A study of special education administrators' use of seven bases of social power to influence conflicts with parents

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


In recent years special education administrators have frequently found themselves in conflict with parents of handicapped children regarding such issues as: (1) private school placement of handicapped children; (2) transportation of handicapped children; (3) the provision of related services for handicapped children; and (4) due process hearings requested regarding the evaluation and placement of handicapped children. The problem this study investigated is whether the power base used by the special education administrator to influence conflicts with parents is affected by the socioeconomic status of the parents, the race of the child and the parents, and/or the handicapping condition of the child.

In order to examine how special education administrators use social power to influence conflicts with parents seven bases of social power were studied. The original five power bases developed by French and Raven (1959)--expert, referent, legitimate, reward, and coerci ve--were used, plus two additional bases--information power developed by Raven and Kruglanski (1970) and connection power developed by Hersey, Blanchard and Natemeyer (1979). In addition three variables (the socio-economic status of the parents, the race of the parents and the child, and the handicapping condition of the child) were examined through the use of scenario questions. The scenario questions were developed by the researcher and were tested to establish their reliability and validity.

The study examined five primary research questions, secondary research questions, and a research hypothesis. While no definite pattern of responses emerged, it was found that (1) administrator's decision making appeared to be sensitive to the context in which it was made; (2) administrators relied on reward power to influence conflicts; and (3) administrators used information power to resolve conflicts with white, high SES parents.