A case study of the institutional elements of a university sponsored charter school: urban school reform in an age of accountability
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The purpose of this study is to document and analyze patterns of institutional constraints and supports that emerge when an urban elementary school, sponsored by a local university, is conceived and created in a high-stakes accountability environment. The study considers the regulative, normative, and cultural-cognitive pressures placed upon the school in its early years. In its mission to provide a model of exemplary education to a minority population, it is influenced by institutions of governance, traditional schooling, the local community, the university, and others. The author documents the social and political context of the school's creation, in addition to the institutional pressures related to the school's regulatory environment, normative outlook, and cultural-cognitive beliefs and assumptions. This study uses New Institutional Theory as a framework for analyzing data from interviews, documents, and observations. The study is both a theoretical effort to demonstrate the value of New Institutional Theory in education research and a case study which attempts to answer the question: In what ways is the elementary school constrained or enabled by the institutional nature of its creation and on-going effort to be a demonstration site for best practices for elementary level education in an urban setting? This study provides a review of literature regarding New Institutional Theory and the many issues surrounding the current accountability movement. It also suggests avenues of research, including research for education policy development that may usefully address the needs of urban education today. The author aims to provide a case study that is rich enough in detail to provoke discussion of the challenges inherent in the creation of this new educational model, the university sponsored charter school in an urban environment. The author also wishes to draw a theoretical connection between the New Institutional Theory and the dynamics of teacher practice in today's political climate. The case study exemplifies the difficulty of policy implementation when the policy is not designed inclusively. Policymakers need to be sensitive to a diversity of viewpoints and sub-cultures actively operating in the environment in order to develop policy that will build local capacity for increased learning and school improvement.