Ethics of decisions in public schools

Material Information

Ethics of decisions in public schools a study on principles educational leaders use to make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas related to the use of genetic technology
Harkness, Lorrie
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
149 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
School management and organization -- Decision making ( lcsh )
Human genetics -- Moral and ethical aspects ( lcsh )
School administrators -- Professional ethics -- United States ( lcsh )
Human genetics -- Moral and ethical aspects ( fast )
School administrators -- Professional ethics ( fast )
School management and organization -- Decision making ( fast )
United States ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 144-149).
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Lorrie Harkness.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
45141082 ( OCLC )
LD1190.E3 2000d .H37 ( lcc )

Full Text
Lorrie Harkness
B.A., San Jose State University, 1964
M.Ed., Boston University, 1969
M.A., San Jose State University, 1978
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation

This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
degree by
Lorrie Harkness
has been approved
Deanna Sands
Sharon Ford
Paul Sale

Harkness, Lorrie (Ph.D., Educational Leadership and Innovations)
This exploratory study examined the ethical principles educational
leaders use to make decisions when facing moral dilemmas. The study
included a national sample of state school board members, state directors
of special education, local school board members, local district
superintendents, personnel directors, local special education directors,
school principals, and representatives of higher education. As a part of the
Educational Leaders Decision Making Survey (EDLM), the subjects
identified which of four principles they believed they used for decision
making: justice, autonomy, nonmaleficence, or beneficence. For the four
principles studied, justice was the lowest developmental level principle,
followed by autonomy at the next level, and then nonmaleficence, with
beneficence being at the highest stage of moral development. The

educational leaders responded to four hypothetical moral dilemma
vignettes indicating which of the four principles he/she would use to make a
decision in the given situation. Two of the vignettes were about student
issues and two were about employee issues. All of the vignettes related to
the availability of genetic information.
Results of the study indicated that the 113 educational leaders did
apply the principles that they stated they used most of the time in their
responses to the vignettes. The principle of justice or following existing
established rules was the most frequently used principle. The study
supported the existence of a socialized bureaucracy in education that
effects decision making. No significant differences were found in how those
from different leadership positions, different levels of education, males or
females, or policy developers versus policy implementers responded to the
four vignettes. In comparing the responses to the student related vignettes
and the employee related vignettes in most cases subjects were likely to
use the same principles for the student situations and the same principles
for the employee situations.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I
recommend its publication.

I dedicate this to my husband, Richard, because he persevered with
patience and support beyond my greatest expectations.

My thanks to Erin Harkness who provided support from the
beginning, Dr. Deanna Sands who was my "lifeline" from start to finish, and
to Dr. Paul Sale who helped me make it to the finish line.

Tables ...................................................... xi
1. INTRODUCTION..............................................1
Decision-Making ......................................3
Complex Decisions in Education..................10
Overview of Study....................................15
Statement of the Problem .......................17
Methodology ....................................17
Implications of the Research....................20
2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE.....................................23
Introduction ........................................23
Ethical Decisions in Education .................24
Studying the Principles on Decision Making .....27
Frameworks for the Ethics of Decision Making...29
Moral Development Frameworks....................36
Ethical Principles (A Synthesis)................44

Research on Educational Leaders'
Decision Making ................................46
Hypothetical Dilemmas as Source of Study
on Decision Making..............................53
The Genetic Revolution as a Source for
Hypothetical Moral Dilemmas ....................54
3. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODOLOGY .........................60
Introduction ........................................60
Subject Sampling................................66
Instrument Development......................... 69
Instrument Review...............................74
Study and Instrument Pilot Test ................76
Procedures .....................................77
Questions and Hypotheses........................79
Data Analysis...................................81
4. RESULTS .................................................84
Introduction ........................................84
Survey Returns .................................85

Questions and Hypotheses for Analysis
Principles Used by Educational Leaders
(Question 1)......................................91
Generic Principle Relationship to Responses to
Vignettes (Question 2)............................95
Differences Between Subgroup Responses to
The Moral Dilemma Vignettes (Question 3).........100
Relationship of Responses to Student Vignettes
and Employee Vignettes (Question4) ..............102
Summary of Major Findings........................106
5. CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS...............................110
Introduction .........................................110
Principles Used by Educational Leaders...........112
Relationships of the Stated Generic Principles
And the Vignettes ...............................116
Differences Between Subgroup Responses to
the Moral Dilemma Vignettes .....................119
Relationship Between Response to Employee
Vignettes and to Student Vignettes...............120
Implications for Future Research and
Limitations of the Findings......................123

A. LETTERS ..................................129
B. SURVEY ...................................133
D. REFERRAL SUBGROUP LETTER..................140

3.1 Sample ........................................................68
4.1 Survey Responses by Subgroup................. ................86
4.2 Percent or Responses and Demographics by Subgroups............87
4.3 Educational Position and Education Level......................89
4.4 Principles Selected by All Educational Leaders in Response
to Four Vignettes..............................................95
4.5 Generic Principles Selected by All Educational Leaders........96
4.6 Correlations Between Educational Leaders Stated Generic
Principle and Actual Responses to Four Vignettes..............98
4.7 Mann-Whitney Test Results for Comparison of Educational
Leadership Subgroup Responses.................................102
4.8 Analysis of Differences Between Responses to Student
Vignettes and Employee Vignettes by Subgroup .................105

Educational leaders like others in leadership positions face difficult
decisions in response to the multitude of challenges that arise on a daily
basis. Decisions can range from those that are very routine and simple to
those that are very complex. Routine decisions are typically about
repeated and predictable actions such as what to say during the daily
announcements in a high school or determining whether the elementary
students should have an indoor recess on a day when it snows. More
complex decisions are whether a student should be expelled from school
due to participation in a fight caused by uncertain circumstances or how to
deal with an employee who is demonstrating unusual behaviors on the job.
Thus, the impact of the decisions can vary from causing minimal
consequence to setting precedence for all future decisions on related
issues (Begley, 1996).
The budding field of genetics presents issues that may lead to new
topics for challenging and difficult decisions for educational leaders.
Recent advances in medical genetics have resulted in an increased
knowledge about how certain diseases are inherited, chromosomal

abnormalities, and prenatal diagnosis of certain diseases. As technology
advances through spin-offs of research sponsored by the Human Genome
Initiative/Human Genome Project (HGI/HGP) and other genome research,
less expensive and more accurate tests for diseases will be readily
available ( Nelkin & Tancredi, 1994). The potential exists as the technology
grows for overwhelming impact on schools and educators. Genetic
information, for example, will be available about both students and potential
or existing employees related to their probable diseases or disabilities that
could impact their abilities or performance or support needs. This
information would force educational leaders to think about these impacts
both on resources and other individuals in the organization. Should a
student be given special considerations based on knowledge acquired
through genetic screening? Should an employee be hired knowing the
propensity he or she has for an illness that could affect the health and
safety of others? Such questions to educators about the use of genetic
information may not always have a clear right or wrong answer, but the
answers will be based on moral beliefs.
Educators will face new types of moral decisions related to students
and employees at all levels, preschool through secondary grades because
of the genetic movement. Many of the questions emerging from the
genetic information may raise moral dilemmas for educators. This

exploratory study sought to examine the principles that influenced the
decisions of educational leaders as they responded to morally based
questions related to the pending genetic revolution.
Decisions can range from the very simple to the very complex. They
can be based on knowledge, experience and personal values or ethical
principles. Decisions can also vary depending on the role and experience
of the decision maker. Gender, educational background, and employment
role may all factor into how individuals make decisions.
Simple decisions are the day-to-day routine decisions an individual
makes about what to eat, what to wear, or how much money is needed to
ride the bus to work. Would it be more cost effective to drive the car or take
the bus? Everyone makes a multitude of these types of decisions
throughout any given day. Depending on an individual's role in life, that
person may make routine decisions that seem more complex such as how
much inventory to purchase for a multimillion dollar venture or how many
employees are needed to respond to emergency rooms in a hospital.
However, these kinds of decisions are still considered routine in nature,
because they are repeated, predictable, and the decision maker has been

taught through formal or informal experiences and education how to
Complex decisions are those where an individual has to rely on
personal knowledge and experience to determine the best action when
more than one action is plausible and has good rationale. Often these very
complex decisions arise when faced with moral dilemmas where the
individual has to rely on personal moral or ethical principles to assist in
making the decision. When confronted with problems having ethical
overtones, personal moral philosophies influence the individual in personal
and professional decisions (Kimbrough 1985).
Principles underlying decision making vary. Theories exist that
support the idea that all decisions are based on an individuals moral stage
of development (Kohlberg, 1981) and on the context of the presenting
problem (Wertz, 1995). For instance, routine decisions might be based on
simple rule-based principles and more complex decisions might be based
on principles that consider variables such as the effects on individuals or
groups. Though some literature presents arguments against studying
ethics within a framework of discreet principles, suggesting that ethics are
developmental and principles cross stages of development, other, multiple
works refer to these categorical areas in defining or developing individual
ethical theories (Gilligan, Ward, and Taylor 1988; Kohlberg, 1981; Rest,

1979). The principles of justice, autonomy, nonmaleficence, and
beneficence are embedded in most of the literature on ethics.
An individuals experience and education contribute to his/her
repertoire of available principles for making a decision. Kohlbergs (1981)
Moral Development Theory of Decision Making shows how the
development and use of moral principles evolves as a person is exposed to
new learning. Researchers following up on Kohlbergs Theory showed that
gender influences decision making; females tend to rely on more caring
tendencies than males in their decision-making (Noddings, 1984). Level of
education is also a factor in that studies have shown college graduates
employ higher level principles in their decision making when faced with
hypothetical moral dilemmas than less educated individuals responding to
the same dilemmas (Lampe and Walsh, 1992). The role an individual plays
in life also affects decision making. Prison guards rely on more basic, rule-
based principles for making decisions than a philosophy professor who
might consider the social benefits and harmful effects that could result from
a decision effecting the majority of a large population.
Educational leaders at district and school building levels make
routine decisions about schedules, curriculum, programs, and the personal
needs of staff, students, or parents. Such decisions fall in the range of
simple decisions and are based on experience, established rules, or past

practice. Educational decision makers frequently refer to state, district, and
school policies for their decisions. One theory suggests that decision
making in schools is a result of the socialization that permeates institutions
and bureaucracies. Though educational leaders may have been
introduced to higher levels of decision making through their personal and
higher education experiences, once they enter the school setting they
socialize into a rule based philosophy of decision making (Slaten, Lampe,
Sparkman, and Hartmeister, 1994).
Educational leaders also make complex decisions. Schools are
normatively complex and ambiguous organizational setting(s) wherein one
encounters numerous moral dilemmas (Greenfield, 1987, p.68).
Situations with these dilemmas can be quite unique and so complex that
they clearly do not fit existing policy. Decisions related to these moral
dilemmas then develop from an individuals own experience, beliefs,
principles, and knowledge. Moral dilemmas emerge in both the student
and employee areas of education. For example, selection among two
potential employees is difficult because both meet the criteria for the vacant
position, but each has very different strengths and poses different potential
concerns related to morale, safety, or significant financial liability. Another
example might be when students or their parents present compelling
justification for special educational considerations that, if granted, would

