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Parents' construction of meaning in educational reform

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Parents' construction of meaning in educational reform standards-based education in Colorado
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Standards-based education in Colorado
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Silverman, Debra Laurie
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English
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xvii, 302 leaves : illustrations ; 29 cm

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Education -- Standards -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Competency-based education -- Colorado ( lcsh )
Competency-based education ( fast )
Education -- Standards ( fast )
Colorado ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 289-302).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Doctor of Philosophy, Educational Leadership and Innovation.
General Note:
School of Education and Human Development
Statement of Responsibility:
by Debra Laurie Silverman.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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ocm38277074
Classification:
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Full Text
PARENTS CONSTRUCTION OF MEANING
IN EDUCATIONAL REFORM:
STANDARDS-BASED EDUCATION IN COLORADO ^
by
Debra Laurie Silverman
B. A. University of Colorado at Boulder, 1982
M. A. University of Colorado at Denver, 1993
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirement for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Educational Leadership and Innovation
1997


1997 by Debra Laurie Silverman
All rights reserved.


This thesis for the Doctor of Philosophy
in Educational Leadership and Innovation
degree by
Debra Laurie Silverman
has been approved
Rodney Muth
W. Michael Martin
Monte Moses
. Sinisi


Silverman, Debra Laurie (PhD., Educational Leadership and Innovation)
Parents Construction of Meaning in Educational Reform: Standards-Based
Education in Colorado
Thesis directed by Professor Rodney Muth
ABSTRACT
Colorado's legislature made academic excellence a priority with its passage of
HB 93-1313Standards-Based Education in Colorado (1993). Yet, unless this
mandate is implemented differently from past educational reform legislation, it will fall
prey to the same failure as previous reform efforts. Standards-based educational
reform requires active understanding by parents and community members who must
support and agree with the underlying intent as the reform is implemented and
educational delivery, assessment, and reporting systems change. Gaining support and
reaching consensus about goals and expectations of education require a level of public
involvement greater than that practiced or expected today. Parents must be confident
in the schools as an educational institution and as a reflection of the values of the
community before they will support the wide-ranging systemic change dictated by this
reform.
Parents' confidence and support of schools and educational change result from
their ability to construct meaning about education and reform in ways that strengthen
personal meaning about the goals of education. In this study, construction of meaning
in educational reform is defined as the sum of opinions, values, beliefs, experiences,
and knowledge about educational issues which have significance for parents and guide
decisions to support or defeat intended educational changes.
This study was conducted in a single school district in Colorado, a known
leader in the implementation of standards-based education. The research examined
IV


experiences and information offered by schools and the district that affect constructed
meaning which leads to support (or lack of support). A random sample of district
parents was surveyed about opinions and beliefs about reform issues, experiences with
involvement, and views about the information they received from teachers, schools,
and the district. In interviews, district administrators clarified district philosophy and
its interpretation of the reform and they described acceptable practices of
communication and involvement.
District intent and actions were compared to parents understanding,
involvement, and support. Analysis of the survey data uncovered significant
demographic differences and obstacles to adequate parent involvement and
information. Importantly, positively constructed meaning leads to confidence, and
confidence leads to support.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed
v


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my parents for their endless support and faith in me, believing
always that I would achieve my goals. I also dedicate this work to my children,
Shanna and Jaimee, for their patience and understanding when I spent long hours at
the computer during my graduate studies and while I was writing this.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
My thanks to Rod and Marcia Muth who taught me more about excellent writing over
the past several months than many people learn in a lifetime.
I acknowledge and appreciate the award of my Doctoral Fellowship, received January
1996, through the University of Colorado at Denver and funded by the Colorado
Commission of Higher Education. This funding and support made possible a larger
scope of study.
I am indebted to the administrative staff in the district of study, whose names I cannot
mention due to confidentiality, but without whom I could not have completed this
research. Not only did district administrators and staff provide information vital to
carrying out the study but they purchased and provided the materials for mailing the
surveys.


TABLE OF CONTENTS
LIST OF FIGURES.................................................. xiv
LIST OF TABLES.....................................................xv
CHAPTER. .
1. INTRODUCTION.................................................. 1
Educational Policy Implementation............................. 3
A New Era of Governance: Engaging the Public.................. 4
Summary....................................................... 7
2. CONSTRUCTION OF MEANING...................................... 11
Frameworks for Problem Re-Identification..................... 12
Contextual FrameworkPolicy-Making.....................13
Theoretical FrameworkSociology of Experience:
Social Interactionism and Critical Theory............. 17
From Critical Theory to Critical Inquiry in the Policy Process ... 20
Research Problems.............................................23
Constructivist Thoughts on Constructing Meaning....... 24
Parents Construction of MeaningThe Process...........25
Construction of Meaning: Design and Research Questions .... 30
Summary...................................................... 37
3. EDUCATIONAL POLICY-MAKING FOR REFORM......................... 40
A Critical Look at the History of Educational Reform......... 40
Vlll


CHAPTER
3. The New Hope: Standards-Based Educational Reform................46
Standards Reform is Not Without Criticism.................47
Colorados Answer to Reforming Education................ 50
Background Research: Implementation of Standards
in a Colorado District..................................... 54
The Educators Role in Successfully Implementing Reform .... 57
Educational Policy-Making and Implementation......................60
Multiple Interests and Multiple Interpretations............ 61
Align the System: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Harmony..........62
A Novel Look at Governance and Accountability...................65
On Managing and Governing of Schools........................66
Accountabilitythe Plague of Grassroots Reform............. 71
Summary...........................................................77
4. CHALLENGES OF PUBLIC OPINION AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT 80
Public OpinionThe Great f/wpredictor.............................82
The Role of Public Relations and Public Engagement
in Public Support.................................................91
The Involvement (Engagement) Debate.........................95
The Importance of Effective Communication: Educators as
Key Informants............................................ 100
Communication Problems and the Language Barrier............102
IX


CHAPTER
4. Overcoming the Language Barrier.......................... 104
Proactive InvolvementEasier Said Than Done................... 105
Democratic Principles Behind Shaping Opinion and
Creating Involvement. 109
Summary..............................................................113
5. METHODOLOGY...........................................................116
Background of the Study and Impetus for Research.....................116
The District Context.................................................118
Research Design..................................................... 121
Administrator Interviews...................................... 123
Parent Sample and Survey...................................... 126
Human Research Approval, District Consent, and Confidentiality ... 133
Procedures and Time Schedule ........................................134
Survey Construction................................................. 135
Survey Item Origination....................................... 138
Integrating Survey Items Into the Process of
Construction of Meaning....................................... 146
Survey Format................................................. 148
Data Analysis....................................................... 149
Researcher as Observer and Analyst............................ 150
x


CHAPTER
5. Qualitative Analysis..................................... 151
Quantitative Analysis........................................152
Summary............................................................154
6. GENERAL FINDINGS.................................................... 155
Framework for Answering the Research Questions.................... 155
Question 1: What Have Parents Heard and What Do Parents Know
and Believe About Educational Reform?............................. 157
ParentsKnowledge About Educational Reform: Standards . . 158
Parents Knowledge About Educational Reform: Proficiencies in
Bright School District.......................................160
Parents General Beliefs About Education and
State-Mandated Standards.....................................161
Parents Beliefs About Bright School Districts
Standards-in-Practice: Proficiencies.........................168
Parent Opinion About Other Aspects of Education..............173
District Administrators Thoughts About Parents Knowledge
and Beliefs..................................................174
Community Support for the Schools and the District...........178
Question 2: How Do Parents Learn About Changes in Schools and
Public Education?..................................................179
Effective Communication of Changes...........................180
Effective Two-Way Communication..............................183
xi


CHAPTER
6. Question 3: What Types of Involvement are Preferred by Parents
and Administrators?..................................................184
Involved Parents..............................................186
Parents Beliefs About Involvement in Decisions...............188
Administrators Beliefs About Parent Involvement..............191
Responsibility for Educating................................. 193
The Relationship Between Parents School Experience and Confidence. 194
Summary.........................................................198
7. ADDITIONAL ANALYSES...................................................205
Disaggregation of the Data...........................................205
Analysis of Group Differences by Demographic Factors.................206
Gender: The Difference Between Male and Female Respondents . 207
Ethnicity: The Difference Between White Respondents and
Everyone Else.................................................211
Marital Status: Single Versus Dual Parent Households..........213
Work Status: The Effect of Working Full-Time, Part-Time, or
Not At All....................................................216
Experience Variables................................................ 221
Level: The Differences Between Elementary, Middle, and
High School Parents Experiences............................. 223
Length of Time in the District: The Standards Timetable.... 227
Xll


CHAPTER
7. Area: Experience Based on Northern, Eastern or Western
Residence............................................ 232
Summary.................................................... 235
8. FROM SCHOOL REFORM TO POLICY REFORM.........................240
Summary of the Study........................................241
Parents Beliefs About the Mandated Reform............242
Parents Assessment of Information and Communication..244
Parents Critiqued Their Involvement...................247
Another Challenge: Parents Differences in Experience.249
Practical Implications of This Research.....................252
Recommendations for Future District Implementation..........253
Expanding Parents New Role to the Policy Process...........259
APPENDIX A: INTERVIEWEE CONSENT FORMS AND PROTOCOL ... 265
APPENDIX B: PARENT PARTICIPANT LETTER, CONSENT FORM
AND SURVEY.......................................... 269
APPENDIX C: FREQUENCY AND SIGNIFICANCE OF SURVEY
RESPONSES............................................279
REFERENCES........................................................289
XIII


LIST OF FIGURES
2.1 Process of Construction of Meaning......................................26
2.2 The Research Questions.................................................31
2.3 The Process to Build Confidence and Support............................32
5.1 Item Attribution of Survey Items to the Process of Construction of Meaning 147
6.1 Research Questions Matched With Survey and Interview Items..............156
6.2 Relationship Between Parents School Experience and Confidence.........197
6.3 The Role of Experience and Involvement on Constructed Meaning..........199
xiv


LIST OF TABLES
5.1 Ethnicity Demographics ..................................................129
5.2 Number of Children in School............................................130
5.3 Zip Code Demographics...................................................131
5.4 Grade of Oldest Child...................................................132
6.1 Frequency of Responses for Opinion About Aspects of Education...........163
6.2 Frequency of Responses for Opinion About Student Assessment.............174
6.3 Frequency of Responses About Useful Sources of Information..............182
6.4 Content Analysis Frequencies of Responses to Why Parents Are Involved . .186
6.5 Parent Opinions About Their Experiences With Schools..................187
6.6 Frequency of Responses to Parental Say in Decisions...................191
6.7 ParentsExperience With School Item Analysis .........................195
7.1 Chi-Square Tests of Gender Differences In Knowledge of Standards
and Proficiencies........................................................208
7.2 Chi-Square Tests Of Gender Differences in Parent Opinion About
Assessments..............................................................208
7.3 ANOVA Tests of Gender Differences in Opinions About Information.......209
7.4 Chi-Square Tests of Gender Differences in Parents Involvement in
Education and Decisions..................................................210
7.5 ANVOA Tests of Gender Differences in Opinions About Involvement .... 210
7.6 Chi-Square Tests of Ethnicity Difference in Knowledge of Standards
and Proficiencies........................................................211
xv


TABLE
7.7 ANOVA Tests of Ethnicity Difference in Opinions About Reform/
Support for Reform.............................................................212
7.8 Chi-Square Tests of Ethnicity Difference in Parent Involvement in
Education and Decisions........................................................212
7.9 Chi-Square Tests of Marital Status Differences In Knowledge of Standards
and Proficiencies..............................................................213
7.10 Chi-Square Tests of Marital Status Differences In Parent Opinion About
Education and Reform................................................214
7.11 ANOVA Tests of Marital Status Differences In Opinion About Reform . .215
7.12 Chi-Square Tests of Marital Status Differences In Parent Involvement in
Education.............................................................215
7.13 ANOVA Tests of Marital Status Differences In Opinion About Information . 216
7.14 Chi-Square Tests of Work Status Differences In Parent Opinion About
Education and Reform................................................217
7.15 Chi-Square Tests of Work Status Differences In Parent Opinion About
Assessments.........................................................218
7.16 Chi-Square Tests of Work Status Differences In Parent Involvement in
Education.................................................................... 219
7.17 ANOVA Tests of Work Status Differences in Opinions About Involvement. 220
7.18 Chi-Square Tests of Level Differences In Parent Opinion About
Education and Reform..........................................................224
7.19 Chi-Square Tests of Level Differences In Parent Opinion About
Assessments...................................................................225
7.20 Chi-Square Tests of Level Differences in Parent Involvement in Education . . 226
xvi


TABLE
7.21 ANOVA Tests of Level Difference in Opinions About Involvement........226
7.22 Chi-Square Tests of Years in District Differences in Parents Knowledge
and Opinions About Education and Reform..................................228
7.23 Chi-Square Tests of Years in District Differences in Parents Opinions
About Assessments....................................................... 230
7.24 Chi-Square Tests of Area Differences in Parents Opinions About Education
and Reform...............................................................233
7.25 ANOVA Tests of Area Differences in Opinions About Involvement and
Support..................................................................234
7.26 Chi-Square Tests of Area Differences in Parent Involvement in Education
and Decisions............................................................234
XVII


