Social Justice in Public Schools

Principals leading for social justice in 21st Century public schools will require a change in their preparation programs from that of a traditional role to one that is ready to lead diverse schools. It is projected that by 2025, 55% of all students enrolled in United States public schools will be a member of today’s minority racial/ethnic group (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). The enrollment in Texas public schools today is represented with 52% Hispanic, 13% Black, 29% White, and 4% Asian students with 59% being economically disadvantaged and 18% learning English. Of these students, only 38% of Hispanic students and 32% of Black students were able to meet the Texas Post Readiness Standard as compared to their White counterparts (Texas Education Agency, 2018). Where the minority has become the majority in Texas, meeting this standard requires a principal’s skill set to be that of a social justice leader. As students in public schools are becoming more diverse and underprivileged, a commitment to the tenets of social justice leadership becomes apparent to ensure all students have access to a high-quality education (Kemp-Graham, 2015).

Because principals are charged in closing the achievement gap with high expectations along with leading data-driven instruction, there appears to be a significant disconnect between this responsibility and a lack of awareness as well as an inability to identify biases, assumptions, and inequities (Miller & Martin, 2015). The opportunities that are presented in a principal preparation program to fill this leadership gap must be re-visited to provide aspiring administrators a social justice orientation. As of 2009, most educational administration programs continued to avoid discussions associated with race, equity, and social justice (Hernandez & Marshall, 2009). The curriculum for principal preparation programs will need to be revised to promote a deeper understanding of justice, democracy, and equity requiring a shift from preparing principals for more conventional roles like that of a disciplinarian and supervisor (Kemp-Graham, 2015). There is a call for new approaches to leadership in which leaders exhibit culturally responsive practices, behaviors, and skill sets being that studies have indicated that “students’ school performance may be linked to lack of congruence between the students’ cultures and the norms, values, expectations, and practices of schools” (Madhlangobe & Gordon, 2012, p. 178). A principal must take intentional steps to change schools on behalf of marginalized students, but they must develop the capacity to enact resistance by developing a reflective consciousness centered on social justice (Theoharis, 2007). Social justice leadership is purposeful, and the principal must be prepared to move beyond what would be considered good leadership as it does not happen by chance (Theoharis, 2007). Social justice leadership is about the ability to recognize unequal circumstances while trying to eliminate them (DeMathews & Mawhinney, 2014, p. 846). Principals need to be trained to create just and equitable schools.

Limited research has been done on the principals’ role and their charge to meet standards such as those for college readiness. Yet, on the average, principals account for 25% of a school’s total impact on student achievement, a second only to classroom teaching (Desravines, Aquino, & Fenton, 2016). Therefore, the purpose of this qualitative case study is to better understand the extent of preparation for social justice leadership for Texas public schools in a North Texas urban district. The following research questions will guide this study:

1. How do K-12 urban principals describe social justice in terms of their schools?

2. How do they describe their preparation in terms of social justice and how it has informed their leadership behaviors?


  1. DeMathews, D., & Mawhinney, H. (2014). Social justice leadership and inclusion: Exploring challenges in an urban district struggling to address inequities. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50(5), 844-881.
  2. Desravines, J., Aquino, J., & Fenton, B. (2016). Breakthrough principals: A step-by-step guide to building stronger schools.
  3. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Hernandez, F., & Marshall, J. M. (2009). “Where I came from, where I am now, and where I’d like to be”: Aspiring administrators reflect on issues related to equity, diversity, and social justice. Journal of School Leadership, 19(), 299-333. Retrieved from
  4. Kemp-Graham, K. Y. (2015). Missed Opportunities: Preparing aspiring school leaders for bold social justice school leadership needed for 21st century schools. NCPEA International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, 10(21), 99-129. Retrieved from
  5. Madhlangobe, L., & Gordon, S. P. (2012). Culturally responsive leadership in a diverse school: A case study of a high school leader. Sage Publications, 96(3), 177-202.
  6. Miller, C. M., & Martin, B. N. (2015). Principal preparedness for leading demographically changing schools: Where is the social justice training? Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 43(1), 129-151.
  7. National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Racial/Ethnic Enrollment in Public Schools [Annual report]. Retrieved from
  8. Texas Education Agency. (2018).
  9. Theoharis, G. (2007). Social justice educational leaders and resistance: Toward a theory of social justice leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly, 43(2), 221-258.
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