raise concerns about the fair treatment of ail students, equitable
disbursement of funding, and consistent application of criteria for eligibility
for special services.
Research conducted on administrative problem solving (Leithwood,
Begley, and Cousin, 1992) found school administrators generally encounter
two types of value-related conflicts. The first type occurs when two or more
values among multiple decision makers compete in the determination of a
solution to a problem. For example, if a committee process is used to
select a new employee, members of the committee may rely on very
different principles. One committee member may believe that the most
important consideration is fairness to the individual applicant. Another
member may believe that the response of the colleagues in the field to the
new employee is the highest consideration. And yet another member may
want to consider the costs of hiring one potential employee over another.
The second type of value-related conflict occurs when values or
principles within the individual conflict, adding complexity to the decision
making process. The conflict in this situation is within one individual. The
individual may decide among conflicting principles such as fairness to all,
respect of the rights of an individual, cost factors, or the best outcome for
the system as a whole. Four principles used by individuals to make
complex decisions were guiding factors in this study. The principle of

justice regardes fairness and equity and follows established rules or
policies. The principle of autonomy supported and respected the rights of
an individual over all other factors. Nonmaleficence was the principle that
considered harm to others or an organization as a primary basis for a
decision and can include such things as physical, emotional, or cost
burdens. Beneficence was at the highest level in moral development of the
four principles and was based on the benefits to the majority with
consideration for minimum harm to society as a whole (Wertz, 1996).
This study sought to identify what principles various educational
leadership groups applied to complex, morally-based decisions. Individual
moral decisions in real life are almost always made in the context of group
norms...individual moral action is often a function of these norms or
processes (Kohlberg, 1981, p.38). Kohlberg, known for his developmental
stage theory of moral development, presents a convincing argument for the
effect of the group on moral decisions by referencing the My Lai massacre.
He suggests that individual soldiers did not murder noncombatant women
and children because they judged that the action was morally right, nor
because they were sick, but because they participated in an action based
on the norms of the group. The implication is that a group develops
commonalties in thoughts as they become socialized around an issue or
experience. The groups whose principles of decision-making were

explored and compared in this study included: (a) eight different
educational leadership positions, (b) educational policy developers and
educational policy implementers, (c) state and district level leaders, (d)
males and females, and (e) those with high school through masters
degrees or the equivalent and those with doctorate degrees.
Researchers have not explored value conflicts in decision-making of
educational leaders to a great extent, often because of the difficulty in
researching decisions that have no right or wrong response (Begley, 1996).
Begley states social controversies over abortion, family life studies, AIDS
prevention strategies...sometimes spill over into school settings (p. 420).
Often an educational leader faces an internal conflict when struggling to
make a decision when it appears that more than one solution exists for
solving a problem. Evers and Lakomski (1996), in their study of
educational administrators problem solving behaviors, stressed the
intricacies of making these choices.
When no clear right or wrong decision is apparent, the values of an
individual become the determining factors. Moral dilemmas in education
may stem from thinking about what is in the best welfare of individuals or
may arise when resolving conflicts among individuals or groups to which
the leader has equal loyalties. Decision makers must resort to the use of
some basic principle in order to respond to each situation.

Beck and Murphy (1994) lament the over-scientification of
administrative training and the fact-driven model of decision-making and
rationality (Greenfield, 1993, p. 28), favoring the obvious fact that out of
the beliefs, emotions, thoughts, volitions, and experiences of individuals
(Greenfield, 1993, p. 11-12) we constantly rediscover meaning for
ourselves. The values of an individual play a central role in human
behavior in every aspect of life, including identifying the principles leaders
use in making educational decisions. Knowing about the principles used by
the individuals in various leadership roles may offer insight about the ethics
of educational leaders.
Complex Decisions in Education
As in all leadership roles, school leaders face complex ethical
decisions every day. Is it fair to grade students differently for the same
performance when their abilities differ? Should a student have the right to
change classrooms because of a personal conflict with a teacher? Should
the district transfer discipline information about students to another district?
Should schools within a district have different standards for behavior of
students? What should the district endorse as the standards for the
confidentiality of student records with respect to counselors? How should
the principal or superintendent respond to the unique requests generated

by parents of students? What protection do employees have for
confidentiality regarding personal information and sensitive issues?
The increased availability of information that comes from the
emerging field of genetic technology to families and communities creates
the potential for educators to be faced with additional and more complex
social controversies. Potentially, educational leaders will be forced to
respond to moral dilemmas emerging from this technology. Genetic testing
reveals both predictable diseases and disabilities as well as propensities for
either. Diseases or disabilities that are predictable may relate to behavior,
emotional, health, and other physical areas. Potentially, employers could
have access to genetic information about an employees health that would
raise concerns about students safety, employee performance, or
burdensome insurance costs. School districts could be asked to consider
genetic testing results when making decisions about students eligibility for
special educational services. Such situations can create dilemmas for
educational decision makers since there is more than one alternative
solution that has an equal likelihood of causing benefit or harm to various
individuals or groups. The leaders personal ethics in these instances may
influence decisions.
To attempt to study the ethics of the decisions of school leaders is
not an easy task. Real World ethics is a complex admixture of personal,

social, and professional morality (Nash, 1996, p.1). Researchers for
decades have attempted to develop systemic models for understanding the
ethics of decisions. In the work of Jeffrey Stout (1988) in Ethics After
Babel, he states All great works of creative ethical thought...involve moral
bricolage (p.194). Ethicists begin by identifying problems that need
solving and available conceptual models for framing possible solutions.
They then proceed by weighting, prioritizing, combining, eliminating and
reordering the parts of the framework in relation to the problems presented.
Ethical frameworks may differ. For example, when facing an ethical or
moral dilemma, a set of questions may be asked in coming to a decision.
Are personal, interpersonal, or institutional conflicts present? What are the
pertinent facts? What alternatives are available? Which alternative would
affirm the integrity of the decision maker? Which alternative would make a
good rule to follow in all instances? Which alternative would lead to the
best overall consequences for the organization? Which alternative best
protects the moral rights of individuals? Finally, which alternative best
promotes the common good (Wertz, 1996)?
Another framework for decision making is to determine the level into
which the given situation falls based on a decision-making matrix that
extends from routine decisions, to decisions solely about an individual, to
decisions that have a potential for harm to others, to decisions that impact

society or the community at large. The determined level is then aligned
with the application of principles from the lowest rule-based principle of
justice, to the principle of autonomy or consideration of the rights of the
individual over all else, to the level of harm or nonmaleficence toward
another or the organization, to the highest societal-based principle of
beneficence or what is best and least harmful for the majority. If the given
situation is routine, it should be approached from the lowest principle of
justice and based on existing rules or policies. If it is about one individual
and impacts no one else, it should be based on autonomy and support the
individual. A situation that may harm someone or an organization results in
a decision based on nonmaleficence and does not allow for any harm to
others. If the situation has impact on a larger community or society, then
the principle of beneficence would be applied and thought would be given
to supporting a greater good in the outcome. The majority of the people
would benefit allowing that some harm may come to a minority. Identifying
a framework for analyzing the principles used to answer these questions
alone is complex.
In spite of the magnitude of the challenge and the multiple
frameworks for study, Beck and Murphy (1994) argue strongly for
educational leaders to select a perspective of ethics for study of moral
decision making. Administrators articulate the schools deepest and finest

purposes, uphold certain political values, or act as central decision makers
(pp. 2, 3). In order to adequately fill these roles, exposure to ethical
discourse is essential for educational leaders. Though there are arguments
against the over-scientification of ethics expressed by Beck and Murphy as
well as others (Nash, 1996; Begley, 1996; Willower, 1996), they all agree
that the contributions of science to administrative research outweigh the
concerns. Facts, however constructed, are what researchers and
practitioners study and use to make decisions (Beck & Murphy, 1994, p.
13). It was with this in mind that this exploratory study was developed.
To date, very little research exists on the principles educational
leaders use in decision making. A few existing studies have focused on
the decision making principles used by local school board members, school
attorneys, superintendents, and teachers. Because other state and local
district school leaders might be making decisions in response to the genetic
technology, this study will begin to explore principles used by a greater
range of educational leaders when faced with hypothetical moral dilemmas.
No research exists on the potential impact of genetic technology on
schools or the possible decisions educational leaders will face. To date,
studies investigating genetic technology have been limited to the health
and insurance arenas. Incorporating situations for educational decisions

about the use of genetic technology added to the exploratory nature of the
Overview of Study
As social science research, this study sought to identify the ethical
principles educational leaders used in decision making when faced with
moral dilemmas. School leaders' decision making was studied within the
framework of four principles: respect for justice, autonomy,
nonmaleficence, and beneficence (Beauchamp & Childress, 1989;
Beauchamp & McCullough, 1984; Colby, et al, 1983; al, 1988;
Markkula Center, 1997; Mill, 1973; Nash, 1996; Wertz, 1996). Justice
equated to equal treatment of all based on agreed upon rules. Autonomy
in this study was having respect for the individual as opposed to a concern
for the majority in a decision. Though theories exist where being
autonomous is a state where one is at the highest level of moral reasoning
and considering past, present and future in making moral choices (Kant,
1991), that was not the meaning of autonomy in this study.
Nonmaleficence was considering the potential harms of a decision over all
else. Beneficence was weighing and balancing the pros and cons of a
decision with consideration for the impact on the majority within a larger
environment such as a school, a district, or a state. These principles were

selected because of the repeated discussion of them in the literature and
across multiple ethicists and research studies. The second reason for
selecting these principles was that they provided differentiation as to stages
of development in decision making.
The sample for this exploratory study included state directors of
special education, state school board members, local school board
members, local superintendents, personnel directors, local special
education directors, principals, and representatives of higher education.
Vignettes about situations related to the pending genetic technology
provided the avenue used in this study for examining principles used by
these groups of school leaders in their decision-making related to ethical
and moral dilemmas. The increased availability of genetic information in
our society creates the potential for new situations in school and
employment settings relating to individual human differences.
Understanding the ethical principles underlying the decisions of school
leaders may help in planning for policies and procedures which can assure
a reasonable response to employees, students, and families as the
availability of genetic information becomes more prevalent.