CHAPTER 1
INTRODUCTION
Schools in this country have been given the charge of educating this generation
of students so graduates will be prepared for what lies ahead in the 21st centurya
future of technological changes and expectations we cannot predict, opening doors
which never existed a decade ago. To provide an intellectual advantage for all
students, Coloradans are in the midst of educational reform meant to change
educational expectations, practices, and governance.
In June 1993, Colorado passed a standards-based educational reform initiative
aimed at high standards for all of Colorado's youth. The bill for standards-based
education (HB 93-1313) is written in language describing "systemic reform" not
simply restructuring. To educational researchers, systemic reform involves thinking
about the whole system, which is greater than the sum of its parts, each element
adding value to the whole.
Systemic change encompasses three elements: establishment of ambitious
outcome expectations for all, coordination of policies to support these expectations,
and restructuring the governance system to reflect a change in the role of school
boards and to increase lay participation (Smith & ODay, 1993). While all three
elements are in the text of Colorados standards-based educational reform policy, the
1


third element has been given the least amount of attention while implementing the
reform. Public education about public education is especially critical, because public
schools are locally and popularly controlled and thus quite vulnerable to public
pressure. But the reformers who pressed standards-based reforms spent little time or
energy on efforts to build a broad constituency (Cohen, 1995, p.754).
Public opinion and lay involvement have been important in any social reform,
but are especially important in reform which calls for systemic change. Public
involvement in educational governance requires that educators and the public to
become partners in education (Fowler & Corley, 1996; Henry, 1996; Sarason, 1995).
Before the public can become involved proactively with education and school issues,
they have to support schools and believe in the democratic principles underlying
participation (Lewis, 1995; Sarason, 1990; Yankelovich, 1991). A change in
educational governance also means that administrators and teachers can no longer
isolate themselves from parents and community in the matter of education (Bradley,
1996c; Dykstra & Fege, 1997; Moehlman & van Zwoll, 1957).
The publics beliefs about reform and their interpretation of their role as
partners in the change process are an outcome of the meaning they construct (Bruner,
1996; Peterson & Knapp, 1993; Theobald & Mills, 1995) during their interaction with
educators and involvement in schools which may cause a change in previously held
perceptions, values, or attitudes (Yankelovich, 1991). When parents retain positively
2


constructed meaning based on accurate information and meaningful experiences, they
are equipped to actively demonstrate their beliefs through confidence and support.
Educational Policy Implementation
Current and past research on local and national policy implementation offer
many lessons in the problems inherent in implementing social policy. Chapter 4
overviews these difficulties and traces educational reform to the present. The political
nature of education (Cuban, 1990; Chubb & Moe, 1990; Sergiovanni, Burlingame,
Coombs, & Thurston, 1980), the controversies while implementing social policy in
general (Rivlin, 1971; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973), and the requirements of the
current mandate which include a change in governance (Bauman, 1996; Committee for
Economic Development (CED), 1994; Fullan 1991; Murphy & Beck, 1995), provide
an burdensome national mood which this latest educational reform must overcome.
Historically, educational reforms come and go with little more impact on the
educational system than to increase frustration of educators and community alike.
Researchers attribute failed attempts to reform education to lack of systemic strategies
(Clune,1993, Fuhrman & Massell, 1992), the politics of education (Fuhrman, 1993;
Lutz, 1976), the predictably cyclical nature of political and educational change (Cuban,
1990), or reforms based on myths and misinformation about the condition of education
(Berliner, 1993;Bracey, 1993, 1997; Tanner, 1993). However, reforms generally fail
because of problems in implementation processes (Nakamura & Smallwood, 1980).
3


The difficulty in implementing new reforms became apparent during interviews
conducted in a recent pilot study (Dorman, Pintus, & Silverman, 1996).
Implementation gaps were found in the communication and interpretation of the
ambiguous policy as it was passed down from legislators, to district administrators, to
schools, and to the community. In the process of implementing top-down educational
policy, administrators and teachers attempt to redefine their roles within the
expectations of the mandate (Fullan, 1993). When educators feel that they have no
voice in externally imposed reforms or when educators fear community response, they
fulfill the obligation to communicate with the community by giving lip-service to
public involvement (Mathews, 1996, West, 1985).
A New Era of Governance: Engaging the Public
The research highlighted in Chapter 5 describes trends in educational
governance, emphasizes democratic concepts, and illustrates uses of public opinion.
Each of these areas point to the need to build public confidence and redefine public
involvement for successful implementation of public educational policy leading to
development of school improvement strategies for the 21st century. The role of public
relations in education not only must reflect its original function, emphasizing two-way
activity and the relationship of an organization with its public (Bernays, 1961), but the
duty must be actively distributed among all educators to achieve meaningful public
involvement.
4


In the past decade, site-based councils have been implemented as one part of
the politically-initiated governance reform designed to shift the balance of authority
among schools, districts, and the state in an attempt to transform schools into
communities where the appropriate people participate constructively in major
decisions that affect them (David, 1996, p.4). However, a single, national model for
involvementimposed externallywould undermine the very purpose it sought to
fulfill (National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA), 1977, p. 93). Site-
based councils are a beginning step toward the creation of bridges for community
involvement; unfortunately, current mandated site-based councils have not fostered
successful widespread community engagement at the schools because educators resist
sharing decision-making power or because site-based councils are structured to limit
involvement to those who have the time and information (Murphy & Beck, 1995).
School-community involvement to meet the demands of reform and fulfill the
definition of a true public relations process (Bemays, 1961) requires a closer look at
the difficulties in sustaining crucial involvement because of the various incompatible
interpretations of community involvement. More than involving the public in
education, they must be engaged in schools and educational issues. Danzberger and
Friedman (1997) clarify the difference as an approach to community problem solving
that emphasizes citizen deliberation and involvement, public engagement is, at its
heart, an effort to create new and better opportunities for people to understand
5


complex social challenges and to consider and contribute solutions (p. 744-5).
Before educators can expect this type of involvement, educators and policy makers
must reconnect the public with its schools, and regain the support and commitment
that it once had (Mathews, 1996).
Constructivists (Bruner, 1996; Cooper, 1993; Dewey, 1963; Mishler, 1979)
write that people cannot understand complex issues or make sense of reality without
hands-on experience. Experience is necessary in order to construct meaning (Peterson
& Knapp, 1993) about the complexity of educational reform; experience is necessary
to interpret, contextualize, make sense of, weigh alternatives, think about problems,
make decisions, and take action. However, experience with reform issues and school
goals does not necessarily require active participation in the school or on committees
or as a volunteer. Rather, experience by way of useful and educative sources of
information, as well as perceived opportunities to contribute to solutions, can lead to
confidence in schools, support of school goals and reform issues, and the ability to find
personal meaning in the goals of education in general.
Confidence is a form of involvement (Wayson et al., 1988); it implies a
willingness to become involved which requires an understanding of school issues and a
trust in educators to provide quality education. Parents are supportive of schools
when they believe that schools are meeting their childs needs and are included in
changes that schools make toward educational excellence (Wadsworth, 1997a).
6


Parents who are ready to actively engage in the educational conversation are
connected to the purpose of education and have redefined their role as partners in
reform (Mathews, 1996)they possess adequate information and sense positive and
meaningful opportunities for involvement.
The call for citizen involvement directly impacts administrators and teachers
because it requires educators to take the leadership role in the process of involvement
(NSPRA, 1977). While NSPRA leaders advocated that stance two decades ago, the
role of educators in reform acceptance is even more vital today as the public is being
asked to accept and support standards-based educational reform.
Summary
The task of reconnecting the public with its schools requires the creation of
school and community partnerships where the goals of the school are derived from the
goals of the community. Community involvement to support educational reform
involves the whole community of appropriate people participating constructively
toward common goals. Citizens must be confident in the schools as an educational
institution and as a reflection of the values of the community (Mathews, 1996;
Sarason, 1995). According to Elam (1995),
The American public is almost universally supportive of changes that hold even
faint promise of improving the public schools capacity to meet sound
education goals. But people are not ready to embrace changes that might
threaten the principles on which public education is grounded, (p. 32)
7


Parents are supportive of changes when they are able to create meaning about
complex reform in ways that build upon their values and beliefs about education.
Thus, before policy makers and educators can engage the public in educational
governance and meaningful deliberation toward implementing standards reform, it will
be important for educational policy implemented to discern what the public values in
public education, find out what the public knows and believes about current
educational reform and educational issues, and clarify how the public came to hold
these understandings and beliefs.
For this reform to have the intended impact, policy makers and district- and
school-level implementers will need to begin at the public's level of understanding,
communicate values, address misperceptions, and provide appropriate and varied ways
for involvement as implementation of standards-based education proceeds.
Creating a governance atmosphere conducive to partnership and trust in order for
competent communication, true shared decision-making, active involvement, and
shared accountability will be a primary concern as stakeholders and implementers
confront the problems of schools together.
However, governance of education will not change until parents are confident
about public education and unless they have the tools to engage in deliberation about
educational issues. These tools are adequate experiences and information that build on
their values and opinions; these then form the basis for meaning parents construct
8


about educational goals and educational reform. This research is designed to uncover
what forms of information and types of involvement are most valuable to parents who
construct positive meaning about standards-based educational reform.
Standards-based education is a policy which is meant to reform schools.
Standards for what students should know and be able to do are central to reinventing
schools and transforming American education. The standards movement has
encouraged a new conventional wisdom in education (Alexander, 1993, p. 9). This
mandate cannot be the answer to the ills of schools, it can only serve as a vehicle for
community and educators to come together to communicate about common goals.
Policy makers, educators, parents, and community must not only recognize that parent
and community involvement in educational governance is the key to the new age of
reform, whether it be standards-based education or another policy based reform, but
agree on ways of involvement that are beneficial to both educators and parents. This
recognition alone will be a major step forward in implementing effective changes in
education.
Used as a path for change, standards can affect change in schoolswhether or
not the implemented reform will look like what the legislators intended is another
story. Though standards are the ostensible business of Goals 2000, they are not the
master key to school improvement. Standards alone are less important than thoughtful
school improvement strategies that include standards (Cohen, 1995, p. 754).
9


To create the culture conducive for sustained school improvement, districts
and schools must embrace a change in governance. This change means accentuating
public deliberation about educational issues by widening the decision-making sphere
and creating unique forms of involvement that cultivate widespread support. Unless
we begin at this level, warns Mathews (1996), the danger that we face in the future of
reform is of a further loss of public for our public schools.
10


CHAPTER 2
CONSTRUCTION OF MEANING
Bright School District [a pseudonym] is in the process of implementing student
proficiencies and standards of performance in core subjects amidst simultaneous
growth and expansion of the district boundaries. Each change force alone is
challenging, but together they pose a complex problem: how can this district
successfully implement standards, maintain valued site-based management, and
increase community participation and support?
Standards-based educational reform is a policy response to the problem of
reaching the goal of educational excellence for all. Problems are man-made. There
are always multiple conceptions.... It could be argued that most problems are solved
by redefinition (Wildavsky, 1979, p. 57). Viewed as a man-made problem, it requires
stakeholders at all levels to create meaning and redefine the problem of what
educational excellence should look like.
Policy makers, educators, scholars, and lay citizens create meaning, redefine
the problem, and conceptualize policy in many different ways (Mitchell, Boyd,
Cooper, Malen, & Marshall, 1994). These differences can be examined both through a
policy-making lens as well as from sociological perspectives defined by critical theory
11


and social interactionism. When problems are redefined, they expand the possibilities
of what counts as solutions (Kingdon, 1984; Young, 1992).
Frameworks for Problem Re-Identification
The problem addressed by this research, specific to Bright School Districts
(BSD) challenge, is how parents interpret, redefine, and create meaning in a complex
educational reform, specifically standards-based educational reform policy. In order to
gain perspective and address how the BSD parent public constructs meaning in
educational reform, both contextual and theoretical frameworks are used to describe
parents interpretation and understanding of complex policy. Broadly defined through
a theoretical framework, social interactionism explains how experiences and
information lead to formation of constructed meaning while critical theory illustrates
that social factors affect access to experiences and information which, in turn, cause
predictable differences in constructed meaning.
In an ideal world, parent opinion and constructed meaning would be an
interesting study, yet application of the findings is difficult unless they are studied in a
real situation. Parent opinion and experience does not exist in a vacuumthe meaning
must be contextualized by looking not only at the individuals experience, but also by
studying the setting in which that meaning is constructed (Darling-Hammond, 1990).
Policy implementation theory provides the context through which to study how
parents construct meaning about a policy-based reform because policy implementation
12


