Beyond the School Walls: Understanding Schools’ Work with External Stakeholders

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Education policy and funding increasingly foster the creation of school partnerships with external stakeholders, such as parents, neighborhood organizations, school district offices, and universities, as a strategy in improving student outcomes. In three independent but related studies, this dissertation sheds light on the specificities rarely addressed by the rhetoric championing “school partnerships,” in order that we might better understand what enables and constrains how schools and external stakeholders relate to one another. While researchers and policy makers tend to put forth “one-size-fits-all” community partnership recommendations, Study One of the dissertation uses data from 52 qualitative interviews to systematically examine how school employees (i.e., teachers, administrators, and counselors) working in different types of urban schools and neighborhoods conceptualize, interact with, and partner with the organizations in their environment. The findings demonstrate that neighborhood organizations are important partners to school employees; they provide accessible resources to students and their families, broker relationships between the school and the community, and create unique opportunities for the co-creation of resources by school employees and community members. The second study situates community stakeholders in the broader array of external stakeholders with whom schools interact. By drawing on longitudinal qualitative interview data, Study Two examines the process by which 18 novice school principals come to conceptualize different external stakeholder claims and their role as principals vis-à-vis external stakeholders. Data analysis shows that novice principals spend a significant amount of time attempting to make sense of external stakeholder claims that they perceive to conflict with the their understanding of the goals and values of the school. Furthermore, novice principals that discuss the same or similar conflicting claims at multiple interviews change how they delimit the scope of their role in relation to external stakeholders rather than attempting to be “all things to all people.” More precisely, across their first year on the job, a majority of principals re-define their role in managing external stakeholders by: coming to terms with taking an unpopular position, setting priorities, and modifying their expectations about the job. Moving from the micro-level focus of Studies One and Two, Study Three uses quantitative data to explore how macro-level changes in education policy impact school-level practices. I explore how the pressures exerted by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) influence school efforts to involve parents. Drawing on national data and using a repeated difference-in-differences identification strategy, the analysis isolates the effect of accountability pressure on measures of school efforts to involve parents. The study’s findings demonstrate that accountability pressure is ineffective in changing schools’ efforts to involve parents despite both NCLB provisions that require schools to promote parental involvement and the threat of future decreases in student enrollment via school choice under NCLB.

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  • 01/29/2019
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