Statement of the Problem
This exploratory research examined the principles used by
educational leaders in their decision-making when faced with hypothetical
moral dilemmas based on the availability of genetic technology. Through
the use of vignettes related to information gained from genetic technology,
the study sought to answer the following questions:
1. What principles did educational leaders use in making
decision about the four moral dilemma vignettes?
2. Were there any linear relationships between the stated
generic principle used in decision making and the responses to the four
moral dilemma vignettes for all respondents and subgroups of
3. Were there statistically significant differences between the
responses to the four moral dilemma vignettes when different grouping and
subgroupings of respondents were compared?
4. What was the relationship between responses to employee
vignettes compared to responses to student vignettes?
A mail survey that included hypothetical moral dilemma vignettes
was used to elicit responses from educational leaders about the principles

they used to make decisions. Eight educational leader groups were
included in the sample: state special education directors, state school
board members, district school board members, district superintendents,
district personnel specialists, local special education directors, school
principals, and representatives of higher education. Educational leader
subgroups were selected because of their differing responsibilities for
educational policy and decision making. The educational leaders were also
redefined within subgroups including policy developers and policy
implementers. State and district school board members have assumed
responsibilities for policy development. State directors of special
education, superintendents, personnel directors, local special education
directors, and principals were the policy implementers. Other subgroups
were state and district leaders, males and females, and those with high
school through masters degrees or the equivalent and those with doctorate
degrees or equivalent. The subjects were asked to respond to hypothetical
dilemmas that were based on the availability of genetic screening
information about educational employees and students.
Four vignettes were presented to the educational leaders with four
possible responses. The options for response were based on the four
principles of justice, autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence. The
subjects selected the response that best described the basis for their

decision regarding each vignette. Following the four vignettes,
respondents were asked to indicate which of four principles they thought
they generally used to make decisions: adhering to established policies
and procedures Qustice), the rights of the individual have priority over all
other considerations (autonomy), consideration of the harm to other
individuals (nonmaleficence), or consideration of the costs and benefits for
the majority of the population (beneficence). The generic principle selected
was analyzed for frequency of selection by subgroups and the whole group
of educational leaders and also compared to what principles were actually
used in responding to the vignettes. Finally, the survey asked the
respondent for demographic information including education level, gender,
race/ethnicity, and United States region of residence.
The purpose of this study was to compare the frequency of
responses of the policy developers and the policy implementers to
determine if there were differences in how these two groups responded to
ethical dilemmas. In addition, the data were analyzed to either affirm or
negate the ongoing ethical argument that there are gender-related
differences in the values or principles behind decisions (Gilligan et al.,
1988; Crow, Fokk, Hartmann, and Payne, 1991; Nash, 1996). Gilligans
(1988) and Crows (1991) research revealed that ethics studies
predominantly rely on "male language" and do not extend to the feminine

principles of caring, responsiveness, and relationships" (Nash, 1996, p.
52). Also, the data were analyzed to determine differences in responses by
educational level. Finally, the data were evaluated in relation to the
decisions about employees versus students.
Implications of the Research
Educational leaders can benefit from better understanding the
principles, or more broadly, the ethics behind the decisions made in
response to moral dilemmas. In this study, ethics were the principles or the
background of beliefs that an individual used to make judgments or
decisions. Of interest was to learn what correlation existed between what
school leaders believed was the foundation of their decisions and the
principles they actually used to make decisions. If subgroups within the
study relied on common principles in their decision making, the information
could prove useful for planning presentations to a specific group attempting
to move toward consensus on an issue. For instance, knowing that a
group tended to make decisions based on established rules would lead a
presenter to provide information on specific existing rules that would
influence a decision. Or, if the group made decisions based on the benefits
to the majority of the population affected by the decisions, the presenter
would want to present the pros and cons of the impact of the decision on

the population of impact. Moreover, the information about decision making
could be integrated into educational leadership training programs.
With a pending revolution of genetic technology upon us, it is
predictable that the need for ethical decisions will result (Nelkin & Tancredi,
1994). In addition to gaining insight about the principles upon which
educational leaders rely when making moral decisions, the study identified
issues specific to moral dilemmas related to genetic technology that may
impact schools.
For the purposes of this study the following definitions were used:
1. ethics -a set of reference points including principles, rules,
virtues, and background beliefs used to make decisions and judgments.
2. moral a distinction between what is right versus wrong in
conduct or character.
3. dilemma- situation where two or more relatively equal
choices for response may be in conflict.
4. principle- a formal foundation or source of justification.
5. principle of autonomy- adherence to an individuals rights and
personal dignity; a respect for independence, internal self-rule, and self-

6. principle of beneficence- an obligation to maximize benefits
and minimize harms for the majority.
7. principle of justice- adherence to established rules, policies; a
comparative treatment of individuals, with fair distribution of benefits,
burdens, and scarce resources.
8. principle of nonmaleficence- a duty not to harm, injure, or
impose risks without compelling justifications.

Prior to studying the principles used by educational leaders in
decision making when faced with moral dilemmas, some awareness of
educational decision making in education needed to be developed along
with an understanding of the ethics or principles of decision making. A
review of the status of the genetic revolution was important for this study.
This chapter provides background on educational leaders decision-making
challenges along with a review of the research on the principles used by
individuals when faced with complex decisions. The current status of the
genetic revolution and its potential impact on education is described to
establish a rationale for using genetic technology related dilemmas in the
study. The summary provides the rationale for a study on the ethics, or
principles, behind educational leaders decision when faced with moral
dilemmas associated with the genetic revolution.

Ethical Decisions in Education
Educational leaders make daily decisions about students and
employees as they develop or implement policy. The decisions can be
from the very simple such as approval of leave or absences to the very
complex such as performance evaluation or eligibility for special treatment.
The complexity of the decision increases when faced with dilemmas for
which more than one response may be appropriate.
Circumstances of educational decision making becomes more
complex and challenging as social and cultural diversity increases, equity
becomes a greater priority, and greater fiscal accountability is expected
from the general public (Begley, (1996). In an article on "Cognitive
Perspectives On Values," Begley explains that political, racial, ethnic and
religious groups regularly disagree about what is desirable in policies,
procedures, and outcomes and increasingly want a stronger voice in
educational decisions. When called upon to mediate conflicts,
administrators rely on their own values or principles to problem solve,
though little research is available on the principles educational leaders use
to make decisions.
Educational leaders rely on ethics or principles to make decisions
about increasingly complex situations involving students and employees.
As new national and state education legislation is introduced annually,

educational leaders must implement policy within a variety of
circumstances, sometimes in unique situations that require very special
considerations, in the past three decades, national and state legislation
has added more emphasis on the rights of students and employees.
Students and employees are entitled to special considerations depending
on their own unique needs.
Decisions about students may relate to educational services that are
very specialized and costly. Some students meeting specific educational
criteria have entitlements to special services because of disabilities,
economic status, or based on their primary language for communication as
established by state and federal laws. These specialized services can be
labor intensive and costly. In a time of limited resources for education, it is
extremely important to make good decisions about who has the right for
these services and the level and intensity of the services to be provided.
Employee decisions relate to rights for employment and necessary
accommodations in the work environment. Due to illness or disability,
employees have access to benefits that could be a cost burden to an
organization. If a potential employee has a known disability or a
predisposition for an illness that will result in high insurance premiums for
all of the organization, should this be a consideration in hiring?

Complex decisions about students and employees increased since
the 1970s when section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act passed
and secured the rights of all employees and students with disabilities to
equal access and treatment in public institutions (Rehabilitation Act, 1973).
Within two years, additional federal mandates assured that all students
receive educational services to meet their unique needs due to their
identified educational disabilities (Education for All Handicapped Children
Act, 1975). This was re-emphasized in 1990 with the passing of the
American Disabilities Act which extended expectations for access and
treatment to private facilities, and the amendments to the Education of the
Handicapped Act (1990) which added requirements for the education of
children with disabilities in public schools.
As the complexity of decisions has increased regarding eligibility and
types and levels of services for students or employees, state education
departments and local school districts have developed and implemented
extensive regulatory procedures and practices (Rothstein, 1990). All of the
civil rights legislation described include safeguards for assuring
compliance, requiring additional procedure development. Even with all of
the procedures and practices in place the questions that often arise
regarding students or employee rights present situational moral dilemmas
that need a response from an educational leader.

Studying the Principles on Decision Making
An opportunity to study the principles used by educational leaders
when faced with difficult decisions is created as educators are faced with
increasingly complex ethical situations regarding the rights of students and
employees. State and local school board members, local school district
superintendents, central office administrators, state and local special
education directors, school principals, and higher education professionals
are all in roles in which ethical decisions are made. Some of these decision
makers are policy developers and others are policy makers. Study in order
to understand the principles of decision making among educational leaders
is important for the field of education. Because educators are in the
position of influencing so many through their direct instruction and their
modeling of decision making, it benefits educators to know about the
process and understand the principles behind decisions. Rogers and
Webb (1991) warn that teacher education must assist in the development
of educational and ethical decision making or it will miss the heart of the
work of educators. Numerous other educational researchers recommend
that ethical concerns are central to teaching approaches in institutions of
higher education (Goodlad, Soder, & Sirotnik, 1990; Noddings, 1984; Tom,

Educational leaders need to understand about the principles of
decision making so they can be better prepared to make difficult decisions
and be assured each decision is based on sound rationale. Educators are
charged with important responsibilities relating to the future of the students
and employees they affect. Good decisions about the lives of others are
essential for the good of the individuals involved and the organization as a
Large organizations which include many individuals can be affected
by the decisions educational leaders make. Superintendents and school
board members have the power to implement change that results in action
at the classroom, school, and community level. For example, a new
discipline policy demanding that a teacher expel a student from the
classroom for a minimal number of disruptions has implications for the
student who may be disruptive due to behavior problems. The student
loses access to education. The school is impacted by the need to
implement the new policy and perhaps exclude more students resulting in
not meeting a goal of successfully educating a certain percentage of
students. The community now has one more undereducated individual who
may end up in society with limited skills for participation and contribution
and could become dependent on community resources. Thus, it is critical
that educational leaders make decisions in a rational and morally

responsible way. When individuals have power and influence over the lives
of others, it is especially important to make good decisions and there are
few areas where it is more important than in the administration of schools
(Strike, Haller, & Soltis, 1988).
Frameworks for the Ethics of Decision Making
The construct of ethics provides a theoretical framework for
describing the moral phenomena applied when individuals are faced with
complex decisions that require critical and rational analysis of choice
options in order to reach a judgment. All individuals hold fast to a set of
principles or ethics of which they apply to complex decisions and
judgments. The field of ethics provides a framework by which to formulate
and systematically justify a response, all things considered, to any given
situation. In ethical decision making, ethical choices are difficult by nature
because of the conflicting claims on the individual to select one of two or
more seemingly equally unsatisfactory alternatives (Gunby, 1991). A
framework for understanding ethical analysis can be created from an
understanding of foundational knowledge of major ethical theories.
Two major ethical framework theories, deontology and utilitarianism
dominate the literature on the principles underlying decision making
(Beauchamp & Childress, 1989; Gilligan et al, 1988; Kimbrough, 1985;