research emphasizes the important role that personal and societal value conflicts play
in policy-making and interpretation.
Contextual FrameworkPolicy-Making
Policy is defined as any authoritative communication of expected behavior for
individuals in certain positions under specified conditions (Sergiovanni et al., 1980, p.
106). Implementation is an integral part of the policy-making process because it
requires expected behavior to be communicated clearly and unambiguously in order
for policy intent to be carried out successfully. Chapter 3 traces the history of
educational policy and policy implementation and describes factors which may
determine success or failure. Educational policy history, with its implementation
lessons and stakeholder mindset, adds another perspective for policy implementers to
consider in this educational reform.
The study of implementation of policy is not a new field in political science
and it is time that it is taken more seriously in studying education policy.
"Implementation research is broadly concerned to investigate the structures and
processes within which policy objectives are put into practice. It has been an
established branch of political science for at least two decades. That body of work,
however, has rarely informed the analysis of education policy (Fitz, 1994, p. 53).
One political scientist, Yanow (1993), explains that implementation gaps are
due to differing and sometimes multiple interpretations of policy language between
13


legislators' intent and implemented actions. Implementation will suffer difficulties
when a weak link exists between policy makers and policy implementers (Nakamura &
Smallwood, 1980). Personal values play an important role in aiding or hindering
implementation (Heineman, Bluhm, Peterson, & Kearny, 1990), If values of
educator-implementers differ from those who formulated policy, then they are in a
position to shape the program to their own views or simply ignore the policy
altogether. Similarly, implementation will fail if this weak link is perceived by the
public and if policy implementers and the community stakeholders also are weakly
linked (White & Whelage, 1995).
The ways different stakeholders conceptualize policy emphasizes the
interaction of the policy itself with the stakeholders and the environment during
interpretation and implementation. Policies are cumulative; they do not land in a
vacuum; they land on top of other policies (Darling-Hammond, 1990, p. 240). The
way in which educators and citizens encounter and interpret new policy is integrally
related to the way former policies were transmitted and received.
Researchers (Elmore, 1978; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973, Wildavsky, 1979;
White & Whelage, 1995) assume that implementation problems stem mostly from
faulty interaction of a policy with its institutional setting, especially when it relates to
human service delivery. One reason for policy implementation problems may be
inadequate descriptions of expected inputs and outputs and lack of information about
14


the same individuals over time. Thus, conceptual problems arise in defining goals,
planning implementation strategy, and measures of success (Rivlin, 1971).
Another explanation is the inconsistent interpretation of policy intent because
of the variety actors in the process. Actors in the policy process are not limited to
political leaders, they include any person or group of people involved in the
interpretation and implementation of the policy (Kingdon, 1984). When disagreement
surfaces over what should be done in the area of educational policy, and the
disagreement become substantial and public, it is called a political issue (Sergiovanni et
al., 1980). Educational reform is such a political issue which involves individuals and
groups participating in the policy process.
Schools are political organizations (Bauman, 1996; Sergiovanni et al., 1980)
and are subject to the positive and negative aspects of being a political entity.
Educational institutions are deeply entrenched as an integral part of Americas
political and social life (Chubb & Moe, 1990, p. 5). On the positive side, politics in
this country denotes democracy and involves policy making for the "greater good"
(Reich, 1988). But this also means that the policy process is susceptible to various
interpretations from a number of groups who believe they have an expert knowledge
to take a stand on issues made in the name of the greater good.
Public policy involves, by default, the public. In general, in order for public
policy to reach its intended goal, a key component is public support. The policy must
15


be presented in ways that members of the public find personal meaning in the goals of
the policy. Standards-based educational reform is one such policy that requires both
public support and public involvement as the policy is shaped and implemented. While
it can be argued that politicians respond to public opinion in their policy agendas
(Kingdon, 1984), the mere passage of such policy and the way in which its
implemented brings forth a whole new set of issues stemming from language, values,
and the purpose of education.
Change in schools is difficult; policy-based change in classroom teaching is
especially difficult to change (Spillane, Thompson, Lubienski, Jita, & Reimann, 1995).
The balance of trying to coordinate top-down and bottom-up strategies and demands
while implementing politically-driven reform meant to change classroom behaviors
requires implementers at all levels to identify potential implementation difficulties
(Darling-Hammond, 1990; Fullan, 1991, 1993). This task should be central issue for
the new and changing responsibilities of those involved in governing education;
implementation of policy-based reform requires that stakeholders engage in adequate
communication and obtain experience with the change process that leads to
understanding and support.
Information and experiences are construed quite differently based on
personal values (Lasswell, 1971) and this variable interpretation underlies the
meaning educators and citizens construct in the face of new policy-based
16


educational reform. Personal and societal values play a major role in this
interaction and interpretation of complex policy (Danzinger, 1991; Mitchell et al.,
1994). Public opinion is an aggregate of attitudes and values, which are affected
by information and experiences, culture and shared meanings, and personality.
Opinion reflects beliefs about the matter charged with meaning, both cognitive and
emotional, for the person who holds them (Yankelovich, 1991).
Opinion is a belief or judgment about matters which have not been
established as factual, demonstrable or known (Moehlman & van Zwoll, 1957, p.
31), yet opinions which affect and are affected by meaning construction are the
basis for peoples decisions and actions. From the perspective of parents who are
asked to support future changes that impact their children and tax dollars, the way
parents interpret, form opinions, and construct meaning in this complex reform is
of paramount importance to reform success.
Theoretical Framework
Sociology of Experience: Social Interactionism and Critical Theory
Social psychologists refer to individual formation of knowledge and experience
as social interactionism. Larsen and Wright (1986) argue that rational conduct is
constructed in an intelligent process of social interaction and first-hand experience.
Social interactionism provides a concept of the rational act as a tentative groping or
feeling out process that is never fully determined by the past and is always capable of
changing (p. 18).
17


Human beings strive to make sense of the social world in which they live
through methods of interpreting and perceiving reality. Social interactionists believe
that their task is to explain the formation of conduct, emphasizing that people act on
the basis of meanings they construct in social interaction. Among the most important
meanings are those related to the self, for interactions conceive human beings as self-
referential creature for whom the self is among the most important objects (Hewitt,
1994, p. 24). In addition, social interactionists believe that culture and society
depend on human actions constructed on the basis of meanings formed in everyday
social interaction (p. 26).
Critical theory broadly attempts to address the experiences of individuals
within the social organization and how meanings are built from experience and
information (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993). In political life, critical theory addresses
the interrelationships between human agents and their social structure. Rather than
succumbing to the theory that people are simply a product of positive and negative
elements of their environment, critical theory can be used to maximize the relationship
through language and possibility (Giroux, 1997). A citizens or communitys
experience (real or perceived) with the policy during implementation, and information
that is sent or withheld from the citizen or community, defines the personal meaning
underlying decision-making and action.
18


One assumption of the critical theory perspective, and perhaps most important
to my underlying research focus, is that social life operates at multiple levels of
meaning, and this meaning is differentially distributed (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993).
Important and predictable differences exist between the elite, categorized by anyone
with more resources or information, and the mass public in the nature and structure of
their belief systems (Danziger, 1991).
While some conventional critical theorists believe that oppression and the
perpetuation of dominance of one elite group over another underlies critical theory
(Friere, 1970), modern theorists look at the variable access to information and
distribution of resources more generally. A tension exists between ideologies that
critical theory is a mode of dominance versus the view that is an active force
constituted through shared experiences and common interests (Giroux, 1997).
People are essentially free, though the world is filled with contradictions and
asymmetric patterns of power, information, and resources, and therefore meaning and
experience are differentially distributed (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993). Societies have
to deal with the problem of differentially distributed experience and multiple
perspectives. By recognizing the differences, individuals can create common ground
and bridge the gaps (Young, 1992). Social psychologists also describe the relationship
between a person and their world (Hewitt, 1994). In new situations, individuals act
based on acquired capacity to do so shaped by being members of society. Actions and
19


interactions have consequences that are both dictated by and result from societal and
cultural differences.
From Critical Theory to Critical Inquiry in the Policy Process
Sirotnik and Oakes (1986) merge critical theory with critical inquiry to study
school change. While critical theory addresses the experience of individuals within
organizations and patterns of communication and interaction in which people engage,
critical inquiry emphasizes the importance of competent communication. The critical
inquiry perspective:
Rests on competent communication and on a belief in the potential of
groups to reach a justified consensus about the truth of what exits, i.e.,
its meaning in relation to the larger social context, and to determine
alternatives directed toward universal human interests, (p. 37)
Competent communication differs from mere communication because it implies
effective two-way communication which increases knowledge of participants about the
task and the needs of those engaging in the task. When making and implementing
reform decisions, critical inquiry is vital as an ongoing commitment to unrestrained
discourse around existing and purposively accumulated knowledge (p. 80). NSPRA
(1977) warns that communication can break down if participants are not careful to
listen to one another. To really hearespecially a message we dont agree withwe
need to resist the impulse to judge the importance or validity of that message (p. 19).
Competent communication stemming from critical inquiry requires people at
every level to reflect upon their role in the new cultural climate created by the reform.
20


Rationality, as a part of inquiry, is defined as clearer thinking which improves our
understanding of things for better action (Young, 1992). Rationality is a deliberate,
full-awakening to life and all its possibilities; rationality means a finding and forming of
language to articulate meanings and make possible critical inquiry and reflection for
better practice (Brunner, 1994). In effect, knowledge can only be obtained through
competent communication which can only occur in an environment characterized by
mutual trust of [italics in original] ideas, facts and values and between the people
that share and act upon them. (Sirotnik & Oakes, 1986, p. 43).
Using critical theory and inquiry to study policy is an advantage because, as a
process of critique, it helps to discriminate between good and bad, strengths and
weaknesses, to understand why differences in implementation and interpretation arise.
It is a preparation for improvement (Young, 1992). By placing the information about
social and historical facts into context and opening the door for groups to come
together to define meaning, groundwork is laid for change and improvement.
If decisions are to be made meaningfully, it is imperative that the public and
business leaders, educators, and political leaders engage in critical inquiry, defined as
the willingness and ability of people to engage in competent discourse and
communication (Sirotnik, 1988, p. 65). Without fostering critical inquiry or to the
extent that we continue to make impossibleby action or inactionthe conditions
and circumstances for critical inquiry in schools, we will never get beyond descriptive
21


questions of what is and to the more crucial imperative, this is the way it ought
[italics in original] to be! (p. 66).
Conflict in schools is an inherent part of interactions leading to change and
power relationships (Giroux, 1988). In the preface to his well known book,
Experience & Education. Dewey (1963) writes to the point,
All social movements involve conflicts which are reflected
intellectually in controversies.... It is the business of an intelligent
theory of education to ascertain the causes for the conflicts that exist
and then, instead of taking one side or the other, to indicate a plan of
operations proceeding from a level deeper and more inclusive than is
represented by the practices and ideas of the contending parties.... It
means the necessity of the introduction of a new order of
conceptions leading to new modes of practice, (p. 5)
Education is a social interest in which conflicts and controversies have led to
new educational policy which requires new practices both in the classroom and, now
acknowledged more recently, in the educational decision-making structure. The goal
of educational reform is creating partnerships between policy makers, educators, and,
most importantly communities for the purpose of renewing schools and sharing
accountability (Henry, 1996).
Sirotnik and Oakes (1986) believe that the essential ingredient to successful
partnerships is competent communication through critical inquiry, which means
working toward mutual sharing of understanding, trust, and active engagement in the
process of change. Community partnerships can:
22


Foster the necessary conditions for a constructive, ongoing debate over
the goals, methods, and services that schools actually provide for
students in specific localities.. .in order to remove the political power
from the hands of those political and economic groups and institutions
who exercise an inordinate and sometimes damaging influence on
school policy and curriculum. (Giroux, 1997, p. 112)
As educators continue implementing educational policy, specifically, standards-
based education, policy implementers must provide forums for the public to construct
their knowledge, engage in issues, and celebrate their interdependencecelebrate the
social aspects of constructivism that portray inquiry and the growth of knowledge as
occurring within communities through the process of conversation, argumentation,
justification, and proof (Peterson & Knapp, 1993, p. 136).
When stakeholders in the implementation process engage in decision-making
and are involved in school renewal, competent communication is an integral part of the
process for it requires information be accessible, language be understandable, and
opportunities for involvement be adequate. Forums emphasizing trust and
communication among policy-makers, educators, and the public should address
collective decision-making not only for the present good, but also the future
implications of these policy decisions on the educational system, on the community,
and on student achievement.
Research Problems
The purpose of this study is to show how parents construct meaning in a
complex educational reform and how that interpretation affects their beliefs about that
23


educational reform. Critical theory asks, how are positive and negative meanings and
identities constructed? (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993, p. 131) in public policy. I
inquired, how do parents construct meaning in educational reform?
Constructivist Thoughts on Constructing Meaning
Just as constructivist theory holds that learning involves students
constructing their own knowledge (Dewey, 1963), constructivist theory can be
applied to adults who may be exposed to new material, new information and be
asked to become involved in change. Constructivists (Cooper, 1993; Gergen,
1985; Jonassen, 1991; Mishler, 1979) define construction of meaning through the
essential ingredients of knowledge, information, context, and experience. Peterson
and Knapp (1993) summarize constructivist educational literature with the
definition that theories which hold that people are not recorders of information,
but builders of knowledge structures have come to be grouped under the heading
of constructivism (p. 136).
These authors group Dewey and Piaget within the category of
constructivist thinkers and write that, more recently, scholars are rethinking their
views of knowledge, moving away from the idea that we can know something
objectively, and toward the idea that knowledge is necessarily subjective,
interpretive, and contextualized (p. 136). Learning cannot be reduced to
information processing; the objective is to help learners construct meanings not to
simply manage information (Bruner, 1996).
24


