Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Administration

First Advisor

McIntyre, John


The purpose of this study was to examine ethical responses to problematic school situations among public school superintendents nationwide. An additional goal was to compare responses of the proposed study with those of school superintendents in an earlier study (Fenstermaker, 1994) in order to determine whether there has been a significant change in the attitudes and ethical behavior of superintendents over the past 20 years. A pilot study was conducted in order to update and validate the current survey. Fenstermaker's survey, including his scenarios, were distributed to seven local school superintendents to determine if these scenarios are still valid and to suggest other possible scenarios that would address current educational issues that may or may not have existed 21 years ago. The response to the pilot study was that the scenarios are relevant to today's school superintendent. In the current survey. I used suggestions offered by current superintendents regarding dilemmas faced by today's superintendents. A survey instrument was randomly given to a sample of 419 superintendents who were members of the American Association of School Administrators.(AASA). A total of 297 surveys were returned, a response rate of 70.1%. The survey questions were updated from the survey questions originally used by Fenstermaker in his survey. The survey questions asked for answers to dilemmas that were of a borderline type. The 2007 AASA Code of Ethics were used to determine the correct responses. The current study examined whether superintendents' responses were an `actual' response (in other words, respondent is answering from the perspective of having been in this situation - or a similar one - prior) or a `hypothetical' response (respondent imagines being in the situation, but never actually experienced anything like it). In the current study, more of the ethical responses are indicated as hypothetical. Overall, non-ethical decisions appear to be made more by superintendents who had actually experienced the situation. The findings of research question one denote that there has not been much change since 1991. Fenstermaker recorded 1306 ethical responses out of a possible total of 2701, or an overall score of 47 percent. With equivalent criteria, the present study documented 1485 ethical replies out of a possible total of 2951, a total score of 49.8. The bulk of the responses to both surveys were unethical, with variation less than three percentage points from Fenstermaker's (1994) study to the present. The finding then would be that there has been no significant change since 1991. Overall, this study confirmed the results found in Fenstermaker's study. Fenstermaker did not examine race. Interestingly, this study found that Blacks scored consistently higher in correct ethical responses than Caucasians. In general, I conclude that ethics play a heavy role in the decision-making practice of superintendents. Preparation programs for superintendents should emphasize ethics training as well as legislative studies. Certainly, the consistent low scores indicate that there is a need for ethical training among superintendents and a need for more studies such as the one presented.




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