The latest issue of Educational Administration Quarterly (EAQ 2017, Vol. 53(2)) includes a very interesting article on trends in educational leadership literature:
Automated Text Data Mining Analysis of Five Decades of Educational Leadership Research Literature: Probabilistic Topic Modeling of EAQ Articles From 1965 to 2014 (Yinying Wang, Alex J. Bowers, and David J. Fikis).
The article describes the underlying topics and the topic evolution in the 50-year history of educational leadership research literature in EAQ. The authors identified a total of 19 topics from the 1965 to 2014 EAQ corpus. Among them, five topics—inequity and social justice, female leadership, school leadership preparation and development, trust, and teaching and instructional leadership—gained research attention over the 50-year time period, whereas the research interest appears to have declined for the topic of epistemology of educational leadership since the 2000s. Other topics waxed and waned over the past five decades.
The article presents an overview of prior studies that examined the topics and interdisciplinary nature in EAQ and other educational leadership journals. Very illuminating in showing developments in research topics but also very humbling given the comments and characterisations of a range of authorities on educational leadership.
Bates (1980) The amorphous landscape of educational leadership (and he has been far more critical than just this);
Hoy (1978) The research in educational administration “is fragmented and lacks a systemic attack on a series of related problems”;
Campbell (1979) Developing the categories of topics was “a difficult task and relatively unrewarding”;
Bridges (1982) Harshly criticized that the “studies of school administrators are intellectual random events” and “the more things change, the more they remain the same. He proposed that “studies that merely describe the traits or attitudes should be discontinued unless they shed light on a problem of practical, social, or theoretical significance” (in my opinion a critique that holds for many other topics);
Hoy (1994) “a great uncertainty and lack of consensus about content—the relevant knowledge for practice and inquiry in educational administration”
Murphy et al (2007) Categorizing EAQ articles by topics was “exceedingly arduous”
Oplatka (2009) The big bang: the diversification and the seemingly limitless expansion of the field
Oplatka found that topics in the field evolved over time: from social science–based topics such as rational planning, democratic leadership, and school finance in the 1960s and the 1970s; education-oriented topics such as value and equity, motivation, organizational culture and climate, and management/policy interface in the 1980s; public and political pressure–driven topics such as policy studies, principal preparation programs, and the quality of research and programs in the 1990s; to the critical reflections on the field between 2000 and 2007 within the context of globalization.
Hallinger (2014) stated that reviews of research are critical for the educational leadership field in terms of knowledge generation and accumulation. However, this critical role of reviews of research has been underappreciated.
The study of Wang et al using new methods of automated text data mining (of the full text of the entire publication history of all 1,539 articles of EAQ 1965 to 2014) which forgoes human judgment of identifying topics in principal seems to be a major step forward in constructing better reviews of research.
Of course most of the article describes the techniques of data mining used, the overviews of (evolution in) topics identified and comparisons with topics in earlier studies.
More important to me is the question at the end of the article: Educational Leadership Research: Where to Go From Here?
The authors agree with several authorities in the field that this is the current situation:
The topic evolution fits precisely the description by Boyan (1981) that the current state of the art in the field is “several freeways which run through the territory, with only a few crossover and intersections available”. Educational leadership, as a porous, outward-facing field (Wang & Bowers, 2016), embraces diverse philosophical paradigms, pluralistic theoretical underpinnings, and emerging methodological approaches. It is thus pivotal for the field to strike a balance between being open to new ideas and the rigorous scrutiny of all ideas (Makel & Plucker, 2014; Sagan, 1997).
And they continue:
Additionally, perhaps a more important question lies not with topic diversification or overdiversification, but whether the topics address the core of the applied field of educational leadership—the leadership that promotes teaching and learning, whether the topics bridge the disconnect between leadership research and practice, and whether the topics accomplish EAQ’s goal to foster the dialogue among scholars and practitioners (Sage, n.d.) and the UCEA’s (n.d., para 1) mission of “advancing the preparation and practice of educational leaders for the benefit of schools and children.”
Sadly this only reformulates the challenges but not yet shows a way.