Constructivists view the mind as a builder of symbolsthe tools used to
represent the knowers reality.... Constructivists view reality as personally
constructed, and state that personal experiences determine reality, not the other
way around (Cooper, 1993, p. 16). Habermas (Young, 1992) believes that
action is based on constructed meaning which comes from distinctly different
sources or worldsthe common objective world, ones interpreted social-
subjective world, the inner world of self, and the world of communication and
interaction.
Human beings are self-referential creatures (Hewitt, 1994) and, as such,
respond to new information and change in ways compatible with meanings they
have formed in every day social interaction. Relating the lessons of constructivism
to this study, it follows that parents should respond to educational policy in ways
compatible with the meanings they have formed in everyday social interaction with
the schools and district. The following process elaborates upon how this works.
Parents Construction of MeaningThe Process
Individuals and groups ascribe meanings to specific events, persons, objects,
experiences, and information. Individuals form constructions to make sense of these
entities and to organize and reorganize these constructions into belief systems,
perceptions, and viewpoints (McMillan & Schumacher, 1989). Figure 2.1 depicts
construction of meaning as a process of putting what parents already know,
25


understand, and believe in the context of what they experience, whether it be hands-on
involvement or through sources of new information, in order to form opinions about
educational change, school and district practices, and reform issues.
Figure 2,1. Process of Construction of Meaning
B. INVOLVEMENT
past experiences
values and beliefs
NJ
1^
F. CONSTRUCTED MEANING
subjective (individual)
interpretive (self referenced)
contextualized
7) K
C. KNOWLEDGE
information to/from school/district
useful sources
informative sources
two-way competent communication
Up to this point, I have used the terms public, parents, and
community interchangeably in order to apply literature-based findings which
address support and involvement as key to reform success. For this research, I
26


have narrowed the public to parents because they have a more direct stake in the
public education system than do other public or community groups, even though
other public and community groups support is essential to public education
reform.
Parents construction of meaning is a complex psychological phenomenon
which involves some factors out of the realm this study, namely those factors
comprised of knowledge and involvement that parents bring to a new situation,
that is, factors which are internally held or previously learned which educators and
reformers cannot directly affect (Figure 2.1: Boxes A and B).
This study did not focus on experiences which occurred in the parents past
or beliefs based on personal values; instead, this study examined factors which
policy-makers and educators can influence that contribute to parents construction
of meaning in reformthe experiences and information provided by educators and
reformers during the reform process (Figure 2.1: Boxes C, D, and E).
By providing new and useful information (Box C: Knowledge) and
adequate avenues for involvement (Box D: Involvement: Experience), educators
and reformers can furnish parents with experiences which confirm or modify
previously held knowledge and beliefs. Additionally, parents confidence (Box E:
Involvement: Confidence) is gauged by probing for beliefs about reform, school
goals, and willingness to become more involved in educational change. Parents
27


constructed meaning (Box F: Constructed Meaning) is comprised of a balance
between context-based and self-referenced knowledge and experience, both past
and present. The following sections detail these points.
Knowledge (Figure 2.1: Box C). Communication of reform information
addresses both how parents receive and interpret positive and negative information
about reform and how they make their voice heard to educators. Parents obtain
their knowledge about educational issues, school practices, and reform through a
variety of sources. Some of the most readily available sources include the media,
school mailings, district information, students, other parents, and face-to-face
communication with school and district personnel.
In the realm of school and district communicationsources educator
implementers can controleven the most skillfully crafted brochures will have no
use for parents if the language used to communicate is meaningless and full of
rhetoric and parents have no context in which to make sense of the information.
At the same, when parents have concerns about their own child or information
they have received, parents need satisfying avenues to express their views and get
questions answered. Thus, the usefulness of information parents receive as well as
the adequacy of avenues for parents to engage in two-way communication and
feedback are equally important issues that impact how parents understand complex
educational change.
28


Involvement. Involvement was previously defined to encompass
experience (Figure 2.1: Box D) and confidence (Figure 2.1: Box E).
Constructivists (Bruner, 1996; Mishler, 1979) teach that people (parents) cannot
understand a complex issue, such as educational reform, without experience.
Experience is necessary in order to construct meaning (Dewey, 1963; Peterson &
Knapp, 1993); experience is necessary to interpret, contextualize, make sense of,
weigh alternatives, think about problems, make decisions, and take action
(Yankelovich, 1991).
Parents should be provided opportunities for active involvement which are
during convenient times, meet their own personal need for ways to be active, and
parents feel needed when they become involved. When schools provide limited
opportunities during inconvenient times, when the role the district wants parents to
play is different than the role parents want to play, when parents are kept at arms
length from decisions and changes, then parents may feel alienated from the goals
of schools (Dykstra & Fege, 1997; Wadsworth, 1997b).
When educators and reformers provide adequate experiences and useful
and comprehensive information through competent communication (Sirotnik &
Oakes, 1986), parents are more likely to be confident in education and more
willing to become involved in schools. Even if parents have difficulty being
actively involved in schools, support can be gained when parents are confident that
29


schools are meeting their childs needs and support changes that schools make
toward educational excellence. Parents are confident when they understand the
information and they are willing to be involved, though they may not necessarily
actively be involved. Confident parents have found personal meaning in the goals
of the school and district.
Constructed Meaning (Figure 2.1: Box F). Meaning is simply defined as
that which exists in the mind as having significance, by way of knowledge and
understanding (Webster, 1983). Constructed meaning is subjective and
contextualized and is a result of parents interpretation of their past and present
interactions with information, schools, and educators. People form and change
their opinions based on constructed meanings from these interactions; constructed
meaning is subject to change from any number of experiences, (information and/or
involvement) which cause a change in perceptions, values, or attitudes.
Construction of Meaning: Design and Research Questions
Parents construction of meaning in educational reform involves parents
interpretation of policy-based educational reform and parents construction of
meaning about education that leads to support of reform. My research focus is on
issues of parent involvement inherent in implementing this state policy (HB 93-
1313, standards-based education) in a single Colorado school district.
30


When considered from the perspective of parents interpretation of new
policy, it is material to take into account parental opinions, values, and the
experiences parents have with schools as key to shaping parents interpretation of
policy and changes made in schools (Danziger, 1991). These interpretations will
have consequences in a variety of actions parents may or may not take in support
or defeat of school reform. If parents are invited to become partners in education
and engage in educational governance, they must first possess knowledge, beliefs,
and experiences (Figure 2.1, p. 26) that lead to positively-constructed meaning.
The problem of how to overcome the obstacles in order to foster mutually
supportive relationships for individual school improvement as well as widespread
reform, leads one to focus on the complexity of parents construction of meaning
in educational reform. Three major sub-questions (Figure 2.2) were used to
address different parts of the overarching focus.
Figure 2,2, The Research Questions
Question 1: What have parents heard and what do parents know arid believe
about public educational reform?
Question 2: How do parents learn about changes in their communitys
schools?
Question 3: What types of involvement are preferred by parents and district
_______________administrators ?________________________________________________
Social interactionism emphasizes that individuals strive to make sense of
the social world in which they live, for people act on the basis of meanings they
construct in social interaction (Hewitt, 1994, p. 26). Similarly, critical theory
31


attempts to address the differing experiences and information which are the
building blocks to formation and creation of meaning (Giroux, 1997; Young,
1992). Ideally, parents construct meaning which supports educational reform
when the schools and the district bridge the gap between themselves and their
public, learn to talk to the public, and are more inclusive in reform-based changes.
Figure 2.3 depicts the process to build confidence and support, based on
the principles of construction of meaning, and frames the three research questions.
Figure 2.3. The Process to Build Confidence and Support
KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEFS
History: prior experience,
information and involvement; :
1 underlying values and Beliefs
KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEFS
Current: subjective, self-referenced and
contextualized constructed meaning
Research question 1:
IVhat have parents heard and what do
parents know and believe about public
educational reform?
EXPERIENCE FROM
J INVOLVEMENT
Research question 3:
What types of involvement are
preferred by parents and district
administrators?
EXPERIENCE FROM
INFORMATION
Research question 2:
How do parents learn about
changes in their schools and
public education?
*
CONFIDENCE
32


Begin in the center of the diagram (Figure 2.3), for a current appraisal of
parents knowledge and beliefs, explained contextually through research question
one: what parents have heard and what parents blow and believe about public
educational reform. This question addresses parents interpretation,
understanding, and opinions about standards as a reform conceptually, statewide,
and specific to the district. It merges parents experiences by way of knowledge
and involvement into the meaning they have constructed about reform issues. This
research can only obtain information about specific, measurable, and contextual
knowledge, opinions, and beliefs. While these are an integral part of constructed
meaning, the full measure of constructed meaning comprises other subjective
factors which are internal and intangible, represented in the upper box in the
diagram.
This first question inquires about parents confidence as it emphasizes
parents opinions about the education their child is getting as well as asking
whether or not parents are in support of the new reform implementation. By way
of administrator interview information, district administrators views on the district
philosophy and interpretations of policy intent are matched with parent
interpretation and beliefs about quality of education, local reform, and standards
implementation to offer a context through which to discuss parents stated
opinions.
33


Research questions two and three turn to finding out about how parents
construct meaningtheir aggregate understanding of educational issues full of
current values, opinions, knowledge, and beliefsas defined in the first research
question. The two experience factors lie in boxes on either side of the diagram and
overlap the prior knowledge and beliefs found at the top of the illustration (See
Figure 2.3, page 32). Pictorially and practically, past and present overlap to form
currently held knowledge and beliefs.
The process to build confidence must include the box at the top of the
diagramprior knowledge, values, beliefs, and experiences that parents bring into
a new situationfor learning is a matter of building new understandings out of
the interplay of cultural beliefs and assumptions, media messages, stories and
myths, and school instruction (Theobald & Mills, 1994, p. 464). Previous
experiences and underlying values and beliefs shape parents perceptions of
schools and parents beliefs about their role in educational change.
Together, these past and internal subjective and contextual factors become
differentiating pre-existing conditions for parents who become involved with new
information and attempt relationships with schools; they influence parents newly
constructed meaning and modify parents knowledge and beliefs measured by the
first research question. While these past factors are not directly addressed in this
study, prior knowledge and pre-existing beliefs about education may be indirectly
34


and partially inferred through some parents answers to research question one
reflecting educational expectations.
The second measurable part of the research focus encompasses
information parents receive and psychological and physical involvement with
schools and the issues. As described in Figure 2.1 (page 26), experience with
issues by way of useful and informative sources of information (experience from
information) and meaningful involvement in schools and with educators
(experience from involvement) can lead to confidence in schools, support of school
goals and reforms, and the ability to find personal meaning in the goals of
education in general.
The second research question, found in the left-hand box on Figure 2.3, is
how parents learn about changes in their communitys schools and public
education. In this question, parents construction of meaning is addressed by
focusing on information parents receive about schools and reform, it explores what
is the best vehicle for communicating about public education reform between the
district/ school and parents. Communication of reform information addresses both
what positive and negative information parents prefer in order to understand about
reform, as well as what are the ways parents make their voice heard to educators.
In addition to information sources, meaning is constructed through the
experiences parents have through their involvement with the schools. The third
35


research question found in the far-right box in Figure 2.3, is what types of
involvement parents and district administrators prefer. This question addresses
what parents, district administrators, and school-level educators consider when
they use the term involvement. I compared available versus preferred
opportunities for involvement in schools and in decision-making.
For research question two and three, parent views about sources of
information and availability for involvement were compared with district
administrator views about the same issues. Because meaning is constructed from
satisfaction with parents actual interaction with the information (through sources
and involvement) and not from the suggested opportunities for obtaining
information and becoming involved, the analysis was weighted more heavily
toward the parents perspective.
Figures 2.1 and 2.3 have shown that for parents to construct meaning
about educational reform in a way that fosters support for school and district
4
changes, parents must possess accurate knowledge, be provided with adequate
ways in which to be involved and/or be confident in the ability for schools and the
district to achieve their goals. Parents who interact with the schools directly get
their beliefs about educational goals and what takes place in schools confirmed,
denied, or something in between.
36


Parents may not act on constructed meaning immediately. However, when
parents are asked to support school reform, demonstrating their confidence, the
meaning they constructed from past and current experiences and knowledge will
guide their decision to support or defeat intended changes, as indicated in the
schema portrayed in Figure 2.3. Ideally, when parents are satisfied with avenues
for involvement and receive information that is both meaningful and timely, parents
will construct meaning about reform that will lead to confidence and support.
Summary
This study used multiple methods to uncover what parents in a single Colorado
school district know and believe about standards-based education policy in general,
and about the implementation of proficiencies and new assessments, specifically. I
examined parents beliefs and understanding of education and reform through differing
experiences and information parents use to construct meaning (critical theory),
focusing on the competency of district communication, adequacy and sincerity of
avenues for involvement, and adequacy and usefulness of information parents receive.
Policy implementation theory provided a context through which to study how parents
construct meaningattach significance to meanings of facts and events, interpret the
values embedded in standards-based educational policy, and subsequently decide
whether to support implementation of this reform.
37