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 1977; Mill, 1973; Nash, 1996; Wertz,
1996). Within these theories or philosophies are principles that appear
repeatedly in the literature as "rules" individuals follow in making decisions
when presented with more than one alternative for responding to a
situation. Following is a description of each of these two theories.
Deontology is a nonconsequential theory that is formal and based on
the work of Immanuel Kant (1781/1991). Kant believed that one must
follow universal laws. The concepts "right" and "wrong" are absolute and
are not influenced by consideration of consequences. Established ethical
rules or principles underlie good decisions and do not necessarily assure
benefit to an individual or society. If the established rule is that killing is
bad, then killing is bad in all situations, even in war. Kant believed that
circumstances should not influence decisions, because there are no
exceptions to genuine universal moral truths. Followers of this philosophy
are referred to as "moral objectivists." The main principles to which they
ascribe are justice and autonomy. Justice is the principle of adhering to
existing rules, laws, policies. Autonomy is considering the rights of an
individual over all other factors in making a decision.
Utilitarianism is the other most studied ethical framework and is
based on consequentialism or the results of an action. This ethical and
political doctrine considers the usefulness or utility of an outcome in

decision-making and was formulated by the British philosopher Jeremy
Bentham toward the end of the 18th century (Mill, 1861/1973). Within this
philosophy, the act of killing might be appropriate if good won over evil as
an outcome. In the 1800s, John Mill and then later his son, John Stuart
Mill, continued to write about this philosophy that maximizes the utility of
the outcome from the individual to a societal level. Utilitarianism is a
community approach to ethical decision-making based on a vision of
society that shares common values and goals. Decisions are made within
this community with regard to the good of the whole. In Benthams
framework, the concept of "rightness" is based on balancing "good" over
"evil" for the greatest number of people. Mills then expanded this to the
concept that good decisions are based on consideration for the greatest
benefit to society with respect for the least amount of harm to individuals.
An example is in war when any number of individuals may be killed in an
effort to preserve a country or belief for the larger group who survives.
Several principles guide ethical decision-making in the advanced
utilitarianism framework espoused by the Mills family. The two dominant
principles of utilitarianism are nonmaleficence and beneficence. The
principle of nonmaleficence is based on the premise that the strongest
influence on a decision is avoidance of harm to others. The principle of
beneficence assumes that what is best for the majority of the people and

least harmful to the minority is ultimately right. Followers of the philosophy
of utilitarianism are constructivists, believing that moral truths are known by
the individual and not defined by existing rules or policies. In other words, it
is up to the individual to construct personal actions based on consideration
of outcomes as opposed to applying existing external rules.
Philosophers have studied deontology and utilitarianism for decades
and many have developed alternate ethical frameworks. Deontology and
utilitarianism are philosophies that adhere to strict guidelines for good
decisions. For example, the pure deontologist would say rules or the rights
of the individual are the basis of all good decisions. The utilitarian would
say decisions must always be made within the context of the impact on
others or society as a whole. Newer frameworks are based on beliefs that
the principles behind decisions can vary based on experience, education,
and the context for the decision and that the principles may have a
deontological or a utilitarian basis.
Relativism, an emerging, newer philosophy that expands on the
work of philosophers such as Kant, Bentham, and Mills, (Nash, 1996),
alleges that depending on the environmental conditions an individual may
rely on either deontological or utilitarian arguments to support a belief. A
judge, for instance, acting in a court of law is expected to make decisions
based on existing laws. However, even a judge may have situations when

utilitarian principles are applied. An example might be when a judge is
required to appoint a guardian ad litem for a young child. The judge has a
choice of appointing the next person on the list or selecting another
individual whom the judge may think is a better representative for the child.
A judge adhering to deontology, specifically to the justice principle, would
simply appoint the next person on the list whether or not that person was
the most qualified for the situation. Following the utilitarian philosophy and
applying the principle of beneficence, the judge could decide to select a
person who has more knowledge about children and the social agencies
involved in representing the child, believing that the child will benefit and
the interactions with the agencies will be more productive. This latter
decision considers outcomes rather than application of rules.
Kenneth Strike (Strike and Egan, 1978) discusses the theory of
relativism in ethical decision-making specific to the educational arena and
claims that "a viable ethical theory will embed a concern for consequences
within a framework of nonconsequential ideals" (p. 62). In other words,
some decisions in education are made in situations where all of the
consequences may be less than desirable. The example of expelling a
student exemplifies this. Neither the student, school, nor community
benefits positively from the expulsion of the student. Strike believes that
relativism is the framework in which these types of decisions are made and

that it is grounded in a theory that judgments differ according to the culture,
events, and persons involved (Strike & Egan, 1978). For instance, when
an unplanned event occurs for which no rules are established, such as a
mass murder at a high school, the educational leaders will rely on their own
experience, knowledge, and ethical principles to make decisions about the
safety of the students. The individual relies on personal attributes in the
decision making process and will consider the people who are involved in
making judgments. The principal of the school in this situation may make a
decision about what information to communicate to the faculty and students
in the violent situation based on personal knowledge about the teachers
and students involved and their abilities to respond. The principles
underlying the decisions could be based on rules of conduct in the school,
or consideration of a specific student, or what will result in the least amount
of harm to anyone, or what will be best for the majority of students and
Another more current researcher on the ethics in moral decision
making is Dorothy Wertz (1996) who seems to take a relativists approach
but credits the work of the deontologists and utilitarians. All of her work has
been in the health and science arena and most recently the ethics of
decisions related to the use of genetic technology. Basically, Wertz
believes that individuals tend to be objectivists or contructivists and that

they draw from either deontological or utilitarian principles to make
decisions depending on the situation. She describes four foundational
principles that lie behind most ethical reasoning: justice or fairness,
autonomy or respect for individuals, non-maleficence, and beneficence.
Wertz suggests that individuals confronted with a moral dilemma resort to
one of the principles within this framework when making a decision. An
objectivist may believe that the principles of autonomy or justice apply and
a decision is very clear and immediate. A constructivist or utilitarian may
consider principles of non-maleficence or beneficence, weighing the pros
against the cons of the various outcomes before justifying the decision.
Both Strike and Wertz are researchers who study the ethics or
principles applied to decisions when individuals are faced with complex or
morally based decisions. Strike comes from the educational arena
whereas Wertz is a scientist. Strike calls himself a relativist and uses that
approach to discuss educational decision making. He claims that relativism
is not grounded in deontology or utilitarianism, though he uses terminology
that is found within those philosophies including rule-based principles or
considering outcomes in the decision making process. Wertz does not
name her philosophy, but simply describes her framework for decision
making stating that individuals pull from four principles depending on the
situation. Those principles come from the deontological and utilitarian

philosophies and are justice, autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence.
Neither Strike nor Wertz subscribe to a developmental model of decision
making which is based on a premise that the principles behind decisions
are dependent on an. individuals stage of moral development.
Moral Development Frameworks
Contrary to the relativist philosophy that proposes somewhat of a
common sense approach to decision making (Strike and Egan, 1978),
numerous researchers have taken the ethical principles described by
predecessors such as Kant, Bentham, and Mills and placed them on a
moral development continuum. According to Nash 1996), "Ethics provides
a set of ideals with which to build a coherent, moral life plan" (7). The
vocabulary of ethics and morals are used interchangeably among the
ethicists due to the similarity of meaning and this is especially true among
the moral development philosophers.
Lawrence Kohlberg introduced the highly researched six stage
ethics theory on moral development that has influenced numerous other
ethicists (Gilligan etal, 1988; Kohlberg, 1981; Modgil & Modgil, 1985; Rest,
1979). Kohlbergs moral development theory is a further development of
Piagets investigation of the development of moral judgment in children
(Rest, 1979). Kohlberg evaluates the moral stage development in an

individual through a complex, multi-layered rating system applied to the
responses of subjects to hypothetical moral dilemmas. Responses indicate
in which stage of moral development the individual operates. The six
stages are: (1) heteronomous morality; (2) individualism, instrumental
purpose, and exchange; (3) mutual interpersonal expectations,
relationships, and interpersonal conformity; (4) social system and
conscience; (5) social contract or utility and individual rights; and (6)
universal ethical principles ( Kohlberg, 1986).
Stage one, heteronomous morality equates with what other
philosophers consider to be the justice principle. This suggests that moral
judgments are self-evident requiring little or no justification beyond citing
the rules. Rules are concrete categories of right and wrong behaviors. For
example, breaking into a store is wrong because stealing is against the law
or telling someone about anothers behavior is wrong because it is
"tattling." What makes something wrong is defined by authority rather than
by cooperation among equals. Equality means the same treatment for all
and is therefore the accepted norm.
Stage two, the individualistic stage, instrumental morality means that
there is an awareness that each person has individual interests that may
conflict with others. Here the decision maker considers the context before
determining whether behavior is right or wrong. Stealing food offers an

example of how stages one and two differ. At stage one stealing of food
would be considered wrong, regardless of the context. However, in stage
two an individual could decide that it would be fair for a poor person to steal
because they need the food to stay alive. How the action impacts others
either negatively or positively is not taken into account at stage two. The
principle of autonomy or consideration of the individual over all else seems
to fit within Kohlbergs stage two. These first two stages fall within the
deontological principles of justice and autonomy. According to Kohlbergs
theory, deontologists would be operating from a lower moral developmental
Interpersonal normative morality is stage three in Kohlbergs model.
At this stage emphasis is on being a good, altruistic individual interested in
the good or bad results of an action. Consequences of the action and the
impact on others becomes a consideration at this stage. The Golden Rule
is often used to describe this stage, "Do unto others as you would have
others do unto you" (Kohlberg, 1986, p. 493). Norms are based on
maintaining relationships. Something is right if one can accept it as right
from the others point of view; however, it is wrong if it is harmful to another.
It may be right for a poor starving person to steal food but not from a sick
baby. The principle of non-maleficence or concern for harm to others
aligns with this stage.

Stage four is social system morality in which the individual takes the
perspective of the larger social system. Individual interests are legitimate
only when consistent with the maintenance of the system as a whole. The
norm is to obey a law of society even if you dont agree, because a law is
made by the majority of people and you have to consider whats good for
the majority. For instance, it may seem senseless to get a ticket for a traffic
light violation when the incident occurred at 3:00 AM at an isolated
intersection. The law, however, is in place to protect a much larger society
that must respect traffic lights everywhere including many busy
intersections in order to protect the majority of the people. This clearly
correlates with the principle of beneficence or considering the greatest
benefits and the least harm to the majority of the people.
Stage five, the human rights and social welfare morality, is based on
a premise that a rational moral agent is aware of universal values and
rights. Pluralism falls within this stage or a theory that there is more than
one principle that defines an individuals action in any given situation. In
determining which action to take, the individual has an obligation to
consider how the action will contribute to the betterment of society. This
"reflects a rule-utilitarian philosophy in which social institutions, rules, or
laws are evaluated by reference to their long-term consequences for the
welfare of each person or group in the society" (Kohlberg, 1986, p. 496). At

this level, Kohlberg is describing the impact of universal social issues that
might include the principles used to address controversies such as religion
in schools, abortion, or same sex marriages. Stages three, four, and five
align with utilitarians principles of nonmaleficence and beneficence.
Therefore, Kohlbergs model suggests that the utilitarian ethical philosophy
is at a higher moral development level than the deontological philosophy.
Lastly, at the stage six, the operations and principles level in
Kohlbergs model, the principles from stage five about moral norms become
self-conscious principles. At this stage an individual has transformed to a
state of having innate wisdom in decision making. The individual has a
sense or spirit of complete trust and community in addressing the issues of
human rights, equality, equity, or fairness. Promises within relationships
are the foundation for societal norms not imposing contracts. Stage six
appears to go beyond the basic philosophies of either deontology or
utilitarianism and can be found in the institutions of marriage, family,
spiritual relationships, various cultures. Rules are not written but inherent
in the operating principles of the parties involved.
Like Piaget, Kohlbergs moral development work opened many
doors for constructivists. He extended Piaget by coming up with another
set of stages for another domain, the social-personal rather than the
cognitive ( Keegan, 1986). Kohlberg's work has become prominent in the

