Date of Award

8-2016

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Dr. Jianping Shen

Second Advisor

Dr. Sue Poppink

Third Advisor

Dr. Yuanlong Liu

Abstract

The notion of schools as “loosely-coupled” organizations has been widely discussed in the research literature. Many argue that the loose coupling is either a protective mechanism for schools to buffer external pressure or a barrier to implementing new reforms. Against the backdrop of standards-based reform and accountability policies in the last 15 years, which focus on tightening the system as the way to improve K-12 schools, I conducted three related studies to empirically test the loose coupling theory by applying two-level hierarchical linear models to nationally representative data in the US.

In the first study I evaluated the loose coupling theory by examining the association between data-informed improvement efforts at the school level and data-informed instruction at the classroom level. Statistically significant associations were identified. However, the effect sizes were small, and a very small proportion of variance was explained. In the second study I evaluated the loose coupling theory through examining the association between data-informed improvement efforts at the district and school levels. Statistically significant associations were identified with large effect sizes, and a large proportion of variance was explained. In the third study, I examined whether school performance was attributable to data-informed decision-making at the district, school, and classroom levels. Only one school level data-informed decision-making area was statistically significant.

In summary, viewing “using data” as a coupling mechanism and “decision-making” as a coupling element, I found that the K-12 system appears to be “loosely-coupled” between the school and classroom levels, but “tightly-coupled” between the district and school levels. In other words, the blanket statement of “schools as loosely coupled organizations” is not accurate. Thus, the dominant reform agenda in the last 15 years based on this blanket statement—advocating to tighten the system via curriculum standards, accountability tests, and evaluation as the way to improve the K-12 schools—is called into question. Policy implications are discussed.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

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