This study uncovered parents needs as involved and informed decision-makers
and supporters of policy-based reform; successful implementation of standards-based
reform policy depends upon anticipating the needs of [parent] decision-makers and of
mobilizing knowledge when and where it is useful (Lasswell, 1971, p. 3).
Using survey and interview data, I describe in Chapter 6 and Chapter 7 how
the parents, collectively and grouped by demographic and experience variables, ascribe
meaning to aspects of standards-based educational reform using the data about useful
sources of information from which they build their base of knowledge and preferred
versus available methods of involvement. More detailed information about survey
design and methodology used for the study are found in Chapter 5.
As standards reform progresses in implementation, policy-makers and
educators can not make the mistake of assuming parents understand the reform simply
because they have received the information. Nor should policy-makers and educators
assume that parents support the implementation efforts and goals of the policy simply
because they have not disagreed with the changes to date. Critical theory and policy
implementation theory warn about implementation problems stemming from
incongruities between administrator and parent views as well as inconsistencies
between parent groups in their access to information and experience.
In terms of knowledge and understanding, policy-makers and educators
must become cognizant of what experiences (information or hands-on
38


involvement) are relevant to parents as they search for personal meaning in
educational issues and decide how they will react to that understanding; policy
implementers should acknowledge the complex, multi-faceted nature of opinion
and constructed meaning from which parents act.
Just as students construct knowledge in order to make decisions and take
action, parents and community too, need to be able to plan courses of action,
weigh alternatives, think about problems and issues in new ways, converse with
others about what they know and why, and transform and create new knowledge
for themselves; they need, in short, to be able to make sense and to learn
(Peterson & Knapp, 1993, p. 136) about complex educational reform and
reconnect with schools and school goals.
This research lays groundwork for understanding the types of information
parents find useful and the types of involvement parents prefer as they form opinions
about a complex, state-mandated educational policy and the changes that follow. An
outcome of these findings is a lesson in how to implement standards-based education
(HB 93-1313) successfully, given the history of educational governance and reform,
and taking into account current trends in education. More generally, stakeholders and
researchers may now realize why policies go awry in education when policy-makers
and policy-implementers (including educators) take for granted public opinion, public
involvement, and communication.
39


CHAPTER 3
EDUCATIONAL POLICY MAKING FOR REFORM
The following chapter is divided into several sections in order bring together
concepts which support the need for community involvement in educational reform
and highlight the trends and difficulties toward that goal. The first section describes
trends and views in educational reform, past and present, nationally and statewide.
This discussion provides an up-to-date review of current reform, the basis for this
study, and illustrates the results of a prior study in the same district (Dorman, Pintus,
& Silverman, 1996) which laid the foundation for this research.
Section two discusses implementation of policy in general and considers the
difficulties of coordinating policy making and policy implementation for successful
reform. In section three, governance, decision-making, and accountability are
highlightedjoint accountability, lay participation in governance, and joint decision
making are key components which support the need to change current governance
structures given the emphasis in standards-based educational policy and Colorado's
histoiy of local accountability.
A Critical Look at the History of Educational Reform
The history of educational politics and studies in educational reform shows an
increasing public criticism for the public educational system. Cuban (1990) attributes
40


the culture of criticism of education on value-driven cycles of political change. In the
1920s, 1950s, and 1980s, when the conservatives stressed the need for individuals
who could compete, reform efforts reflected this emphasis. In the 1900s, 1930s, and
1960s, reform efforts focused on the liberal values of the poor, minorities, achievement
gaps and general student access to education.
Attempts to reform schools shifted from focusing on issues of equality to
issues of excellence. In the 1960s and 1970s, federally-mandated laws targeted
correcting inequities in our education system. Initially, efforts to create a curriculum
for all, underwritten by a compensatory educational philosophy to equalize education
for weaker, disadvantaged students, were supported by courts orders; the courts,
ironically, in their efforts to help these students, have reinforced a curriculum and a
medium of instruction that only keeps them behind (Brown, 1991, p. 142).
Federally-funded reports in the 1970s and early 1980swhich substantiated
claims that American students were poorly educated, SAT scores declined, and
international comparison showed American students at the bottom of the listbrought
to the surface a conversation about the quality of education in the United States
(Orenstein, 1992). Companies in the United States became concerned about their
productivity and competitiveness in a world market. Business leaders questioned the
skills, knowledge and abilities of students preparing for the workforce. Civic and
business leaders believed that a well-educated workforce was important for the
41


nations economic competitiveness. They believed that basic knowledge and skills,
though necessary, are no longer sufficient for most jobs in a technologically advance
economy (Spillane et al., 1995, p. 1).
National attention turned to the need for higher academic standards, tougher
subjects, more rigorous testing and stiffer high school graduation and college
admission requirements. In 1990, Chubb and Moe critically reflected upon the
preceding decade of changes in education and movements of reform:
For Americas public schools, the last decade has been the worst of
times and the best of times. Never before in recent history have the
public schools been subjected to such savage criticism for failing to
meet the nations educational needsyet never before have
governments been so aggressively dedicated to studying the schools
problems and finding the resources for solving them. Whether the
criticisms have come from average citizens, business leaders, public
officials, or educators themselves, they have had a common thrust: the
schools are failing in their core academic mission, particularly in the
more rigorous areas of studymath, science, foreign languagesso
crucial to a future of sophisticated technology and international
competition. Americas children are not learning enough, they are not
learning the right things, and, most debilitating of all, they are not
learning how to learn, (p. 1)
Bracey (1993) criticizes these misperceptions and the bad press that comes of
misinterpreting data. In addition, a report by Robinson and Brando (1992) examined
five perceptions about American education that had been at the forefront of American
criticism for decades. They concluded that the broad generalizations held by the
public and encouraged by policy-makers were not based on facts but were based on
inaccurate or misleading interpretations of the data. More so, these unfounded
42


perceptions serve not to help identify and address existing problems but only to divert
attention and energy away from real and significant educational deficiencies that
should be identified and corrected (p. 31).
In the mid 1980s, a resulting national outcry for higher academic standards led
to more rigorous testing and stiffer high school graduation and college admission
standards. At the same time, objections from teachers about being left out of the
decision making that directly affected them yielded site-based decision making and
more teacher involvement in the late 1980s and early 1990s (Murphy & Beck, 1995).
"The school-based management movement was a departure from the centralized elite
democratic system of school governance born in the Progressive era. It constitutes a
significant movement toward a democratic system of school governance in that it
increases the degree of participation by teachers, parents, citizens and students in the
educational policy process" (Snauwaert, 1993, p. 101).
Yet, Snauwaert notes that this so-called empowerment masked what was really
going on. Representation where decisions were truly made had not changedpower
and control of major decisions about policy and practice were still retained at the state
level, without significant educator or public input. Even when the public is provided
with information about schools and education, it is provided with increasing amounts
of scientific data about what goes on in schools, yet at the same time, feels powerless
to influence what should go on (Sirotnik & Oakes, 1986, p. 7). Critics of public
43


education question, how can schools behave constructively and proactively in a
society governed by those who would, on the one hand, issue commission reports (like
A Nation at Risk) suggesting that we are caught in a web of educational mediocrity
while, on the other, decrease funded support for public school improvement and
advocate subsidies for private schooling? (Sirotnik, 1988, p. 64).
Now, public mistrust of government decision making, failed reform efforts, and
perceived declines in student achievement, coupled with the federal government's
interest in turning students into world-class competitors has the public debate over
public education at a heated new high as legislators, educators, and parents are asked
to embrace standards-based education reform. According to Wagner (1995), not only
does no agreement exist about what constitutes a challenging and rigorous curriculum
that will prepare students for the 21st century, no unanimity is apparent on who should
decide how the rigorous curriculum should be measured.
The Center for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) looked at various
reforms in six states in order to pinpoint factors which determine reform success and
failure (Danzberger et al., 1992). One conclusion was that state policies were difficult
to implement if they were expensive, if they were complex, if they required new
administrative arrangements, if they required new behaviors from teachers or
administrators, or if they required redistribution of authority. In addition, these and
other researchers found the most successful, long-lasting reform efforts came from
44


district initiatives if teachers and administrators knew what needed to be done, district
leaders saw the changes as constructive, and parents and community members
supported the changes (Cohen & Spillane, 1993; Fullan, 1991). But most reforms fail
because the necessary components are rarely addressed (Danzberger et al., 1992),
Rhetoric about curricular and instructional outcomes for maximizing students ability
is not compatible with the accountability system which tends to measure and
emphasize minimal skills. Thompson, Spillane, & Cohen (1994) came to the same
conclusion in their study of Michigans educational policy to reform education.
When reforms fail to meet their goals, blame is directed from practitioners to
policymakers for their lack of understanding of the real life of schools. Policymakers
blame educators for their incompetence or reluctance to adopt new reforms.
Policy makers who have labored over federal, state, and local reform
initiatives blame these results on the reluctance or incompetence of
practitioners. Educators who work at the school and classroom levels
blame policy makers for their lack of understanding of the real life of
schools. Many of the parties involved blame the victims, or more
accurately, they would blame the victims if they had not been told that
it is inappropriate to do so. (By victims we mean both students who are
unprepared to cope with conventional school regulations, procedures,
and requirements and their parents.) (Clark and Astuto, 1994, p. 513)
Nonetheless, parents, educators, and policymakers do see the current
education system in need of change in order to prepare students for the 21st century of
technological changes (Agenda 21, August 1994). Employers, parents, and educators
agree that public schools are out of touch and out of datethat basic reading, writing,
45


and arithmetic are essential but no long sufficient to prepare students for work and
citizenship in a changing world (Agenda 21, May 1994).
The New Hope: Standards-Based Educational Reform
Smith and ODay (1992) explain that the way to initiate meaningful reform is
to have state standards and coordinated policies which set broad goals and policies,
but which grants schools the flexibility to specify the details of curriculum and
instruction. The national reform effort, first proposed by President Bush as America
2000, is a departure from past reform efforts as it encourages the support of
communities and passes responsibility for creating and implementing standards to the
states.
While some may criticize a national reform effort as being a federal takeover of
education, McLaughlin (1991) supports the effort:
America 2000 moves beyond a single focus on schools as the agent of
reform to consider the important roles of families, communities, and the
private sector in stimulating and supporting high quality education....
This localism does not mean that expertise and constructive invention
cannot be effectively applied in diverse settings; it does mean that local
knowledge is critical to that construction and application, (p.43)
Alexander (1993) writes that standards can help provide direction to sporadic
attempts to educate children. The purpose of standards is to raise the achievement of
all students and to ensure that all students have equal educational opportunity (U.S.
Department of Education, 1992). According to Agenda 21 researchers (June 1994),
establishing standards for students wont solve all of the problems in our schools, but
46


if we truly want to improve public education in our state, this is a good place to start:
setting high expectations not just for some of our students but for all of them (p. 8).
Standards Reform is Not Without Criticism
In order to achieve the changes necessaiy to move students into the 21st
century, the public is not anxious for more governmental intrusion. The public fears
that any federal or state-mandated act regarding education will lead to a federal
takeover of local education. Though as much as the disdains governmental decision
making for education, the public is not ready to allow teachers to make those
curricular decisions unilaterally either. Americans are well used to local control of
education, and they have been less and less inclined to defer to teachers (Cohen &
Spillane, 1993, p. 81). Further, many people believe that schools are incapable of
creating and maintaining the high quality academic standards required by the emerging
global economy and culture (Sizer & Rogers, 1993, p. 25).
One of the greatest concerns of community members and parents is that this
[standards] reform is another fad which will negatively affect or will have no impact on
the achievement of the students (Wagner, 1995). Kaplan (1991) warns that school-
level reformers are skeptical and reluctant, too, because they are faced with an
all-out crusade to turn public education on its head, principally, it appears, to promote
our foreign policy interests and the agenda of American business (p. 11). Educators
are frustrated because they believe that:
47


