23 SES 06 B, School Administrative Structures
A global policy trend in education is to improve teaching and learning by assigning municipalities responsibilities for educational change and improvement of student learning outcomes (Farrell & Coburn, 2017). This trend reflects wide spread developments of more decentralized education systems often paralelled with strengthened accountability scripts directed at municipal administrators and school leaders concering strengthening of student learning outcomes. Studies have repeatedly shown that such policy expectations of tightly aligned municipal and school relationships often underestimate the day to day complexity of education administration and school leadership. Municipal administrators and school leaders both have important, but highly complex roles in school development (Datnow, Park & Kennedy-Lewis, 2012; Parke, 2012). It has been shown that decentralized education systems open for varied governing styles at the municipal level, which may affect approaches in school development (Author, 2018). Several studies have investigated the varied roles that school leaders play in policy implementation and school development (Coburn, 2005; Coburn & Talbert, 2006; Elmore & McLaughlin, 1988). However, researchers have often overlooked the importance of the municipal/district level (Leithwood, 2010; Rorrer, Skrla, & Scheurich, 2008) in spite of how research have displayed how municipal/district levels are institutional actors in systemic education reform proven to serve important roles, as: “(a) providing instructional leadership, (b) reorienting the organization, (c) establishing policy coherence, and (d) maintaining an equity focus”(Rorrer et al., 2008, p. 335). Research addressing the role of the districts and district support suggest that assigning responsibility for educational change to district leaders is likely to have a positive impact on schools´ learning outcomes (Farrell & Coburn, 2017), but also suggest that school leaders experience lack of relevant support for school development and innovation work (Banting & Kymlicka, 2012, Anderson 2003). Closer scrutiny is needed to identify the defining factors in school leader-municipality relationships. Thus, this study aims to shed light on how school leaders experience their relationships with municipalities within the Norwegian setting as an example. Further, to study the thematic as highlighted in overall education policy of decentralisation we zoom in on school leader experinences related to issues of school development guided by the following questions: 1.How do school leaders experience their relationships with their municipalities in school development work? 2.How does the experiences reflect municipal ambitions for school development?
To analyze experiences of relationships across and between educational levels, the theoretical lense employed involves the concepts of macro and micro levels (Daly, Finnigan, Jordan, Moolenaar & Che, 2012; Honig, 2006). From this perspective, education is understood as inherently political and an arena for large-scale macro-political forces to put pressure on districts to act on societal demands. It also follows that there are macro-pressures on individual actors, ‘who (at the micro level) through their own lens of values, beliefs, and experiences prioritize action, make judgments, and leverage resources (material, skills, and social) to produce outcomes’ (Daly et al., 2012, p. 148). In this study we use the macro and micro concepts presented by Daly et al. (2012) as analytical lense in the study of municipal-school leader relationships in Norway. The macro level consists of municipalities’ formal organisation and policy messages communicated by local policy documents. The micro level consists of the values, beliefs, judgments and resources expressed by the school leaders involved.
The paper draws on a multi-method study design that combines document analysis of local policy documents (Bowen, 2009) and ethnographic data (Erickson, 1986; Nespor, 2013). The ethnographic data were derived from in-depth interviews with four school leaders (audio recorded and transcribed verbatim), dialogues with school leaders and field notes from participant observations in everyday school settings and school meetings collected over a year and a half. Municipalities and schools were selected based on differences in geographical location (rural, rural/urban and urban) and variations in student populations and similarities in school size and student performance, thus purposeful sampling with maximum variation were employed (Palinkas et al., 2015). .
This study offers deeper insights into school leaders’ varied experiences with municipalities from everyday-school-life perspective. The analysis points to three types of school leader– municipality relationships: 1. Reporting of status and progress 2. Support in school development work 3. Scepticism towards school-initiated innovations. The preliminary findings indicate that the municipal level only to a limited extent are experienced by the school leaders to represent a significant macro force concerning school development work. Rather the municipal level seems to be experienced as a side player with either too little time, being out dated or sceptic to innovative developmental work, this stand in contrast to the traditional autonomy, authority and self regulatory powers of Norwegian municipals. This calls for further investigation into several issues, for example potential divergent conceptions of school development work in municipalities and schools, competing macro messages between national and municipal authority levels, the existence of arenas for relationship development available for school leaders and municipalities in school development work.
Bowen, G. A. (2009). Document analysis as a qualitative research method. Qualitative Research Journal, 9(2), 27–40. Daly, A. J., Finnigan, K. S., Jordan, S., Moolenaar, N. M., & Che, J. (2014). Misalignment and perverse incentives: examining the politics of district leaders as brokers in the use of research evidence. Educational Policy, 28(2), 145–174. Datnow, A., Park, V., & Kennedy-Lewis, B. (2012). High school teachers’ use of data to inform instruction. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 17(4), 247–265. Ericksson, F. (1986). Qualitative methods in research on teaching. In M. C. Wittrock & American Educational Research Association, (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching: a project of the American Educational Research Association (pp. 119–161). Collier Macmillan. Farrell, C. C., & Coburn, C. E. (2017). Absorptive capacity: a conceptual framework for understanding district central office learning. Journal of Educational Change, 18(2), 135–159. Honig, M. (2006). Complexity and policy implementation. New Directions in Education Policy Implementation: Confronting Complexity, 1–25. Nespor, J. (2013). Fieldwork as an intersection. In J. Nespor (Eds.), Tangled up in school: politics, space, bodies, and signs in the educational process (pp. 203–239). Routledge. Palinkas, L. A., Horwitz, S. M., Green, C. A., Wisdom, J. P., Duan, N., & Hoagwood, K. (2015). Purposeful sampling for qualitative data collection and analysis in mixed method implementation research. Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42(5), 533–544. Parke, C. (2012). Making use of district and school data. Practical Assessment, Research and Evaluation, 17(10), 1–15.
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