analysis of moral development. Since he began more than 30 years ago,
multiple researchers have built upon and challenged his work.
Kohlbergs work has been challenged as being a form of relativism
having no solid framework for measurement of behaviors in a consistent
manner, and his research has resulted in much discussion among ethicists
and researchers on moral decision making (Modgil & Modgil, 1986; Rest,
1979). Many follow-up studies to Kohlbergs research have been
conducted using his moral development framework. Even the critics of
Kohlberg acknowledge the merits of a model for moral development as a
means to study the emergence of moral principles within individuals (Modgil
& Modgil, 1986).
Some studies have been conducted in an attempt to refute
Kohlbergs theory that human beings construct meaning for themselves
based on their current moral developmental stage. Carpendale and Krebs
(1992) completed a study showing that people exercise moral judgment
differently as a result of the social context or the audience. When the
situation is unambiguous with established rules and duties such as in a
business setting, people tend to resort to judgments falling within lower
moral development stages. However, if the situation is more ambiguous
inviting discourse such as in a college philosophy department, individuals
tend to make judgments from a higher moral development stage. Though

not confirmed or included as a part of the study, the researchers also
suggest that the realism of a situation impacts the level of moral judgment.
People, for example, would tend to rely on higher-level moral judgments
when responding to hypothetical situations and apply lower-level, rule-
based judgments in real life events.
Kathryn Scott in her article on "Gender and Moral Education" (1986)
points out that due to the widespread acceptance of Kohlbergs theory of
moral development not a lot of attention has been paid to other aspects of
moral thinking and behavior, especially those linked with gender issues.
For example, Gilligan et al (1988) propose that females may not make
moral decisions according to the same stages as men because Kohlberg
used only males in the longitudinal studies to develop and validate his
proposed stages of moral reasoning. Gilligan et al theorize that females
would favor stage three where interpersonal relationships are stressed.
Other studies find that sex differences in stage progression are not
meaningful because they are confounded with differences in class, race,
religion, culture, age, education or occupation (Flanagan & Jackson, 1987;
Harding, 1987; Mednick, 1989; Okin, 1989; Stem, 1984; Wilson, 1993).
Controversy exists about gender and moral development (Crow,
Fok, Hartman, Payne, 1991). However, in general, researchers conclude
that any observed differences are a result of socialization, education, and

occupational levels rather than innate difference between males and
females. In an article on "Gender and Values" (Crow, et al, 1991), gender-
related differences are attributed to socialization resulting in more women
than men relying on lower levels of moral development in decision making.
Women are more likely to follow the rules and the men are more willing to
bend the rules based on consideration of the consequences of the
decision. It seems that more study is needed to determine the effects
gender has on decision making.
In addition to concerns about the applicability of Kohlbergs theory
for women, other colleagues have questioned the structure of Kohlbergs
theory and the constructivist nature of his proposals. Levine (1979) and
Rest (1983) endorse a model of moral development in which new stages
build upon the old stages, but individuals continue to rely on earlier stage
behaviors. Stronger critics, Johnson and Hogan (1981), claim that the
moral stages an individual displays may depend on the audience to which
the individual responds. Harre (1987) argues "moral orders" rather than
stages of moral reasoning. A moral order is an organized system of rights
and duties within a society. Within a culture is a "multiplicity of interacting,
overlapping and complementary moral orders" (p.220) that correspond to
Kohlbergs theory, but accessing them is dependent on which people and
activities are valued. In other words, the moral order of business might

differ from that of the family. It is important to note that all of these
researchers had subjects respond to hypothetical dilemmas for subjects to
respond to in researching the theories.
Ethical Principles (A Synthesis)
Four common principles are often repeated in all of the
aforementioned ethical and moral frameworks either as a part of the
deontology or utilitarianism framework or within any of the developmental
models. These principles are justice, autonomy, non-maleficence, and
beneficence. Therefore it would appear that these principles should be
used in studies of decision making about moral dilemmas.
Justice or fairness principles address how fairly or unfairly actions
are in distributing benefits or burdens among individuals. Distribution may
be based on personal needs or distributed equally to all. Fairness means
free from bias, dishonesty, or injustice. This principle would suggest that
individuals need to be treated the same unless morally relevant differences
such as age, illness, or disabilities exist. When such differences exist,
consideration should be given to equalizing the opportunities among
The principle of autonomy or respect for individuals is based on a
belief that each human being has dignity and is worthy of respect. This

dignity gives an individual certain rights for claims on others or society.
First, the individual has a right to freedom without interference from others.
Second, the individual has a right to a minimum level of well-being such as
a right to food even if it imposes on-others. The principle of autonomy can
be summarized as, "An action or policy is ethical if it protects or advances
moral rights" (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 1997).
The principle of non-maleficence proposes that the consequences of
an action should result in a greater well-being for the people effected. A
person should weigh the benefits when considering two actions over the
harm to an individual, a group, or the organization. Decisions should be
made with regard to eliminating or decreasing harm to the greatest number.
Harm can be of a physical or material nature. For example, an individual or
group could feel physical pain or suffer from a financial loss.
The principle of beneficence is the highest good as it is at the
highest level of moral development among the four, according to moral
development models. The decision maker acts with compassion, honesty,
courage, or faith with regard to an individual. Beneficence is a principle
that is based on considering greater societal impacts of what is most helpful
to the majority of a community. "What is ethical is what advances the
common good" (Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, 1997).

Research on Educational Leaders Decision Making
Few research efforts have focused on the decision making or moral
judgment of individuals involved in public education. In the 1990s, several
studies were conducted with selected educational leader groups in an
attempt to identify the principles these groups use when faced with moral
dilemmas. These studies included local district school board members,
local school district superintendents, and local school board attorneys. A
study has been completed with a sample of education students in higher
education and practicing teachers (Sparkman, Lampe, Slaten, Hartmeister,
In a study that compares school board members and superinten-
dents reasoning process (Slaten et al, 1994), it was stated that most
school board members are primarily motivated by a desire to contribute to
the best educational opportunity for the children of their community. The
superintendent ideally serves to implement the boards policies and tends
to follow rules established by the board. Slatens exploratory study was
designed to determine similarities and differences in levels of moral
development and ethical reasoning processes exhibited by school board
members and superintendents. The results of the study of school board
members and superintendents showed that both groups scored significantly
lower than average college graduates in that most scores fell in the "rule

and order-based category, or, according to Kohlbergs model, in the
lowest stage of moral development. A possible explanation for this is that
public schools may reflect a bureaucratic model of organization which
fosters a bureaucratic mentality.
The bureaucratic mentality identified in the study of school board
members and superintendents is a form of workplace norms within a
government organization (Fox, 1957). Workplace norms are those implicit
and explicit standards of action that serve to guide, control, or regulate
acceptable behavior. The workplace norms become as structurally
important as formal education in the shaping of professionals. When
students become practicing professionals and enter the workplace, the
questions become less epistemological and more mimetic: Whose
example should I imitate? How can I gain professional autonomy and
authority? For what will I get rewarded or punished?
Slaten (1994) states that the bureaucratic mentality is demonstrated
by school principals who are socialized or molded into roles devised to
maintain stability within the school and the district. Role performance is
characterized by uniformity rather than diversity with perspectives, outlook,
and behavior shaped by institutional position and less by personality.
Traditionally, all principals within a district are held to the same
expectations for performance and therefore tend to mimic each others

behaviors to maintain the stability of the district. Superintendents come
from the ranks of teachers and principals and are most likely even more
entrenched in the norms of the organization by the time they take on this
higher leadership role (Slaten, 1994).
School board members also contribute to the bureaucratic mentality
because they have the responsibility to hire, retain, and dismiss employees
of the school district. This can easily be construed to be a mechanism of
socialization in that the board members hire those individuals that are
acceptable to them and then assure that sufficient control mechanisms are
in place to maintain acceptable behavior in their employees. In
bureaucracies, behavior of personnel is systematically molded to make the
individual beliefs and values correspond with those of the organization.
Judgments that are based on the norms or "rules" of the organization fall
into a lower stage of moral development (Slaten, 1994).
School board members and school district attorneys are examined
for their levels of moral development and ethical reasoning in a later study
(Sparkman et al, 1994). These two groups were selected because of the
quasi-judicial role that school board members have and the increased
legalization of the educational process. The results of the study indicated
that the attorneys were at a significantly higher level in moral development
than the school board members. School board members' scores were

lower than the moral development scores of average college graduates as
well, whereas attorneys scores were more similar to those of the college
graduates. These findings are consistent with previous research that
shows that years of formal education is one of the strongest and most
consistent correlates of development in moral judgment (Rest, 1986). The
attorneys, as a group, had attained a higher level of education than the
school board members as a group.
In spite of the different levels of moral development, both school
board members and school board attorneys when responding to
hypothetical moral dilemmas demonstrated a "law and order" orientation to
their actual decision making. College graduates as a group tend to indicate
consideration of individual rights and social implications in their decision
making which are at a higher moral development level. Based on the
attorneys' moral development level, the use of higher level principles than
justice or "law and order" would be expected. While it is understandable
that school district attorneys would rely on the application of existing rules
of law in their decision making, it also appears that school board members
along with the attorneys may be influenced by bureaucratic socialization in
their decision making.
Because most educational leaders come from the ranks of teachers,
a study that identified and compared the moral decision making process of

education students, practicing teachers, and teacher educators was
reviewed (Lampe & Walsh,1992). The study also identifies the
corresponding stages of moral development of the subjects. The study
found that teacher educators who were at the higher stages of moral
development made more liberal decisions when responding to hypothetical
dilemmas than those who were at the lower stages of moral development.
Though education students and practicing teachers indicated that they
were at a higher moral developmental stage consistent with their level of
education, the decisions they made in response to hypothetical dilemmas
were significantly different. The practicing teachers used more rule based
rationale for their decisions and the education students applied the higher
level principle of beneficence in their decision making. The education
students seem to be guided by idealistic student and social implications
and the teachers were impacted by personal experiences associated with
the everyday work environment. The fact that the teachers decisions were
at a lower level than their moral development stage supports the theory that
decision making is situational and not always based on an individual's
current stage of moral development. It also supports the theory of
socialization within a bureaucracy in that the practicing teachers may have
been influenced by the workplace norms.