One of the most important consequences of the preoccupation with national
standards in education is that it distracts us from the deeper seemingly
intractable problems that beset our schools. It distracts us from paying
attention to the importance of building a culture of schooling that is genuinely
intellectual in character that values questions and ideas at least as much as
getting right answers. (Eisner, 1995, p. 766)
Another pitfall of the national educational standards reform agenda, called
America 2000, is community and educators skepticism due to the failure of numerous
past educational reform efforts, skepticism of a one-size-fits-all curriculum seemingly
proposed by the standards movement (Wagner, 1995), as well as controversy and
confusion in the language used to describe the new reform agenda (Lewis, 1995).
Standards are more complicated than most conversations make them sound. One
hears standards this, standards that as if there were a single definition of standard
and everyone was clear on what it meant. In fact, there are a variety of ways of
defining standards (Bracey, 1997, p. 11).
On the positive side, while parents are wary of schools ability to change, are
frustrated by efforts to communicate (Freeman, 1996), and feel less of a bond with the
goals of public schools today (Bradley, 1996b), parents are not ready to abandon the
concept of public schools yet (Mathews, 1996). But the educational reform movement
risks losing public support if it ignores the public concerns (Johnson & Immerwahr,
1994), and, further, many critics question whether those who lead reform efforts really
share the publics goals (Wadsworth, 1997b). The public wants children to go to a
school that challenges them at the highest academic levels and ensures their mastery of
48


basic skills. But above all, parents want their children to go to schools where safety
and order is the norm. However, parents are frustrated because the basic, common-
sense desire of kids and families is the one most often denigrated or ignored by the
school-reform movement (Palumbo & Leight, 1997, p. 44).
It follows that reform without public involvement in the creation wont work
because families, school people, and the community know what is best for their local
school, not a bureaucracy or the reform establishment (p. 44). Successful change
relies on a reform in the governance structure of the education systemone which
involves a system-wide overhaul and includes the lay public in analysis and
implementation of the reform (Bauman, 1996; Sarason, 1990) in order to assure that
the publics goals and concerns are addressed.
Swanson (1995) describes the need for stakeholder involvement and the
challenge of reform as a delicate balance between the need to maintain quality control
and the desire to encourage and support local initiative and autonomy (p. 38).
Further, according to Sizer and Rogers (1993), in raising standards, we first need to
answer the confounding question of how to raise them in an effective way that
respects the democratic traditions of this nation (p. 25). These democratic traditions
imply a shift in decision-making power by increasing authority to school implementers
who are present where the tasks of instituting high standards are being performed
(Murphy & Beck, 1995).
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Colorados Answer to Reforming Education
The Colorado legislature has a history of sensitivity to uniform educational
quality as evidenced by the formation of the Education Quality Act of 1985. As the
states share (fiscal responsibility) in the education system grew, this act meant to
address concerns about getting more for your money in public education. It looked
at financing, accountability, testing, and educational standards. National trends toward
excellence in education coincided with Colorados focus on standards.
In an effort to improve Colorado's education system, the Colorado
Commission for Achievement in Education (CCAE) created a task force in 1992 to
look at state-wide deficiencies in meeting the needs of all students in the education
system. The most recent attempt in Colorado to reform the educational system has
been through system-wide educational reform. The task force recommended that the
state create model content standard that school districts could adopt or use as a base
for their own standards.
In June 1993, the Colorado State Legislature passed HB 93-1313: Standards-
Based Education in Colorado. It is one of several pieces of legislation enacted in the
early 1990s which was aimed at bringing about improvement of accountability and
performance in education in the form of high expectations for student achievement and
preparing all students for the technologically advanced, internationally competitive
future (Agenda 21, May 1994).
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According to the United States Department of Education, 32,000 young
people graduate from Colorado high schools each year (Colorado Department of
Education (CDE), n.d.). The Colorado legislature adopted the mandated system of
higher standards (HB 93-1313) with the thought that:
A strong public educational is crucial to Colorados future. The quality
of our workforce, the vitality of our communities and the productivity
and well being of our citizensall depend on a school system that
adequately prepares students for living, learning and working in a
changing world, (p. 1)
This piece of legislation declared that schools in Colorado were required to
provide all children with education reflecting high standards of performance. The
Colorado Board of Education (Lipsher, 1995) summarizes the six aims of standards
reform: (a) To ensure rigorous academic content taught at all grade levels; (b) to help
all student learn more, raising expectations and demand hard work; (c) to provide
communities an opportunity to discuss, debate and agree on expectations for students;
(d) to focus on common, well-defined goals; (e) to identify the most effective
educational practices and make them the norm; and (f) to provide better
accountability.
Standards-based education policy (HB 93-1313) is written in language
indicating major systemic, school-based change is the means. While other states
implemented statewide reform measures, Coloradoa leader in public accountability
in public educationhas tended to be more accountable to its districts, allowing
51


districts to make decisions about curriculum and assessment for its students. Thus,
even as the state's interest in higher standards grew, public accountability remained an
important component of Colorado's public education system and the legislative
initiatives that addressed it.
Colorado's constitution prohibits a state-mandated curriculum, therefore,
through this act, the state established the Standards and Assessment Development and
Implementation Council (SADI). This council was responsible for writing statewide
model standards and assessments which would serve as a resource for districts.
Districts were responsible for creating their own standards, which meet or exceed the
state requirements. To provide schools more flexibility in meeting the needs of their
students, higher levels of governance were to focus on defining and developing
accountability for results while concurrently removing constraints on school practice.
Schools were to determine the instructional strategies most likely to foster student
achievement of outcome goals.
The statewide bill for standards follows the national framework for standards
to the extent that students graduating from any school in the country should be given
appropriate opportunities to acquire similar knowledge, skills, and content. The
standards should provide a common vision for schooling, including most prominently
a set of goals that express a clear, communicable and measurable way to what all
students should know and be able to do (Thompson et al., 1994, p. 12). Yet, due to
52


diversity from state to state, city to city, and district to district, the standards must also
be broad enough to allow individual interpretation of the extent and manner in which
this knowledge base is presented. As they provide guidance about the themes and
objectives, they should leave room for creativity and variation to suit local
circumstances and student characteristics (p. 12). Smith and ODay (1993) recognize
the importance of local commitment and believe the objectives of implementing reform
will only be realized by allowing great variation in the way each school chooses to
meet standards.
Schools and districts are given the responsibility of interpreting standards
appropriately for their student population. At the same time, national and state
politicians, as well as the local business and community members, must trust that
schools will fulfill this goal. And the process will be scrutinized even further when
dramatically different standards-based assessments, which are in their first pilot year,
must be understood and interpreted by educators and communicated to parents in a
consistent manner.
Encouragingly, a recent state-wide opinion poll found that "Eighty-two percent
of Coloradans are in favor of'requiring school throughout the state to set academic
content standards for student achievement' in content areas. And, seventy-nine
percent agree with the statement that setting educational standards goals is one of the
best ways to increase the quality of education in the state (Sanders, 1995, p. 1).
53


And, according to an August 1994 Agenda 21 report, "Coloradans see their public
education system as ripe for change. High standards, accountability, community
support, diversity, flexibility and stable funding sourcesthese are the things
Coloradans see as the basic components of a system focused on and able to keep pace
with the state's changing educational needs (p. 2).
Thus, with these promising statements in mind and criticisms aside, with
standards-based education entering its fourth year of implementation, educational
reformers have heard this advice and have moved forward. In fact, in 1997 all 176
Colorado school district adopted standards in reading, writing, math, science,
geography, and history. Governor of Colorado, Roy Romer, encourages, setting
standards is only the first step if standards-based reform is to mean anything
(Bingham, 1997, p. IB).
Background Research: Implementation of Standards in a Colorado District
In a recent study (Dorman, Pintus, & Silverman, 1996), Firestone's (1989)
policy game theory was used to analyze the implementation of standard-based
education in a single district in Colorado. The study examined Colorados standards
reform policy from the perspective of legislative, district, and school-level interpreters
and implemented in an attempt to discern the impact it had on the classroom.
Through interviews with politicians, administrators, and teachers, we assessed these
stakeholders interpretation and implementation of the policy and the policy games
54


being played. The games include a change in the roles people play, the way in which
accountability for the policy is interpreted and established, and the communication
during formulation and implementation of district and school standards and
assessment.
Findings of the study indicated that this district and schoolteachers, the
principal, and responsible district personnelwere, in fact, doing what the bill
requested in terms of district and site responsibilities. They all appeared to understand
the purpose and content of standards-based education as it related to their role; they
all felt that communication of progress on standards development to parents and
teachers was adequate; they agreed that educators and community representatives
participated in the district's formulation of standards; and they all could see a need for
such a reform. These are all important factors in any systemic reform. However, in
further analysis of information volunteered by the interviewees, the research found that
once the policy moved from formulation to implementation of the policy, the games
discussed in Firestones theory seemed as if they were being played and caused
administrators and teachers to be concerned about later stages of implementation.
As part of the game theory, Firestone discusses cooperation and competition
within and between levels of the hierarchy. After the first level, the rule-making tier,
each level is responsible for interpreting the intent of the bill and communicating role
and responsibility for their own tier and the levels below. The initial research found
55


that, while the implementers in the selected district and school attempted to interpret
and implement the policy based on their understanding of the intent and their roles
relative to the mandate, they were frustrated by lack of communication, contradictory
requirements, and ambiguous language.
In addition, interviewees at every level stated that the true test of
implementation success would come when the community would be required to
demonstrate their buy-in and support of the mandate. They said that the true test
would come when families were affected personallywhen assessments and student
reporting changed to match the standards-based education intent. They were
concerned that parents would only accept this reform if they were still able to, at a
minimum, get what they were used to when it came time to report student progress.
The teachers accepted that they needed the support of the community to implement
the reform and they were worried about the effects that a misunderstood,
misconstrued policy would have on the future of the implementation. With great
trepidation, these same teachers felt ultimately responsible for relaying the information
to parents so they understood and supported the reform in action.
Interview responses and district documents reflected that this reform had been
accepted by both parents and teachers only to the extent that it ran parallel to what
already existed. These practices run contrary to changes necessary for progress
toward adoption of high content standards as defined by this policy.
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The Educators Role in Successfully Implementing Reform
The mindset for school improvement and standards which the national
standards movement created continues to be a priority within individual states. States
have heard the call for improved student performance and are raising expectations for
student learning (Olson, 1995, p. 15). Progress toward standards-setting and
implementing is underway in most of the 50 states. Yet, in recent years in this new
reform agenda the leadership that has created consensus at the national level enabling
the states to embrace a national theme has not created leadership that carries over to
public and educator endorsement. Some of the state-tailored proposals have come
unraveled because of unexpected opposition from parents, community, and teachers
(Johnson & Immerwahr, 1994).
The teachers and administrators role in implementing reform is critical to its
success (Thompson et al., 1994). Attitudes of district administrators about planned
change effort are a signal to teachers as to how seriously they should take a special
project or improvement strategy (Sirotnik and Oakes, 1986); many teachers do not
expend necessary effort because they do not believe school and district personnel are
committed to change or understood fully what is necessary. Researchers at Public
Agenda (Farkas & Johnson, 1996) found that teachers are not anxious to embrace new
reforms because they have grown fatigued with the concept of reform. According to
the study, some teachers do not trust district or state reformers who, they believe, are
57


disconnected from schools, while other teachers believe that some past-mandated
reforms have hurt their students and failed the test of time.
Yet again, standards policy asks teachers to change classroom practices and
embrace new goals as they implement standards reform. Professionally-committed
educators do not view their contribution or role as merely implementing work as is
implied by a top-down reform strategy. Professional educators socially construct
meaning of their work and conditions of success by participating in the design,
enactment, and outcomes of their innovative contributions and those of their
colleagues (Clark & Astuto, 1994). Simply implementing what others have deemed
as best practices does not lead to a sense of competence, purpose of commitment,
essential to the implementation of a mindful curriculum (Novick, 1996, p. 8).
Fullan (1993) offers several lessons targeting teacher practice during
implementation of reform:
Mandates are important. Policymakers have an obligations to set policy,
establish standards, and monitor performance. But to accomplish certain
kinds of purposesin this case, important education goalsyou cannot
mandate what matters, because what really matters for complex goals of
change are skills, creative thinking, and committed action, (p. 22)
Teachers do not feel comfortable putting into place or explaining new practices
which have never been modeled or fully-developed. Teachers need to see what
theyre supposed to be doing in very clear termsand then they can take it, innovate
with it, and be adaptive on their own (Olsen, 1997, p. 37). Further, teachers can then
58


make sense of these innovations to parents. Only teachers committed to change will
be able to translate the commitment to their communities that must also embrace the
change effort.
Educators and parents are wary of standards reform because of the ambiguity
surrounding implementation. Community and educators believe in standards as a tool
to improve learning if they give a clear idea of what is important to teach and give
teachers a range of ideas that can be drawn upon. However, both realize that
standards might have a negative outcome in terms of increasing gaps in the
achievement between rich and poor districts. These competing stakeholder forces will
attempt to determine whether or not the standards have improved learning (Bracey,
1997).
In order to make standards a reality, according to a report by the National
Council on Education Standards and Testing (1992), families, educators, and policy-
makers must work together to understand and redefine policy so that they achieve
agreement and coordination. Efforts at the school, district, state, and national levels
should address four major dimensions; including reforming schools, engaging families
and communities, creating incentives for high performance, and providing equitable
opportunities to achieve the new standards.
Educators should heed Fullans (1993) warning for committed action as they
translate the work of schools to parents. Both teachers and parents need more than
59


philosophy if they are to overhaul the way their schools work (Olsen, 1997, p. 1).
Educators, too, must be aware that parents will only be committed to change if they
are included in the interpretation and application of the mandates intent and if the
reform meets the needs of families.
Educational Policy-Making and Implementation
Studies in the 1980s that looked at implementation of ineffective public policies
found that policy implementation and policy formation were considered by policy
makers as two distinct emphases in the policy process (Fitz, 1994). This classical
model of policy making maximized the top-down structure which was characterized by
the assumption that once a policy was made, the policy would be implemented and the
result would be near those expected by the policy makers (Nakamura & Smallwood,
1980). In this model, policy making and policy implementation are bounded and
separate because there was an assumed division between policy makers who set goals
and policy implementers who carry out the goals.
Today, policy implementation is considered an integral part of the policy-
making process and new problems arise when the two become inseparable: how to
implement mandated policy is difficult for educators and policymakers to agree upon
(McDonnell, 1994). Kingdon (1984) uses three streams of process (problem, political,
policy) to explain why some policies are effectively implemented and others are not.
Issues that are considered for policy agendas are affected by problem and political
60


