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How Relationships between the District Office and the High School Sites Influence the Implementation of Algebra for All

  • Author(s): Kurtz, Patricia K.
  • Advisor(s): Coburn, Cynthia E
  • et al.

Federal initiatives have put great pressure on districts to show student success. Prior research on education reform focused on the school as the unit of change to improve student achievement and implement systemic reform. However, because districts have the responsibility to improve the instructional quality and performance of all their schools, researchers have begun to focus on responsibilities of the district in supporting and implementing systemic reform. Scholars are beginning to investigate how the connections between central offices and schools influence systemic reform. Social networks are a way to investigate the connections between central offices and schools, and how they matter for implementation of educational reform. I conducted a case study of how relationships between the central office and the schools influenced reform efforts in high school mathematics education. My cross case study is of four school sites in a district that was implementing Algebra for All, a reform where all students are placed in an algebra class or higher when they enter high school. I used social capital theory and the four dimensions of ties, trust, access to expertise and the content of interactions to guide my study of how district policy and support influences social interactions and fosters the development of social capital to implement mathematics reform at a school site.

I found that school sites adopted Algebra for All in spite of reservations because they trusted the district. Teachers and schools drew on the assets of social capital and their networks for resources and expertise to assist in implementing the reform. Principals played a key role and acted as boundary spanners to broker resources for their schools. Organizations outside of the district were also sources of support. However, sources of support and expertise from the district and outside resources were not always leveraged due to a lack of ties internally in the school. The teachers did not have congruent and deep discussions about the reform effort but this did not impede implementation. Informal social networks supported implementation and allowed teachers to share resources. The nature of teacher networks including proximity, educational values, longevity of ties and expertise supported the reform Algebra for All. These conclusions have practical implications for educators seeking to understand how districts and schools can work together to implement reform efforts successfully.

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