The representatives from higher education, or the teacher educators,
differed significantly from both the education students and the practicing
teachers in the study. Results indicated that teacher educators were at the
highest moral development stage of the three groups and made the most
liberal decisions. The researchers thought that this was the result of
colleges and universities placing an emphasis on theoretical and societal
considerations. Once the students leave the institution decisions are based
on the rules of the educational organization that they enter.
Though the literature has little to offer about the principles used by
educators to make decisions when face with moral decisions, these studies
provide some support that educational leaders who have a high level of
education have reached a higher stage of moral development according to
moral developmental theories. Educators with a college education are
considerate of the societal implications of morally based decisions.
However, it also appears that once leaving the higher education setting and
entering the school, teachers may become socialized into the norms of the
workplace and in practice apply lower stage principles such as following the
rules or the establishment in making decisions. Because superintendents
come from the ranks of teachers, it is not surprising that they have also
experienced this socialization into the bureaucratic mentality. School board
attorneys because of the very nature of the job to apply existing laws to

make decisions might be expected to apply lower stage principles of rules
in decision making. The fact that school board members apply the lower
stage moral development principles to decision making may reflect the level
of education they have had or that they are affected by the socialization
process of the bureaucracy.
The overall finding in these few studies about the decision making of
educational leaders was that the principle of justice or relying on
established rules is the primary basis for decisions. However, this may be
partly due to the socialization that occurs when leaders are a part of an
educational bureaucracy. It seems that higher level principles such as
beneficence or concern for the impact on a larger community is what
potential educators state they rely on when in the training institutions, but
once they enter the school setting they are influenced by the bureaucratic
expectations and norms. In the school, educational leaders resort to the
use of lower level principles or just following the rules. Few studies on
decision making have been conducted in the educational arena, and the
subjects were limited to superintendents, board members, attorneys,
teachers, and teacher educators. More research is needed. The types of
leadership roles should be expanded to include various levels of
educational leadership and those with a variety of leadership

Hypothetical Dilemmas as Source
of Study on Decision Making
Basic to all of these aforementioned studies and to Kohlbergs study
of moral development in individuals is that the studies are dependent upon
a subjects response to hypothetical dilemmas. Roger Straughan (1986)
argues that this hypothetical approach has limitations making it an
unreliable guide to what happens in "real-life morality" (p. 150). He claims
that hypothetical dilemmas lack first-hand immediacy. In a real-life moral
decision, motives, feelings, wants and emotions may contradict
hypothetical reasoning. Rest (1986) concurs that hypothetical dilemmas
are contrived and artificial and, hence, what a person says in response may
not represent the way the person will act in a real-life situation. However,
Rest points out that numerous researchers have found advantages to using
hypothetical dilemmas (pp. 456-457).
Despite the concerns for using hypothetical situations to study moral
development and decision making, there are some advantages. These
include: (a) They are novel for the respondent and may allow a clearer
picture of the generalizing tendencies of the respondent rather than
situation-specific learning about the subject. In order to minimize specific
effects and maximize the study of general rule-based response, introducing
unfamiliar stimuli is desirable, (b) Also, hypothetical dilemmas are more

standardized than the every day dilemmas within an individual's natural
environment. While there is always the possibility of linking the
hypothetical dilemmas to real-life experiences, there is currently no
compelling evidence that responses to real-life dilemmas are more highly
correlated with behavior than responses to hypothetical dilemmas are
correlated with behavior (Rest, 1979; Rest, 1986, p. 457).
The Genetic Revolution as a Source
for Hypothetical Moral Dilemmas
In considering a source for hypothetical dilemmas for study of
decision making in education, the genetic revolution or the increased
availability of information about genetics is a possibility. Daily, since the
early 1980s, the power given to the human gene increases in importance
for media attention, societal interest, and public-policy impact. The Human
Genome Program (Nelkin & Lindee 1995), an international scientific
program to map and sequence all of the genes in humans, is ahead of
schedule in the eleventh year of a fifteen-year study. The project began in
1989 in the United States and "is funded through the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) and the United States Department of Energy (DOE) at a total
anticipated cost of more than $3 billion over 15 years" (Nelkin & Lindee,
1995, p. 5). Similar projects have started in Great Britain, Japan, Russia,

the European community, and other nations. Significant implications for
education lie in the capacity to anticipate abilities and behavior in students.
It is foreseeable that every gene of every child and every school employee
potentially will be knowable.
Genetic testing has implications for the employees of school
districts. Hypothetically, what if a physician had discovered that a school
bus driver one year from retirement had a predisposition for a heart attack?
Let us assume that he was making no effort to take care of his health
through medication, diet, or exercise. Considering that childrens lives are
at risk, does the school district have a right to know about this bus drivers
genetic condition? If the information is disclosed, what rights does the
employee have, and what is the school district able to do? Human
resource departments have seemingly infinite policies already from which
to operate. It seems logical that once genetic testing is readily available in
the next two to three years (Nelkin & Tancredi, 1994) employment and
employee policies will be affected significantly.
Student issues may also arise due to their entitlements for special
services. Certain reading disabilities are already predictable. A propensity
for behavioral problems is identifiable. Controversy does exist among
scientists about the predetermination of behavior from gene identification,
but scientists clearly agree about the identification of many diseases

(Nelkin & Tancredi, 1994). It seems logical that education will be affected
when gene screening reveals a students propensity toward specific
learning abilities and behaviors. Identification of students for eligibility for
special services in public education is not new. School district leaders and
the administrators with experience in the implementation of legal mandates
that drive the classification and categorization of students are logical
resources on the use of a technology that can screen individuals for genetic
dispositions or predispositions.
Public interest is high on the new knowledge about behavior and
abilities that is available through gene testing. Questions will arise
regarding the use, availability, and responsibility for this diagnostic
information in education. Educational policy development on the relevancy
of the information in decisions such as who has access to the information,
who is responsible for gene testing, and confidentiality are all probable
The intent of genetic testing is to provide information that will lead to
the cure of diseases and answer questions about human behavior and
ability. If knowledge about genes can assist education in its mission, that is
positive. However, the potential for misuse of the information is also a
threat. The information presents difficult ethical quandaries for
consideration. Once an individual has the knowledge who else has a right

to it? With access to the knowledge, what actions are appropriate in the
public school system? What rights do students and employees have to the
use or privacy of the information?
As questions such as these become a reality, school leaders will be
faced with very difficult decisions that may set precedents even though the
principles behind decisions may vary from one situation to another. Are the
rights of employees equal to those of the students? Do the rights of an
individual supersede those of the majority? How does one protect
confidentiality of an individual and still assure safety of the greater
community? To prepare for this future, this study will examine the decision-
making process of current leaders in the field.
Protective legislation about genetic technology is already being
discussed and enacted in other arenas including insurance eligibility, and
task forces are beginning to emerge as think tanks to inform policymakers
about potential ethical, legal, and social consequences of genetic
technology (Reilly, Wertz, & Blatt, 1996). Educational leaders need to
prepare for the genetic revolution as well.
Philosophers have theorized about ethics and moral development for
decades. Numerous ethical frameworks both objective and developmental

exist. Considerable agreement supports that there are stages of moral
development. However, differences emerge about how individuals use
principles for decision making. Some believe that the principles used are
based on the moral development of the individual, others believe that use is
situational, and others believe that the environment in which one operates
determines the principles used.
Though studies have been conducted on the principles used in
decision making when faced with moral dilemmas, little research on the
subject has been done with educational leaders. Educational leaders are
increasingly challenged by more and more complex situations involving
both students and employees. This has been the result in part to new
public policies at the state and national level over the last 30 years.
However, societal expectations for equity and stronger participation in
educational decisions have also contributed to the complexity of the issues
in education.
All of the studies in this research have depended on the subjects
responding to hypothetical dilemmas. Though conflicting opinions about
the use of hypothetical dilemmas exist, research shows that studies using
real dilemmas versus hypothetical dilemmas do not yield significant
differences (Rest, 1979; Rest, 1986, p. 457).

The genetic revolution presents a unique opportunity for designing
hypothetical moral dilemmas for reaction from educational leaders. New
technology is available to identify abnormalities in students and employees
in educational settings. No one knows how this technology will be used in
schools. Already other agencies such as insurance and health are
beginning to wrestle with the potential impact gene screening will have on
society (Reilly, Wertz, & Blatt, 1996). A study on educational leaders
decision making when faced with moral dilemmas could easily incorporate
hypothetical situations based on the availability of genetic technology.

This exploratory study intended to identify the ethical principles used
by educational leaders when faced with moral dilemmas based on the
availability of genetic technology. It was exploratory due to the very limited
research available to date on the principles used by educational leaders in
decision making and the non existence of research on the implications of
genetic technology in educational arenas. One objective of the study was
to identify what generic ethical principle educational leaders thought they
used when faced with moral dilemmas. The second objective was to
determine if leaders actually used that generic principle when they made
decisions about hypothetical situations. The third objective was to
determine if the principles used varied according to the characteristics of
the leader. Did state educational leaders, school board members, district
school board members, school district leaders, and higher education
leaders within these respective groups rely on similar principles in decision
making? Did the use of principles differ between males and females? Did
differences exist in the principles employed by policy developers and policy

implementers? Did the moral dilemma vignettes about employees and
students elicit different responses from the various leadership groups and
were different principles relied on to make decisions about employees or
A survey design was used in order to seek answers to questions
about educational leaders ethical principles. Planning for the survey
involved determining the sample, designing the instrument, planning a
method for gathering the information, conducting a pilot study, and devising
a preliminary plan for analyzing the data. Surveys can serve different
purposes including the assessment of the needs of participants,
determination of the source of some current problem, or determination of
competency or satisfaction. While surveys can serve many purposes, this
exploratory study sought to provide information about the ethics of
decisions of educational leaders (Rossi, et al, 1983). This chapter
describes the subjects of the study, the survey design, development of the
survey instrument, the procedures used, the pilot study, and analysis plan
for assessing the data.
Eight groups of educational leaders who may be impacted by the
promises of newly developed genetic technology from across the United

States were asked to participate in this study: (a) state school board
members, (b) state directors of special education, (c) district school board
members, (d) district superintendents, (e) school principals, (f) district
personnel specialists, (g) local special education directors, and (h)
representatives of institutions of higher education. The study was designed
to invite one representative from each group from each of the 50 states to
respond to a survey.
State school board members are either elected or appointed by the
governor depending on the policies of the state. These board members
oversee the educational system and set policies as appropriate to
implement federal and state educational mandates. Members determine
state funding allocations within parameters set by the legislature or the
governor. Also, they are responsive to issues raised by the community at
State directors of special education are appointed by either the
governor, the state school board or the state superintendent for instruction
depending on the policy of the specific state. Under federal law (Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act, 1990), these directors are responsible for
the implementation and monitoring of the federal mandate to identify
students with educational disabilities and to provide free appropriate
services to these students. Providing technical assistance to the local

school districts is an additional responsibility under the law. In states where
there are state special education mandates, the director also assumes
responsibility for the monitoring and implementation of those requirements.
Eligibility and placement for special educational services can be the result
of a morally based decision where more than one alternative could be
acceptable depending on the specific situation. State special education
directors make such ethical decisions routinely when they respond to
professionals, advocates, and parents in determining whether a students
rights for special education are being upheld. State special education
directors develop policy and procedures in the areas of eligibility and
District school board members are elected by the community in
which they live and provide direction to the district superintendent and other
personnel of the school district through policy development and making
decisions on issues presented to them from their community at large. One
individual from the community can influence the board to act on situations
about employee or student issues. In moral dilemma situations, a high
level of emotion may emerge from the voting public as the board attempts
to make a decision.

District superintendents are appointed by local school boards to
carry out the wishes of the board. They oversee the school district
implementing policies and procedures coming from the state board of
education as well as the local school board. Communication to the local
board includes information about student and employee issues. Policy may
involve addressing ethical issues as they relate to policy for students and
District personnel specialists are appointed by the local school board
and ultimately report to the superintendent. Responsibilities include
implementing laws on employment, recruiting, hiring, and terminating staff.
Personnel specialists must respond to employee issues keeping in mind
the rights of the individual, the rights of the students, and the laws about
appropriately trained staff, including licensure requirements.
District special education directors are appointed by the local school
board and ultimately report to the superintendent. Responsibilities are
similar to those of the state special education director, but at the local
district level. These individuals also work in the personnel arena because
of the complexity around training of special education personnel. Directors
must implement both federal and state laws as well as the policies of the
district. Personnel development is another responsibility of this position.

