Emerging democracy in an urban elementary school: a Habermasian framework for examining school governance reculturing in response to systemic reform
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The purpose of this study was to examine the micropolitical dynamics manifested in the re-culturing of campus governance in response to systemic reform imperatives? The study examined: 1) the recent intensification of standards and stakes associated with the Texas performance accountability system, 2) managerial responses to these pressures by the central administration of a large urban school district, and 3) the renegotiation of work and leadership in response performance pressures and the district policies by the faculty at a highpoverty, majority Hispanic elementary school. The study combined document analysis and various ethnographic methods to understand the interplay between reform pressures, district policies, and campus micropolitics. The analysis of the state performance accountability system used state reports, press releases, and print media related to the development and intensification of the system. The district level analysis combined press releases, print media, public comments by administrators and participant observation to study the administrative response to accountability pressures. The campus-level analysis employed formal and informal interviews of teachers with observations of faculty and committee planning meetings to understand decision-making dynamics and planning processes as carried out by the faculty of one campus. The major findings of the study are three-fold. First, the state-level analysis suggests that the Texas performance monitoring system, a response to a state legitimacy crisis, appears to be informed by a narrow technical logic and therefore seems likely to intensify an existing administrative emphasis on efficiency at the expense of other valued outcomes, most notably equity. Second, responses to accountability pressures in the district studied reflect an intensification of a traditional management discourse evidenced in a series of reforms that dramatically extend administrative control over staffing decisions, campus planning, curriculum development, and instructional delivery. Third, the current district policies contrast with recent reforms at the campus studied that engaged teachers and administrators in more deliberative governance activities focused on collective and strategic planning. Conflict between the communicative rationality of the campus-level reforms and the technical rationality informing the district’s management discourse are resulting in ongoing renegotiation of work and leadership norms at the campus.