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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pathways to Graduation and Beyond: Practices from two high schools for low-income students

  • Author(s): Szatrowski, Alisa H.
  • Advisor(s): Sanchez-Jankowski, Martin
  • et al.

The income-attainment gap in education has widened over the last several decades leaving children born into poverty few avenues of economic mobility. Based on two years of ethnographic research, this study examines how a majority low-income high school graduates and sends to college more than ninety percent of its students. Practices from this school are compared to an average performing low-income high school matched on size and demographic characteristics.

Findings highlight the ways in which structures, leadership strategies, and institutional cultures impact student achievement. In the model school, a combination of participatory leadership, integrated bureaucratic practices and a collective culture translated into more effective decision making, problem solving and implementation of initiatives. These stood in contrast to the autocratic leadership and individualistic culture that translated into contentious dynamics between leadership and staff and more superficial implementation of programs.

Also delineated are the contrasting cultural outlooks I term “collectively guided success” and “limited resource pragmatism”. These cultures defined disparate visions of the features of a “successful school” and translated into a set of priorities, strategies and actions that drove teacher behavior. Practices at each school can be understood as rational extensions of these cultural lenses.

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