Local special education directors are often directly involved in making
ethical decisions about individual students with disabilities.
Building principals are responsible for the everyday functioning of
the individual school. Principals must be aware of the special education
services in their building. Initial concerns about an individual students
services would most likely be brought to the principals attention. The
principal also supervises professional and support staff in the school. As a
part of this role, the principal must either respond or at least be aware of
individual employee issues.
Professionals employed as instructors or administrators in higher
education training should be as aware as the state and local education
leaders of the laws, policies, and best practices in education including the
process of decision making. Many higher education training programs for
educational professionals include study of the decision-making processes.
The training program may differ from institution to institution and may be
tailored to the specific needs of the educational leadership group, but those
employed in higher education must be aware of current educational issues
and practices. Because colleges and universities are involved in training
educational leaders, representation from higher education is included in this

Subject Sampling
A snowball sample method, also known as referential sampling or
chain referral sampling, was used as a way of identifying members for the
sample ( Krathwohl,. 1993). This method is typically used to identify
individuals who are members of a group when individuals of the group are
not easy to visibly identify. An example might be when the desire is to
identify the most influential principals who provide the leadership in a
school district. They would not be identifiable by their title, but the
superintendent knows who they are. In a study using a snowball sample,
superintendents might be asked to identify the principals for research on
"influential principal leaders."
The snowball method was selected in this study for two reasons.
One reason was that existing national lists by category of the leadership
groups to be included in the survey are often not current because of the
frequency of changes in the positions. Second, in order to include a
personal notation in the letter to subjects about how they were referred for
the study, they had to be referred by someone. Personal references were
important in an attempt to obtain a high return on the surveys. In this
instance, the sampling procedure began with a state director of special
education in each of the United States. Each state director was asked to
provide the name of a person from their state from each of the following

groups: (a) state school board, (b) district school board, (c) district
superintendent, (d) district personal specialist, (e) district special education
director, (f) school principal, and (g) representative from an institution of
higher education. The district level participants may or may not have been
from the same district.
The initial group contacted for the sample was the state directors of
special education. A list of state directors of special education was
available from the National Association of State Directors of Special
Education (NASDSE). This group is organized as a network and resource
for all of the states on national issues about special education and is
supported by the Office of Special Education Grants. Dues in this
organization are collected from states and territories of the United States.
This list included the directors for the 50 states as well as territories and
dominions. The NASDSE list was used to randomly select the participants
for a pilot study and to identify the state directors from the remaining 46
states for the actual study. The territories and dominions were not included
because of some of the exceptions and differences within the federal law
applicable to those regions. Federal funding for the territories is different as
well as expectations for compliance with all aspects of the law.
Each state director was asked to personally complete a study
questionnaire and to identify people from the director's state representing

the remaining seven roles. Table 3.1 illustrates the titles of the subgroups
for the sample and the number of expected participants from the fifty states
for both the pilot and the final study.
Table 3.1: Sample
Subgroups Number in Study Number in Pilot
State school board members 46 4
State directors of special education 46 4
District school board members 46 4
District superintendents 46 4
District personnel specialists 46 4
District special education directors 46 4
School principals 46 4
Higher education professional 46 4
Total 368 32
The sample depended on voluntary responses, as does much
research. In this case, the volunteers were the survey respondents who
completed and returned the survey sent to them. Volunteers are
intrinsically different than non-volunteers and may respond differently than
non-volunteers. Samples utilizing volunteers are liable to be biased
samples of the target population, and care must be taken in interpreting the
results (Krathwohl, 1993); however, the principal researcher thought that
these data would be difficult to obtain in any other way.

Instrument Development
A mail survey was used to collect the data from state directors of
special education, local school board members, district school board
members, school district superintendents, school district personnel
specialists, local school district special-education administrators, building
principals, and representatives from institutions of higher education. The
principal researcher acknowledged that mail surveys are considered risky
for use in research because of low response rates and the incompleteness
of lists used to access the sample. Additionally, questions could be
misread or misinterpreted by respondents so a pilot study is essential for
establishing clarity of the questions. Despite the risks in many situations
the capabilities of a mail survey have been proven. Dillmans (1978) mail
survey method, the Total Design Method, indicates that response rates
increased when a personal referral is in the survey design, the
questionnaire is short, and presented in a specially designed format.
The Dillman mail survey method consists of two parts: identifying
and designing each aspect of the survey process that may affect response
in such a way as to maximize response rates, and organizing the survey in
a way that assures that design intentions are met. Examples of strategies
to increase the response rate are to make a personal connection with the
sample and to plan for follow up contacts with non-responders in a timely

manner. Strategies for assuring a stimulating survey are providing an easy
cost free response method and designing an interest-getting questionnaire.
Dillman (1978) provides specific directions for the actual survey
questionnaire that include the use of a booklet with prescribed dimensions
and an eye-catching cover page. In an attempt to assure a high response
from the subjects, the Total Design Method was adhered to in this study.
A self-administered questionnaire was developed based on data
from the review of the literature, previous instruments used in other genetic
moral issues studies, and the Total Design Method of mail surveys outlined
by Dillman (1978). In addition to one survey question that asked the
respondent to identify what principle that person uses in decision making,
vignettes were employed as a means to elicit four decisions about specific
moral dilemmas from these same respondents.
The moral dilemma vignettes used in this questionnaire were derived
from scenarios used in an international study on ethics and genetics that
was conducted with geneticists and patients by the Shriver Center in 1994
(Wertz 1995). "While a scenario seldom or never happens precisely as it is
proposed, planners can gain valuable indications if the content of the
scenario is realistic" (Sybouts, 1992, p. 94). Permission to adapt the
scenarios was obtained from the author prior to conducting the survey. The
Educational Leaders Decision Making Survey (ELDM)was the name given

to this study by the primary researcher and consisted of four vignettes.
Two vignettes addressed student issues in the area of genetics that might
be encountered in a school district and two addressed potential school
employee issues in the area of genetics.
The first vignette was about an older applicant for a school bus
driving job whose genetic testing revealed a predisposition for a heart
condition which ultimately could put passengers on the bus at risk. In order
of moral development theory, the fourth response which considered genetic
testing was not required in making a decision about employment was the
lowest level response. This was based on the justice principle. The first
possible response considered the rights of the bus driver and was at the
next level of moral development, autonomy. The second response was
based on the principle of nonmaleficence, or potential harm to other
individuals. The third response demonstrated the highest level of moral
development of the four possibilities and was based on beneficence which
considered the greatest benefit to the majority of the population.
The second vignette was about a 14-year-old male student facing
expulsion for bringing a hunting knife on the school bus. The parents
produced genetic testing that showed the boy had a predisposition for
socially maladaptive behavior and therefore should be given special
consideration. Respondents selected from the four possible responses that

were in the same format and order as those for the bus driver and were
designed to determine whether the student should continue in school or be
The third vignette referred to a young female teacher who had
applied for a position in a small rural school district. She was a carrier of
the gene for muscular dystrophy, meaning that her male children had a
50% chance of contracting the condition. Insurance benefits to this teacher
could significantly impact this small district and its employees. Again, the
respondents selected from the four possible answers indicating which
principle should be used to decide whether or not to hire this teacher.
The fourth and final vignette was about a parent who attempted to
enroll a 4-year-old daughter in an early intervention preschool for students
with disabilities based on genetic testing that revealed a potential reading
disability. The child at this age showed no signs of a reading disability and
did not meet the criteria for eligibility for the preschool program.
Respondents again selected a principle to decide if the child should get
preschool services.
The instrument was designed to allow survey participants to respond
to each vignette with one of four choices of principles for making a decision
about the situation. The four choices were the principles of justice,
autonomy, nonmaleficence, and beneficence. Based on Kolhbergs moral

development theory (Kohlberg, 1981), the responses were coded from 1 to
4 beginning with the lowest level of moral development: (1) justice, (2)
autonomy, (3) nonmaleficence, and (4) beneficence. The levels were
determined by the principal researcher who aligned these principles within
the stages one to four of Kohlbergs model. Kohlbergs model actually has
six stages, but the fifth and sixth levels are at an even higher level of moral
development that has societal and spiritual considerations that go beyond
the basics necessary for this study. This study focused on four basic
principles of decision making identified by numerous ethicists.
Following the four vignettes, the next question in the survey was to
indicate what generic principle was believed to be used by the respondent
to make decisions in most situations. Respondents were also asked to
provide some basic personal information including age, gender, education,
ethnicity, and the region of the United States in which they resided. Region
was identified rather than state due to the ability to identify respondents
with only one subgroup representative selected from each state.
Confidentiality was assured to all participants.
The responses of the individual participants were kept confidential
by assigning a number to each questionnaire. The survey questionnaires
identified the different subgroups through a multiple choice response
format. The surveys were then number coded for analysis by subgroup.

During the study, the response sheets were under lock in the home of the
principal researcher. Once the study was completed, all response sheets
were destroyed by shredding.
Instrument Review
The moral dilemma vignettes selected for the survey were submitted
to a jury of experts for validation of the content. Feedback from these
experts was used to refine and further develop the instrument. The jury of
experts included three individuals from each of the following categories:
school district personnel specialists, special-education administrators, and
ethics professionals. The special-education administrators typically have
had extensive experience dealing with moral issues that arise relative to
students who have disabilities and the services for those students and
attested to the realism of the potential issues raised. In a like manner, the
personnel specialists examined how realistic the employee issues were as
the ethics experts assured the integrity of the ethical principles being
studied as well as the topic of each vignette. The ethics professionals
selected were teachers of ethics and moral decision making in higher
education and were able to attest to whether the principles represented
sound ethical positions.

The jury of experts were individuals actively employed in their area
of expertise who resided in Colorado, the location where the study
originated. Telephone contact was made with potential volunteer
reviewers, and then, based upon their agreement, a letter with the
questions to be answered (Appendix A) and the draft survey were mailed
to them. In addition to the questions for validating the survey instrument,
the experts were asked to provide documentation of their education,
experience, and professional role as it relates to their specific area of
expertise: special education, personnel services, or ethics. A pre-
addressed, stamped envelope was provided for the experts to use to return
their responses.
Three personnel directors who are working in school districts in
Colorado responded. Two had completed masters degrees and one had a
PhD. All had more than 10 years experience in school personnel work. No
suggestions were made for changing the vignettes and all three
respondents felt the vignettes were realistic dilemmas.
Only two of the three local special education directors responded,
but their comments were very consistent, and neither made
recommendations for changing the vignettes. Each individual had
education beyond a masters degree and had 25 years experience in the
field of special education and more than 15 years of that experience as a

special education director. The special education directors felt the
vignettes were highly plausible.
Three professors of ethics practicing in Colorado institutions of
higher education gave considerable feedback beyond what was requested.
All of them had doctorate degrees. In response to the specific questions as
to whether the vignettes posed potential real dilemmas for the future, the
three professors confirmed that they were possible. No new specific
recommendations were made. All three professors provided strong
encouragement for conducting the study. As a result of the positive and
supportive feedback from the jury of experts, the vignettes for the survey
instrument were finalized with no changes for the pilot study.
Study and Instrument Pilot Test
A pilot test of the instrument and procedures was conducted by
random selection of four of the 50 states. If the four state directors
responded to the questionnaire and referred the representatives of the
seven other subgroups from their state, the result would have been a total
of 32 responses. The purpose of the pilot was: (a) to assure that there was
no confusion or ambiguity in the final questionnaire, (b) procedures were
clear, and (c) instructions were understandable. The response rate was
over 75% in all subgroups and individuals responded differently to the