streams, but alternatives considered are affected by the policy stream. The perceived
crisis of educational failure in the problem stream coupled with political endorsement
brought the topic of educational reform to the surface both locally and nationally.
Successful policy also requires the policy stream to be in place, which requires
technical feasibility to implement a large scale systemic educational reform as well as
public agreement on what education should look like and how it should be received.
Multiple Interests and Multiple Interpretations
In examining policy and determining what it means, one must question for
whom, in addition to the drafters and implementers, it has meaning (Mitchell et al.,
1994; Yanow, 1993). Pressman and Wildavsky (1973) note that implementation
difficulties arise when perspectives differ and, therefore, so do measures of success.
Educational policy would be an easier thing to write and implement if everyone
agreed upon the outcomes for the public education system. In the broad area of
education, educators, coalitions, communities, and politicians have competing interests
for educational outcomes. The varying interests operate from differences in
stakeholders bases of information resources leading to individual interpretation about
what an educational reform mandate entails. Often, these groups run polar opposite in
view of what should be included in curriculum and how the knowledge should be
dispersed. At the very core, the goal, all kids can learn, is also not necessarily a
widespread, embraced belief.
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Finally, even if communities, educators, and policymakers agree to accept
performance evaluations and performance-based teaching, many stakeholders still
require some standardized measure of testing to lend credibility to the new reform.
When a program is characterized by so many contradictory criteria,
antagonistic relationships among participants, and a high level of
uncertainty about even the possibility of success, it is not hard to predict
or explain the failure of the effort to reach its goals. (Pressman &
Wildavsky, 1973, p. 90)
Muth and Bolland (1983) believe that successful policy outcomes are
accomplished when policy-makers know both who are the participants that must
understand the policy and what are their expectations, beliefs, and preferences.
However, this is not a simple task as participants are often inconsistent in translating
their perspectives into words or behaviors (p. 217). In the educational arena,
participants in policy implementation include not only educators but the public who
must understand and be included in the reform-based changes. Balancing expectations
and preferences of the public, educators, and policy-makers is a formidable task.
Align the System: Top-Down and Bottom-Up Harmony
Systemic change involves systems thinking. Unless various stakeholders and
levels of the system interact dynamically toward the same goal, then the system is
disjointed, or fragmented in practice. While people may be doing good things, no
single solutions will reform the system (Fuhrman, 1992).
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Research on systemic reform as well as research on implementation of social
policies indicate that real change can only be achieved through alignment of the system
and bottom-up initiatives (Darling-Hammond, 1990). Unlike the classical model of
policy making, Elmore (1978) believes that the process of initiating and implementing
new policy actually begins at the bottom and ends at the top (p. 215). In a loosely
coupled institution such as the educational system (Weick, 1976), effective power to
determine a policys outcome rests with local deliverers, not with federal or state
administrators (Berman, 1978). Bolland and Muth (1984) elaborate that policy
processes break down if participants do not have correct information, if participants
resources are underestimated or misunderstood, if participants perspectives are
misinterpreted or not identified, or if disagreements arise among participants about
methods to achieve goals.
Fuhrman (1993) criticizes past reform efforts because they sent unclear signals
about what schools should achieve and did not include a supportive policy structure
which is necessary for widespread school improvement. This lack of systemic support
becomes frustrating at the school-level because educator-implementers have to deal
with the conflicting demands of the policy, administration, community and their own
professional goals carried out in the classroom.
Although this policy was meant to be implemented at a grassroots level but
guided through district and state guidance and guidelines, both America 2000 (the
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federal initiative that was the springboard to statewide standards-based reforms) and
HB 93-1313 can both really be categorized as top-down reforms because they
emanated from the politicians. Critics of the new reform measure contend that
standards really amount to the national government setting state curriculum
promising financial support and guidance but never delivering (Diegmueller, 1995).
Because setting curriculum was traditionally the domain of local school districts, this
intervention caused some to fear that the standards would establish low base-lines
rather than lofty goals (Lipsher, 1995, p. 3B).
A centralized dimension in systemic educational reform is necessary to achieve
coherent and sustained efforts because schools and teachers often lack the capacity to
conceive and implement innovation on their own (Clune, 1993, p. 129). However,
the centralized assistance must be matched with active change in practice and
governance at the site. Furthermore, if schools are able to maintain their legitimation
through innovative school site applications of centralized policy with centralized
support, then implementation of the reform will get past the level of struggle for top-
down versus bottom-up control and overcome the skepticism of its critics.
School-level efforts to reform can rarely be maintained without a
comprehensive policy-in-action, which actively supports all three elements of systemic
reform (Smith & ODay, 1993) to sustain long-range differences. Effective systemic
reform strategies assure that the interests of educators and policymakers are met while,
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at the same time, enlarging public support for education and finding a way to promote
common ground (Fuhrman, 1993).
A Novel Look at Governance and Accountability
In past educational reform efforts, reforms in school governance were not
generally required. However, with latest series of demands, systemic reform implied
by HB 93-1313 requires a change in governance which can be achieved simultaneously
and dependent on public involvement in school governance, decision-making and
accountability. In fact, according to HB 93-1313, both the district and the state have a
responsibility to involve the public in creation of standards and assessments related to
the initiative.
But how can parents understand such widespread high impact reform without
concurrent changes in the way schools are governed schools and stakeholders are
involved? Bauman (1996) answers:
As long as public schools exist, administrators, policy-makers, teachers,
and educators in other positions will need democratic forms of decision-
making and community involvement. Changes in traditional governance
structure that meet the demands of a more active and informed citizenry
will be required, (p. 13)
In order to create the atmosphere for school improvement, governance
structures must be altered to give administrators, teachers, and parents real power and
authority if they are truly to work together to make major changes in established
educational practices (Guskey & Peterson, 1996, p. 11).
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On Managing and Governing of Schools
Managing education is politically-charged because school control and
management reflect broader social and cultural issues. Reform in education is an even
greater political issue because change in what is established in schools originates from
political agendas and questions the values of those who deliver and consume the
educational product. Reform based on public policies is a result of attempts to
reconcile competing interests, values and conflicting ideologies. Agreeing on who has
a right to decide how to reform education is also politically-charged and value-laden
(Sergiovanni et al., 1980). Often, when formulating national policies,
It would never even occur to most policy makers to consult average
citizens.... Beneath the surface of formal arrangements to ensure
citizen participation, the political reality is that an intangible something
separates the general public from the thin layer of elitesofficials,
experts, and leaders who hold the real power to make the important
decisions. (Yankelovich, 1991, pp. 2-3)
While a change in educational governance implies participation by legislators,
administrators, teachers, parents, and community to make education fair and equal, the
difficulty lies when each group brings a different agendaproblems arise when
stakeholders can not agree on the initial question of the purpose of education
(Goodlad, 1994). Dykstra and Fege (1997) believe that these problems still exist and
that the public is becoming increasingly disconnected from educators and
policymakers. They ask, How is it possible to implement 21st century standards with
20th century models of citizen and parent participation? They conclude that todays
66


public will not blindly follow what experts propose, the need to experience the opinion
formation for themselves (p. 60). A change in governance that engages citizens with
both the policy and school goals would remove the intangible barrier and involve the
public in ways acceptable to policy makers, educators, and the public itself.
In 1994, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) published a
booklet called Putting Learning First. Their discussion supported the goal of reform
yet emphasized that putting learning first calls for major behavioral changes that must
be made by those who govern and manage schools (p. 2). Without a significant
change in governance, which is currently operating as a barrier to school improvement,
we will not see the lasting improvement in educational achievement. They define
governance as "the process by which people and institutions set the policies that guide
our schools, provide incentives for implementing those policies, and supply the
resources that enable the schools to operate (p.2).
Sarason (1995) refers to this type of involvement as the political principal,
"when decisions are made affecting you or your possessions, you should have a role, a
voice in the process of decision making (p. 19). A strong proponent of standards-
based education reform, Governor of Colorado, Roy Romer, understands the need for
communication and involvement during implementation. He said,
If I were to predict, for Colorado, what group in the long term
would be most effective in the systemic reform of education, I
would put parents equal with teachers. The reason is that a large
investment has been made in the current system, and both teachers
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and administrators are still caught up with the history of it. To
help change the system, parents need access to the ongoing debate
on standards and assessments. (Romer, 1995, p. 71)
Similarly, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley stated in a press release in
response to National Center for Education Statistics data (released summer 1996), In
the long run, these [discipline, standards, technology] strategies will pay off, but we
need help from everyone in the community to make progress. Good education is
everybodys business (Riley, 1996, p. 1)
Changing governance requires responsiveness to changing opinions, beliefs,
and values of individuals and communities (McLaughlin, 1991; Thompson, 1985). An
equally great problem is how to solve problems and reach consensus with everyone
believing they were heard. Reaching consensus about goals and expectations of
education requires a level of stakeholder involvement in education more than we
expect today (Johnson & Immerwahr, 1994). While educators admit that parents have
a vested interest in what happens to their children in schools, educators have not been
willing to accompany this acceptance of parents roles by consistently or formally
sharing the power to influence how schools and classrooms are structured and run
(Bradley, 1996b; Casanova, 1996; Danzberger & Friedman 1997).
Yet, even in the best of schools, where site-based decision-making appears
strong, without clearly articulated goals from the district and state, the task of true
site-based decision making is difficult. Guskey and Peterson (1996) write that
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implementation is made all the more difficult when overall goals remain unclear.
School-based decision-making is a process that defines how decisions should be made.
It does not, however, prescribe what issues should be addressed (p. 11, italics in
original). When goals are unclear, commitment to them and jointly addressing them is
an impossible task. As a result, regardless of the move toward accountability
committees and site-based decision making teams, decisions about structure,
curriculum, personnel continue to rest in the hands of the educators.
New efforts to redistribute authority, communication, and decision-making that
accompany site-based decisions are difficult because with the addition of new
stakeholders, new training and procedures are required (Cohen & Spillane, 1993;
Murphy & Beck, 1995). In schools where site-based decision making appears to work
well, these schools continue to struggle with how best to gather input from teachers,
parents, and students in order to generate ideas, make decisions, and gain permission
to carry out the decisions.
School problems and issues can no longer be decided solely by policymakers or
educators. Now that education has reached the level of national importance, business
leaders and the general public must join educators and policymakers to engage in
educational decision making. Because the majority of Americans have a histoiy with
educational institutions in one form or another, for better or worse most Americans
have an opinion about what schools should be like. They compare these expectations
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to what they believe schools are like and, when discrepancies arise, dissatisfaction
results. In his comparison of apparent and ideal functions of schooling, Sirotnik
(1988) notes that a diverse array of curricular expectations for schooling held by
significant constituencies and the often conflicting ideological commitments running
through them because they serve in striking contrast to what appears to happen in
American classrooms (p. 59).
The trend in educational governance is to broaden the base of lay involvement,
with more and more influence being exercised by those outside the established
educational community. School governance has the potentiality to be a key form of
democratic participation (Deem, 1994, p. 28) in the education of future citizens.
Deem continues, governing schools can be a powerful exercise in civic participation
and a major aspect of a democratic society where collective activities are valued as
much or more than the rights of individuals to do as they wish in the educational or
any other market place (p. 34). This new generation of reform has widened the scope
of people taking charge of education.
With the added responsibility of including the public in roles in education,
Mathews (1996) warns that political roles for citizens cant be restricted to approving
tax levies, electing school boards, and supporting special events. Citizens have to be
engaged in setting missions for schools within the context of public objective (p. 45).
They become agents for change by deliberating about the goals of schools, shifting
70


power from the policy-makers to those that are affected by the results of the
implementation (Giroux, 1997).
Thus, another part of the new public role in education involves supporting the
efforts of educators by becoming motivating communities for students to learn,
providing a context for students to understand why they should learn what they are
being taught. Teachers cannot be effective educators without parents and community
taking their share of the responsibility. Responsibility includes supporting the goals of
education through their own understanding, support, role modeling, and active interest
in school life.
Accountabilitythe Plague of Grassroots Reform
An alternative for resolving the balance between centralization and
decentralization, between top-down and bottom-up, between accountability and
control, is premised on broad participation of parents, teachers, citizens,
administrators, and policy makers (Murphy & Beck, 1995; Snauwaert, 1993). Henry
(1996) advocates community accountability where open access to information is
central to success. Without open access to information from the site, the public will
seek to obtain the information from sources which may not be as accurate.
Community accountability is premised on two assumptions. First, information
is necessary for individuals to act in their own interest. Indeed, it is impossible for an
individual to act rationally, as is called for in the marketplace or in any venue which
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requires the investment of resources, without accurate and unbiased information
(Henry, 1996, p. 89). Accountability in education reform calls for all stakeholders to
assess the breadth of the responsibility we all must share in seeking school
improvement by discussing openly and often the question of the purpose of schooling
(Goodlad, 1994). Reaching consensus on the goals of schooling reframes the
problem from one of generating new support to one of maintaining support for an
agreed-upon direction (Fuhrman, 1993, p. 27).
Romer (1995) believes that it is absolutely essential that we is consistently
defined as the people of America. The people of America need to arrive at a
conclusion about what youngster should know and be able to do (p. 66) in order for
the public to take responsibility for their role in reform. The bottom line struggle is
over:
The growing polarization over the question of accountability.... While
[teacher, school board, superintendent, and community] groups have
always been divided to some degree, during the 1990's the question of
accountability seems to have brought an intensity to these struggles that
is unequaled in the history of education in this country. (Theobald &
Mills, 1995, p. 462)
Accountability can become a positive or negative force in school improvement.
A strong positive accountability structure can improve teaching and learning. The
assumption of these accountability strategies are that rewards and punishments based
on the degree of success in achieving clear standards will motivate both students and
educators to high levels of performance (Smith & ODay, 1993). However, when the
72


