Announcement of Ed.D. Dissertation Defense JOHN R. SEVERS, JR.: “EXAMINING SCHOOL IMPROVEMENT THROUGH THE LENSES OF CHANGE AND ORGANIZATIONAL LEARNING: A MULTI-SITE CASE STUDY”
Public schools have experienced an endless cycle of reform aiming to improve student achievement. Despite the time, funding, and resources that have been expended, most school reforms have not been successful at manifesting and sustaining meaningful change. New Jersey’s latest attempt at school reform involved Regional Achievement Centers (RACs) that implemented supports and monitored progress of failing schools through teams working with designated schools. The purpose of this study was to examine how change manifested in schools that had exited RAC intervention, and whether those changes were sustained based on the tenets of change and organizational learning theories. Two main research questions guided the study: (1) How are RAC/CSN interventions manifested and sustained following a school’s exit from status after demonstrating improvement and implementing required changes? and (2) To what extent has organizational learning played a role in manifesting and sustaining changes initiated through State intervention? This multi-site case study involved two New Jersey public middle schools that had been designated as Focus Schools. Data were collected through participant interviews, State and school-generated documents. Participants included teachers and the principal from each school. Analysis was approached deductively. Findings from this study indicated that the reform focused on first-order changes that ignored school context, the school’s own capacity for learning, and school culture. This has resulted in change that is successfully initiated but is superficial and unsustainable. Changes that have been sustained were the result of school and district accountability or modified to fit school or classroom context. The role of organizational learning was minimal due to the schools’ current culture of accountability and the State’s proclivity for quick fixes and results over efforts to make these schools learning organizations. These findings can contribute to knowledge of school reform initiatives taken by the state or by schools. The ability for a school to learn can determine its fate as an effective organization; understanding that change is a process, not an event. Future reforms efforts by schools or the State should focus on nurturing a learning culture that can assist schools in becoming adaptable learning organizations capable of self-renewal.
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