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Institutional Heterogeneity in American Public Education: Theory, History, and Applications


Over the course of the last fifty years, public education in the United States has seen significant institutional change. Accountability systems have altered evaluative control moving the basis from structural conformity and process controls to output measures. Charter school laws have created a new organizational sector of publicly funded schools directly overseen by new organizational actors where instrumental decision making is decentralized and the degree of autonomy from district administrative structures, state regulations, and collective bargaining bodies are variable. The creation of new alternative routes of teacher recruitment and certification has deteriorated the stable arrangements between universities, unions, and districts that governed teacher training and employment. I argue that these changes have put strain on the ability of the dominant neoinstitutionalist perspective in organization theory as it's been applied to the sociology of education. The goals of this dissertation are threefold. First, I provide a foundation for an integration of neoinstitutionalist, resource dependence, and population ecology perspectives into a framework for the analysis of organizational behavior in the field of education. Second, I provide a broad institutional history of the key changes mentioned above. Finally, I explore two key research questions the stem from this theoretical and historical work.

Chapter 1 outlines the dissertation as a whole. Chapter 2 critiques neoinstitutionalist approaches and takes steps to outline a basic theoretical approach integrating insights from other key organizational perspectives. In chapter 3 I outline the essentials of the new landscape of schooling. In chapter 4 I offer an institutional history of the key changes in the system of public education showing how they've changed the environments faced by schools and districts. In chapter 5 I examine the inter-organizational processes shaping the adoption and growth of charter schools in California. In chapter 6, I move to the individual level to examine how the organizational diversification spurred by the growth of charter schools impacts the movement of students between schools in a large urban school district. I conclude by discussing heterogeneity in the landscape of American public schooling with regard to the expansion of the charter school sector, describe recent changes in federal accountability, and discuss the need for research with a new theoretical orientation in the sociology of education.

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