goals are not clear, then accountability strategies have a negative effect on both
educators and students. One illustration of this is an accountability structure which
continues to hold principals accountable for decision making at the site, school boards
holding the authoritative veto power over schools and community, and political
j
leaders making policy which teachers must enforce.
Many states have developed accountability systems that contain threats for
schools and districts to prove themselves or else funding and/or any move toward site-
based decision making will be taken away (Henry, 1996). Goodlad (1994) criticizes
this approach:
Nothing [is] wrong with idea of being accountable, but the problems
and injustices in contemporary approaches to educational accountability
stem from the fact that all the richness, shortcomings, successes, and
failures of human effort are reduced to a few figures, much as one
records profits and losses in a ledger book. (p. 60)
To some, accountability comes in the form of high-stakes tests which
measure student progress against other students in the country or the world (Cohen &
Spillane, 1993). To others, accountability measures, whatever they be, should be used
as a guide to pay teachers, renew teacher and administrator contracts, and reward
students. Assessments have merit and potential as part the process of creating higher
standards through reform; however, as long as policy-makers view assessments as a
tool to penalize schools, exert power over administrators and teachers, and compare
students, testing will not be a major vehicle of education reform (Rothman, 1995;
73


Theobald & Mills, 1995). While the creation and decisions about use of assessments
are constrained by costs and other considerations, the same tests will be used for
multiple purposes and they will continue to have the same negative consequences for
teachers, students, and schools and will impede efforts to reform (Cohen & Spillane,
1993; McDowell, 1994).
In the end, the general public and government officials feel the need for some
one person or entity to be held responsible if the education system fails students. In
part, this mentality came from the efficiency movement in the early 1900s, when
Frederick Taylors scientific management theory was applied to education (Eisner,
1995). The outcome-based theory was meant to maximize productivity of its workers
(teachers) and, thus, maximize profits (student achievement) and eliminate wasted
effort and motion.
Although Eisner notes that administrators and teachers learned that it was not
possible to give students scripts for learning, guarantee outcomes, find one best
method, or teacher-proof the curriculum, educational accountability today has not
moved that far away from that of the early 1900s. Parents continue to demand and
educators continue to use tests which compare students across schools, the state, the
nation, and the world. And then, the public, school officials, the media, and the
politicians still attempt to point fingers at the source of non-uniformity. As ridiculous
74


as it is to find a single source to blame, it is equally impossible to find agreement over
what should be the standards of accountability, success, responsibility, and control.
The question of educational accountability, in and of itself, is hardly
controversial. Everyone would like public schools to be
accountable to the public. But because the question of how we
exhibit educational accountability hinges on beliefs about what
constitutes knowledge and how it can be demonstrated, an issue
that is non-controversial in theory because extraordinarily divisive
in practice. (Theobald & Mills, 1995, p. 462)
Standards have an assessment component built into the requirements of the
mandate. However, Cohen (1995) warns that standards cannot drive reform.
Standards (or assessments) cannot be used as an instrument for holding schools,
educators or students accountable for to attach such consequences in the present
babel would condemn standards to death by trivializationa common fate of
proposals to reform American education (p. 756). Real reform will come from the
communities and educators, not from the policy-makers. "Compliance and control
must be replaced by more flexible management that gives more authority and
accountability for results to teachers, administrators, parents and students
(CED, p. 11).
In fact, the current bill for standards-based education reform rests on the belief
that all children can learn and that each should be given an educational opportunity
which meets his or her individual needs. This directive is a reflection of Deweys
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constructivist psychology that schooling should facilitate the construction of
understanding and tests should assess the depth and quality of these understandings.
If contemporary Deweyan forces prevail in the current struggle,
accountability will be connected to the ideals Dewey stood for rather
than to the acquisition and reproduction of factual information. It
wont be easy to accomplish this end, and it wont happen quickly. It
will probably require major shifts in bureaucratic structure, but what
counts in the Deweyan camp is the progress we make toward creating
educated persons in our public schools. For contemporary Deweyans,
what constitutes an educated person is a question properly answered
by communities, not by a national or quasi national testing service.
(Theobald & Mills, 1994, p. 464)
As standards-based education has reached its deadline for requiring new
performance-based assessments to be in place, the tension underlying issues of balance
and accountability has not yet been adequately addressed by parents, community,
teachers, administrators, and policy makers. The issue of accountability was raised as
a concern by every interviewee in the study by Dorman, Pintus, and Silverman (1996).
The district assessment director stated that, "assessing them well, and holding anybody
accountable for student performance on them is going to be next to impossible." In
addition, the ambiguity of the policy surrounding the accountability was an issue for
the district accountability committee chair, whose job it was to help schools interpret
the intent: "I looked at the legislative policy and it's muddy. It doesn't make specific
how accountability should be done."
These views reinforce the breakdown in implementation related to ambiguity of
intent and accountability at the district and school levels. This breakdown will be an
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even greater issue if the public believes that there is not coordination and alignment
within the structure necessary to implement reform. The balance and accountability
required by standards reform has brought tension to the surface as stakeholders
deliberate about education's purpose and how to measure the results. However,
while the political and technical hurdles have slowed the shift to the new systems of
measuring student performance, these obstacles have not stopped it. Educators and
policy-makers remain convinced that standards and new forms of assessment are the
way to go (Rothman, 1995, p. 170).
Thus, community involvement in public education will help in overcoming the
obstacles in formulating and implementing standards and assessments because,
although "parent-community involvement, justified as it is by the political principle,
does not ensure improvement in educational outcomes, it makes accountability [italics
in original] for outcomes more widespread (Sarason, 1995, p. 68). With a shift and
broadening of accountability comes a simultaneous increase in meaningful
involvement during decision-making (Murphy & Beck, 1995).
Summary
Since the goals for educational excellence currently supported and promoted
by standards-based educational policy, interpreting the ambiguously stated mandate
will become paramount as assessments are finalized and communicated. Top-down
initiated reform has inherent problems, especially in a locally-controlled state: namely
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balancing the need for centralized support with the struggle for local control over
implementation (Fuhrman, 1993). Involving all stakeholders in the process is a
necessary component to offset the demands and create common goals.
While community involvement in the policy process is an integral part of
successful implementation of educational reform, broadening stakeholder involvement
in the policy process and in local-decision making has been given the least amount of
attention during standards formulation and implementation.
To date, parents and community often have not participated in decisions
regarding education because of their inability or unwillingness to take responsibility in
the process or results (Yankelovich, 1991). Parents and community intentionally have
not been welcomed to engage in decision-making because educators feel threatened by
uniformed "interference (Bradley, 1996). Parents are not involved in making
decisions and do not feel accountable for outcomes because they have lost their
connection with public schools (Mathews, 1996). Often, educators simply do not
know how to involve parent and community participants.
Lay involvement in school governance and accountability must be regarded as
more than simply a trend. It should be regarded as a renewed commitment by all
parties and stakeholders to educational excellence. The Committee for Economic
Development recommends that "leaders from all sectors of the communitybusiness,
foundations, civic and religious institutions, and the mediamust work actively to
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convince the public that the primary mission of the schools is learning and
achievement.... We urge business, government, civic leaders, and the media in every
community to mount a vigorous and sustained communications campaign to rally the
public to support the effort of their schools (CED, 1994, pp. 35-36).
Chapter 4 addresses the need for community involvement in educational issues
and stresses that it is time to educate community about the purpose of education and
involve parents in accountability for education and in the changing system of
governance for reform. At the same time, educators must be open and willing to
embrace an engaged community to reform education in ways that will prepare students
for societal expectations. Casanova (1996, p. 31) believes that relationships where
parents and teachers respect each others knowledge about childrens needs and work
together to maximize their potential is a necessary foundation for shared governance
and accountability.
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CHAPTER 4
CHALLENGES OF PUBLIC OPINION AND PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT
As consumers and citizens, people demand information about social issues
which have widespread public import, and the public expects to be accepted as
judge and jury in these matters which effect them (Bemays, 1961; Reich, 1988).
One problem in applying this principle to education is that most citizens no longer
see educational matters as affecting them directly (Sarason, 1995; Wadsworth,
1997a) and even those citizens that once could identify with school goals now feel
that schools have lost personal meaning for them (Mathews, 1996).
Public schools were founded with the belief that schooling should do more
than merely teach people to read, write, and cipher. Publicly-supported and
universally-available education was meant to prepare people to become responsible
citizens, help people become economically sufficient, and ensure a basic level of
quality among schools (Center on National Education Policy, 1996). Increasingly
in the past decades, public education has become the center of criticism from
Americans who are frustrated by conditions in education that mirror societal
problems: Americans see schools as the mirror image of a moral decay that has
infected society at large (Wadsworth, 1997a, p. 44).
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A great many people do not believe the public schools are reaching their
originally-intended goals. In addition, loss of faith comes from people who dont
believe that the public schools are their agents, who dont believe that the public
schools are responsive to their concerns (Mathews, 1997, p. 741). Public
educational institutions face a loss of legitimacy when those who created them
the publicno longer believe the institutions are their agents, acting on their
behalf.
One reason that the public is losing their bond with schools is that, because
policy-makers, community, and educators have unique experiences with policy and
schools, each group has difficulty in communicating with one another. When
policy-makers suggest changes, such as those dictated by standards, the public
feels that these leadership groups are out of touch with the thinking of average
people.
When faced with change that affects their lives, citizens ask questions and
look to find information in order to form or solidify opinions and confirm their
values (Bemays, 1961). If the information is not forthcoming or satisfactory, then
inquirers form opinions based on misinformation (Bradley, 1996c). Many very
vocal community members say they are well-informed. Clearly communities are
already awash in information and opinions about schools and about their quality
and effectiveness, but much of it is mistaken or misunderstood (Henry, 1996, p.
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88). And many who identify themselves as conservatives are quite hostile to the
reforms, though most of what they know about [educational reform] derives more
from distorted propaganda than from careful investigation and thoughtful
reflection (Cohen, 1995, p.754). If miseducative experiences form the base of
knowledge from which the public interprets information, makes decisions, and
takes action, then it is important that policy makers and educators understand
public values and beliefs so that they can reeducate and involve the public in ways
that will further educational reform.
Public Opinion-The Great fThpredictor
In an effort to give the public what it wants in the educational arena, surveys of
public opinion have examined the status of public opinion and support. These surveys
have provided similar results which indicate, overall, respondents discontent over
declining test scores and desire that students master basic skills.
Nationwide polls indicate that the public favors higher standards for education
(Elam, & Rose, 1995). Various reports indicating public opinion about education have
shown strong public support for holding students accountable for doing their best
(Johnson & Immerwahr, 1994), raising academic standards (Elam & Gallup, 1989;
Sanders, 1995), and creating a national curriculum (Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1994).
According to a 1994 study, 61% of the respondents felt that academic standards for
students are too low, students are not expected to learn enough, or students do not
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put in enough effort (Elam et al., 1994; Johnson & Immerwahr, 1994). In 1995, about
84% of the nations public favored students to meet higher standards to graduate and
87% favored the setting higher standards in order to move from grade to grade (Elam
& Rose, 1995). In the same year in another poll, similar results indicated Coloradans
not only favored standards but a majority believed setting statewide educational
standards was one of the best ways to increase quality of education in the state
(Sanders, 1995).
Business leaders and scientists agree that American students need more
complex and advanced knowledge in math and science earlier in the schools (as is
taught in other countries). According to a 1994 study, employers, parents, and
educators agree that public schools are out of touch and out of datethat basic
reading, writing, and arithmetic are essential but no longer sufficient to prepare
students for work and citizenship in a changing world (Agenda 21, August 1994).
The Business Coalition for Education Reform (BCER) includes in its mission,
raising academic standards for all students; ensuring standards reflect the academic
and workplace skills needed for sustaining a growing economy and helping the
public understand the critical need for best-in-the-world academic standards and
necessary changes needed for school systems to deliver them (BCER Summary,
1996). The public agrees. According to a Gallup public opinion poll, a full 88% of
those surveyed felt that America's strength in the future is more dependent on
83