District-level success: a case study to determine how a recognized Texas school district made progress in closing achievement gaps with all students

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O'Doherty, Ann Patricia, 1959-

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Bound by compulsory attendance laws, over 48 million children attend public schools in the United States each year. Unfortunately, for a growing percentage of these students, compulsory attendance has not resulted in equitable achievement. In spite of educational reforms aimed at the school, district, state, and most recently, federal level, academic achievement gaps continue to exist between students of color and students of poverty as compared to white and/or more economically advantaged peers. Previously identified Educational Frameworks including the Effective Schools Correlates, Malcolm Baldrige Quality Improvement Educational Criteria, Stupski Foundation Components, and Professional Learning Communities Characteristics have described the elements present in successful schools and districts; however research into the process of how districts have made progress toward closing achievement gaps is less prevalent. This grounded theory study examined the processes employed by a single Texas school district serving over 26,000 students in an economically and ethnically diverse community which had made progress in closing achievement gaps with all students. Data gathered through semi-structured interviews, direct observations, and document reviews informed the findings. The research utilized Strauss and Corbin's three stages of coding: open coding, axial coding, and selective coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) for data analysis. Findings regarding the processes employed revealed that the district: created systems to select, develop and, evaluate leadership personnel; nurtured a district culture of shared accountability for results; crafted systems of accountability; built district structures to support learning and achievement; endorsed district-level decision-making; engineered a research-based and inquirydriven decision-making culture; intentionally managed change; deployed systems district-wide to impact change at the campus and classroom level, and embraced a commitment to professional learning.