26 SES 04 A, Underpreforming Schools and School Evaluation
School systems that underperform
– Structure, culture and leadership
Why do schools perform beneath expectations? School results are most often studied on the school level. Good or bad school performance is cast about for an explanation among principals, teachers and the students themselves. Of course these are probable factors for understanding differences in school results but in the international literature the perspective are often broadened to a district level when looking for reasons to underperformance. School systems are seen as the necessary focus when looking for improvement strategies. One obvious example is the studies on district development in Alberta Canada, presented by Ken Leithwood (Leithwood, 2010):
This paper is part the College of Alberta School Superintendents’ (CASS) ongoing efforts to help district leaders in the province raise overall levels of student achievement in their systems and reduce gaps in the achievement of more and less advantaged and culturally diverse groups of students ( s. 2)
The notion behind this approach is based on the identification of low performance in a whole district that can (and has to) be approached simultaneous and jointly but at the same time varying for the different schools. Leithwood (ibid) notices that there are two different strands in the study of school underperformance: studies of school and district turn aroundprocesses and studies of achievement gap closing (Murphy 2008, 2010). Going along with Leithwoods arguments I will see those as compatible approaches. According to the author the research on underperforming schools and school districts can be summarized in eight factors that explain the low achievement levels in these types of schools (Murphy 2010 ,Duke 2010, Leithwood 2009). The first five are: qualification of school staff, student intake, family conditions, the curriculum, the way teachers instruct. The three in the main focus of this proposal are:
- School Culture is more focused on teachers than students’ needs and entails norms that teachers works for themselves with a low level of interaction
- School structure is characterized by large districts, schools and class sizes. Normally these schools don’t plan and arrange for teacher teams and collaboration which also is obvious in their scheduling.
- Leadership is characterized by laissez- faire or a more administrative/managerial orientation. On district level there’s a lack of focus on student achievement.
In earlier projects I have studied the relation between structure and culture in schools and the principals’ capacity to lead to an alignment of those to organizational dimensions. If a structure is developed to enhance the possibility for students in need of special support to reach pass in all subjects, the conception of and expectations on students from the teachers must correspond to the structures in place for students to be successful in their efforts.
The aim of the study is to analyze relations between structure, culture and leadership in Swedish school districts and to find out if underperformance of the students is related to lack of alignment of structure and culture caused by the leadership on school and district level.
Duke, D. (2010). Differentiating school leadership: Facing the challenges of practice. Thousand Oaks: CA: Corwin Press. Goldstein, H. (2011). Multilevel Statistical Models. 4th ed. London: Wiley Murphy, J. (2010). Understanding and Closing Achievement Gaps. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Höög, J, m.fl. (2002) Structure, Culture, Leadership – Prerequisites for successful schools? I Widerstedt, B. Proceedings from the 1st International Conference Values in Education across Boundaries. National Centre for Values in Education. Umeå University. Höög, J., Johansson, O. & Olofsson, A. (2006) Successful principalship – The Swedish Case. I Day, C., Leithwood, K. (Ed.) Successful School Leadership: An International Perspective. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer Publishers. Höög, J., & Johansson, O. (2011) Struktur, kultur, ledarskap – förutsättningar för framgångsrika skolor? Studentlitteratur. Leithwood, K. (2010). What successful principals know and do about closing the achievement gap. Toronto: ON: Report prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Education Leithwood, K. (2008). Characteristics of high performing school districts: A review of empirical evidence. Paper commissioned for the College of Alberta School Superintendents. Leithwood, K., & Beatty, B. (2008). Leading with teacher emotions in mind. Thousand Oaks: CA: Corwin. Leithwood, K., Jantzi, D. (2008). Linking leadership to student learning: The contributions of leader efficacy, Educational Administration Quarterly, XLIV, 4, 496-528. Leithwood, K., (2009). Closing the achievement gap: What successful school leaders know and do. Report prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Edcution. Leithwood, K., Harris, A., Strauss, T. (2010). Leading school turnarounds. San Francisco: Jossey Bass. Morrison, Donald F. (1990) Multivariate Statistical Methods. New York: McGraw-Hill. Murphy, J. & Meyers, C. V. (2008). Turning around failing schools: Leadership lessons from the organizational sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Orton JD, Weick K (1990). Loosely Coupled Systems: A Reconceptualization, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 15:2, pp203-223, Weick K (1976) "Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems." Administrative Science Quarterly 21:1-19.
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