Three Questions: Professor Fenwick English

"Three Questions" is a series that explores the work of members of the School of Education's faculty and its students.

Fenwick “Fen” English, the R. Wendell Eaves Sr. Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership at the School of Education, is the editor of the newly published “SAGE Guide to Educational Leadership and Management.”

The 584-page book consists of 30 chapters covering a broad range of topics in school leadership and management. It is the third in a series of books by SAGE that explores topics in educational management. English served as General Editor of the entire series.


  • Teaches at the graduate level in educational leadership. He has served in administrative capacities in K-12 education as principal, coordinator, assistant superintendent and superintendent of schools. In higher education he has been a chair, dean and vice-chancellor of academic affairs, as well as having been a partner in the international accounting and consulting firm KPMG Peat Marwick for three years in Washington, D.C.
  • Widely published, having written or edited more than 36 books and more than 100 articles in practitioner and academic journals.
  • Recognized as a leader in his field, having been elected to the presidency of the University Council of Educational Administration in 2006-07 and president of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration in 2011-2012. Regularly presents at North American and international conferences.

1. You have served as editor of three substantial volumes published by SAGE, covering the landscape of educational leadership by seeking contributions from scholars and school administrators from around the country, all of whom explore on-the-ground management and leadership topics in the running of American schools. Given this intimate yet broad exposure to people at work in education, how would you assess the state of American school leadership and management today? Are we in trouble? Or, are we in good hands?

My view is that we are in about the same shape we have been in the past and that’s pretty good given the budget cuts and pervasive political negativism which has been directed at school administrators and public school teachers by both political parties in the past decade.

My worry is that efforts to evade and bypass professional preparation at colleges and universities will bring into the profession individuals who have no deep commitments to public service and the interests of the larger social fabric for civic advancement than improvements in standardized test scores. If this movement expands I believe we will have abandoned a vision for the common school and for the country that will be profoundly negative and long lasting.

I am encouraged by the idealism and commitment of our UNC students to matters of social justice.

2. In one chapter you co-authored – “The Emerging Wisdom of Educational Leadership” – you’re critical of what you call “kitsch management texts,” that offer advice on management techniques but that you say are “highly sentimental, cheap, superficial treatments of complex situations.” You go on to say: “They are a kind of managerial pulp fiction. Some are outright frauds.” You advise that school manager-leaders need to question the background and context from which management advice is derived. How can people who are out in the field working

There are lots of snake oil salespeople out there advising school leaders on all matters. The advice I’d give them is to (a) ask who is really going to benefit from that advice and if it’s the salesperson that ought to be the first clue about becoming skeptical and (b) is that which is being proffered in any way research-based, that is, where’s the evidence it works and who is offering that evidence? Some of the shoddy “research” being touted by right wing think tanks borders on fraud.

Remember the Latin phrase “caveat emptor” (buyer beware).

3. What were some surprising things you learned from putting together this book?

After reading all 30 chapters more than once and summarizing them in the introduction, it is clear that the nation is undergoing a huge internal transformation. The changing nature of our student population has yet to be felt. We are just on the cusp of understanding how complex and profound that will be.

The impact of technology on all facets of education, including how it is managed and how we communicate internally and externally, are just barely being comprehended.

The last thing was the increasing need for school leaders to be professionally prepared in an institution which is not ideologically biased. For me that remains the university.

More about the book

Other members of the School of Education community contributed to the “SAGE Guide to Educational Leadership and Management,” including faculty members Catherine Marshall, Eric Houck and Kathleen Brown. Former School of Education doctoral students also wrote with faculty: Matt Proto, Brad Walston, Dionne McLaughlin, Darlene Ruyan, Jeff Uhlenberg and Tawannah Allen.

More information about the book is here.