questions, indicating a potential for finding significant differences in the
data to be collected from the various subgroups. All questionnaires
returned were completed accurately. The responses indicated that the
questions were clear and understandable and that procedures were
successful in obtaining more than a 70% return rate in all subgroups. No
changes were made to the questionnaire (Appendix B) or the survey
procedures. The results of the pilot study were saved for inclusion in the
final data analysis since the final study was conducted using the same
instrument and procedures.
The ELDM survey along with a pre-addressed, stamped return
envelope, a letter describing the study, and instructions for returning the
questionnaire were mailed to each state director of special education
(Appendix C). The state directors were also asked to complete a form that
listed names and addresses of people in the state representing the other
seven role areas. At the time of the mailing, a personal email was also sent
to each state director informing the director that the letter was coming and
asking for support and response. Once a form with the names from each of
the subgroups was returned, a cover letter (Appendix D) was sent to those
referred. The letter informed each subgroup that they were referred by the

state director and included a survey packet consisting of the ELDM survey
and a stamped, pre-addressed return envelope. Survey questionnaires
asked individuals to identify themselves within a subgroup of state director
of special education, state school board member, district school board
member, local district superintendent, local school district personnel
specialist, local school district special education directors, building principal,
or as a higher education professional so that the data could be sorted by
subgroups. Each participant was asked to return the data within two weeks
of the initial mailing.
As an incentive to return the questionnaire, a separate pre-
addressed postcard was included to be submitted for a drawing for one of
three Colorado gift baskets valued at $50.00 each. Because the postcard
included the respondent's name and address for the drawing, it was
addressed to a different residence than that of the questionnaire to
maintain the confidentiality of the respondent to the survey.
A chart was used to monitor the response rate. A second follow-up
was mailed to non-respondents approximately three weeks after the
original mailings. The timing of the study coincided with a national meeting
of state directors of special education in Washington D.C. and permitted
the principal researcher to personally contact non-responding state
directors approximately one month after the initial mailing requesting their

participation. The response was still low and six weeks later telephone
calls were made to all non-respondents in all 50 states.
Questions and Hypotheses
The questions for analysis were:
1. What principles did educational leaders use in making
decision about the four moral dilemma vignettes?
2. Were there any linear relationships between the stated
generic principle used in decision making and the responses to the four
moral dilemma vignettes for all respondents and subgroups of
3. Were there statistically significant differences between the
responses to the four moral dilemma vignettes when different grouping and
subgroupings of respondents were compared?
Ho: There would be no differences in the scores of responses from
the eight leadership positions to the four vignettes.
Ho: There would be no differences in the scores of males and
females in response to the four vignettes.
Ho: There would be no difference in the scores of state level leaders
and district level leaders in response to the four vignettes.

^o: There would be no difference in the scores of respondents who
have high school, BA, MA or equivalent degrees and those with a
PhD or equivalent degree in response to the four vignettes.
Ho: There would be no difference in the scores of policy developers
and policy implementers in response to the four vignettes.
4. What was the relationship between responses to employee
vignettes compared to responses to student vignettes?
Ho: There would be no differences in the scores of responses from
the eight leadership positions to the employee and student vignettes.
Ho: There would be no differences in the scores of males and
females in response to the employee and student vignettes.
Ho: There would be no difference in the scores of state level leaders
and district level leaders in response to the employee and student
Ho: There would be no difference in the scores of respondents who
had high school, BA, MA or equivalent degrees and those with a
PhD or equivalent degree in response to the employee and student
Ho: There would be no difference in the scores of policy developers
and policy implementers in response to the employee and student

The returned surveys were all number coded and prepared for data
entry. The choice of response to the vignettes was coded 1 through 4 with
level one being the earliest emerging or lowest developmental principle and
level four being the latest or highest developmental principle as follows: (a)
Level 1 = Justice, (b) Level 2 = Autonomy, (c) Level 3 = Nonmaleficence,
and (d) Level 4 = Beneficence. All of the analyses were done using the
Statistical Package of Social Sciences Program (SPSS).
Data Analysis
The frequency of response of the self-reported generic principle for
making decisions was determined for all educational leaders. This statistic
was also used to analyze what principles educational leaders used when
responding to each of the four vignettes. Observed comparisons were
made between what generic principles the educational leaders believed
they used to make decisions and the frequency of response for the
principles they actually used when responding to the vignettes.
Nonparametric methods (Wynne, 1982) were used to answer the
questions of the study because the data were the result of ordinal scaling
and the variables were not based on a normal distribution. Spearmans
rank-order correlation was used to analyze the relationships between the
generic principles leaders believed they used and their actual responses to

the four vignettes. The Kruskal-Wallis test was used because this test can
compare three or more variables to determine if there were statistical
differences between the responses to the four vignettes of all of the
educational leaders by their positions. In this study, eight educational
leadership roles were surveyed. The Mann-Whitney test was used to
compare the scores of variables within two subgroups by gender, state and
district leadership, educational level, and policy developers and policy
The Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests can be used when a t
test is inappropriate because it is based on a comparison of means of two
or more groups. Averages of the levels of the responses for principles
used were not meaningful in this study and therefore, non-parametric tests
were employed. Basically, the Mann-Whitney and Kruskal-Wallis tests
compared medians or the most frequently used responses between or
among groups. The Mann-Whitney test calculated a Z score through a
formula which determined the differences in the median responses for the
two groups. The statistic was then analyzed for significance at the p< .05
level. The Kruskal-Wallis test calculated an H score through a formula in a
similar way, but this can be used to compare three or more independent

The intent of the study was to determine what principles educational
leaders used to make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas. Data
were gathered to analyze statistical differences among the subgroups of
educational leaders and to determine if there were statistical differences in
the responses to student versus employee dilemmas. Moreover, the study
proposed to identify what correlation existed between educational leaders
beliefs about their use of generic ethical principles to make decisions and
the principles they actually used in response to hypothetical moral
dilemmas based on the availability of genetic technology.

The study on the Principles Educational Leaders Use to Make
Decisions When Faced with Moral Dilemmas Related to the Use of Genetic
Technology included a national survey of educational leaders. The results
of the data gathered from the 113 Educational Leaders Decision Making
surveys (EDLM) returned are presented in this chapter. Survey response
rates are presented first followed by demographic information on the
respondents. Data then are presented with an analysis related to the
questions for the study including the generic ethical response principles
educational leaders reported they used in decision making, and those
actually applied in responding to the four moral dilemmas. An analysis of
differences in responses by leadership position, by gender, by state versus
district leaders, by educational achievement level and by policy developers
versus policy implementers is provided. The relationship between
responses to student vignettes and employees is also reported. A
summary of significant findings concludes the chapter.

Survey Returns
The EDLM survey utilized a snowball method of sampling also
known as chain referral or referential sampling. This method relied on state
directors of special education to identify potential respondents from each of
the other subgroups for the study. The pilot study results indicated that no
changes were needed in the survey instrument or the procedures. Since
the follow-up study was conducted in the same way as the pilot, the pilot
results were saved to include in the analysis of this study. Because the
pilot responses were included in the final analysis, it was possible to expect
50 responses from each of the eight subgroups or a total of 400 responses
to the surveys. Since only 31 of the 50 state directors responded and they
only provided 123 individual contacts from all of the subgroups, the
expected return decreased to 154.
Sixty-two percent (n=31) of the state directors of special education
responded with lists of representatives for the subgroups but only nine
returned a complete roster of names from their state representing all seven
of the subgroups. Ten state directors completed the survey but did not
provide any referrals for any of the subgroups. Out of a possible 154
completed surveys expected only 113 were submitted for the final analysis.
Table 4.1 illustrates how the 173 initial surveys were distributed and
the representation by group of the n=113 (65%) of those returned. Those

Table 4.1: Survey Responses by Subgroup
Educational Position Surveys Sent Surveys Returned % Returned
State board member 16 11 69
State director 50 31 62
Local board member 16 7 44
Local superintendent 20 16 80
Personnel director 12 8 67
Local special ed. director 21 15 71
Principal 19 ' 9 47
Higher ed. representative 19 13 68
Not reported _3
Total 173 113 65
subgroups with better than a 60% return rate were state board members,
state special education directors, local superintendents, personnel
directors, local special education directors, and higher education
representatives. Returns of 50% or less came from members of local
boards of education and school principals. Though the sample was small,
it was viable. The small sample was acceptable due to the exploratory
nature of the study and its attempt at this time to probe to determine any
significance of statistical differences in responses among educational
leaders when responding to moral dilemmas. Exploration allows for an
approximation of what the results of a larger study might find. Also, a
smaller sample is acceptable when homogeneity is present within the

respondents (Krathwohl, 1993). All of the members within each of the
subgroups in this study had similar responsibilities in their professional
Table 4.2 illustrates the percentage of responses received and
demographics by subgroup. Twenty-seven percent of the overall
responses were from state directors of special education. The next highest
percentages of responses came from the local superintendents and local
special education directors, at 14% and13% (n=16 and15) respectively.
Table 4.2: Percent or Responses and Demographics by Subgroups
Educational Position n % of Total Responses M F Ethnicity W M
State board member 11 10 5 6 11 0
State director 31 27 10 21 28 2
Local board member 7 6 3 4 7 0
Local superintendent 16 14 13 3 16 0
Personnel director 8 7 3 5 7 1
Local special ed. director 15 13 8 7 15 0
Principal 9 8 4 5 8 0
Higher ed. representative 13 12 5 8 11 1
Not reported _3 _3 J. 2 2
Total 113 100 52 61 105 8
Note: W indicates white population and M combines all minority respondents.

Higher education represented 12% (n=13) of the population and the state
board members provided 10% (n=11). The lowest returns were from
school principals, personnel directors, and local board members with 8%
(n= 9), 7 %(n=8), 6% (n=7) responses respectively.
The number of responses by gender was fairly closely divided.
Females outnumbered the males by nine. Males represented 46% (n=52)
and females represented 54% (n=61) of the total responses. Table 4.2
also shows that 93% (n=105) of the respondents were white. Less than 8%
(n=8) responding were representative of black/African American, Hispanic,
or Asian populations.
Respondents to the survey were highly educated as depicted in
Table 4.3. Almost 90% (n=101) of the respondents had a post-graduate
degree. Completion of high school was the highest level of education for
one respondent. Seven percent (n=8) of the respondents were four-year
college graduates and three individuals did not respond to the question
about level of education. Respondents were asked to identify with one of
seven regions in the United States. Survey returns were representative of
all states across the nation.

Table 4.3:
Educational Position and Education Level
Educational Position Total HS BA MA PhD
State board member 11. 0 4 4 3
State director 31 0 0 18 13
Local board member 7 1 4 1 1
Local superintendent 16 0 0 6 10
Personnel director 8 0 0 7 1
Local special education director 15 0 0 7 8
Principal 9 0 0 8 1
Higher education representative 13 0 0 1 12
Not reported _3 - -
Total 112 1 8 52 49
Questions and Hypotheses for Analysis
The exploratory study examined what principles educational leaders
used to make decisions when faced with moral dilemmas. It also assessed
whether educational leaders actually applied the same principles to the
moral dilemmas as they stated they used in making decisions. The study
analyzed differences in responses from various subgroups of the
respondents. Responses to employee versus student situations were
studied. The following questions were posed:
1. What principles did educational leaders use in making decision
about the four moral dilemma vignettes?