broadly on equity in P-20 education systems and the impact of policies on access and opportunity, including school and university reform, high-stakes data use and measurement, and the disparate impact of policies on certain student and educator populations.

Joshua Childs, University of Texas at Austin

Joshua Childs is an assistant professor of Educational Policy and Planning at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on the role of interorganizational networks and cross-sector collaborations to address complex educational issues. Specifically, his work has examined how collaborative approaches involving community organizations and stakeholders can be leveraged to reduce opportunity gaps for students in urban and rural schools.

Olivia Johnson, University of Texas at Austin

Olivia is a doctoral student in the Education Policy and Planning program at the University of Texas at Austin. Olivia’s research focuses on using theories of care as a framework for examining policy implementation in schools of varying socioeconomic opportunity.




How to Cite

Farley, A. N., Childs, J., & Johnson, O. (2019). Preparing leaders for wicked problems? How the revised PSEL and NELP standards address equity and justice. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 27, 115.



Standards and Competency Frameworks for School Administrators