Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

LaSonja Roberts, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Louann Bierlein Palmer, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Shane Silpe, Ph.D.


Academic investment, executive functioning, learning, school choice, self-regulation, student mobility


This study explores self-regulation in the learning experiences of school choice students who have attended a traditional public school and a charter public school. Research shows self-regulation is a form of non-cognitive executive functioning characterized by many observable traits children employ in their learning environments. Self-regulation development in the learning investments students make relates to school mobility, social identity, and connectedness while navigating their learning amid school changes (Golden, 2017; Langenkamp, 2016). School mobility may impact students by lowering self-regulation and increasing school dropout through compromised social identity and connectedness (Jdaitawi, 2015; Rumberger & Larson, 1998). Understanding the distinction between schooling and being educated may lead to more thoughtful considerations in adopting school leadership practices and policies committed to educating the whole child in mobile student populations (Lubienski & Lee, 2016; McGregor et al., 2017). Evidence of how the study participants consider they fit into the distinct worlds of both schooling and being educated is found in their described learning experiences.

The phenomenological study uses semi-structured interviews of 10 students in grades 6_1l to examine the self-regulatory traits in their learning experiences, perceptions of school change, and ideas about school success. Two rounds of interviews are conducted about one and a half years apart. Data used from the first round is obtained through a pilot study conducted for the same purpose as the second round using similar research questions. The study’s conceptual framework is influenced by the social identity and the rational choice theories, which inform three underlying pillars of self-regulation, academic investment, and charter school choice. Descriptive phenomenology is used to describe each participant’s learning investments that lend truths to specific themes, which form a universal structure (Vagle, 2018). Twelve essential themes are central to the students’ learning experiences and the essence of the phenomenon.

One conclusion is the themes that emerged from the students’ learning experiences represent the study’s conceptual framework and confirm the essence of the phenomenon. One significant thematic result is that school change leads to positive opportunities. Focus as a self-regulation indicator was observed to be higher while students shared a school success compared to when describing their overall learning. Strong concerns about peer behavior, fitting in with peers, and the learning pace overshadowed any notable references to teacher expectations. Evidence was stronger that students value and seek ways to become educated as a whole-person and strengthen their core learning processes, including self-regulation, rather than caring as much about gaining content knowledge.

The results and conclusions provide important implications for further study and how educational leaders and policy makers may best serve mobile student populations. The most prominent implications for leaders relate to student social-emotional and teaching style themes where meaningful relationship building recognizes students as individuals, yet affirms their sense of belonging. Another implication from the results is clearly defining what teachers and students do during explicit instruction. A pace that accommodates students’ needs, provides cohesion and choice, and clearly presents content and learning objectives is crucial. A vital implication proposed is listening to student voices and reflections on learning. Above all, in making educational decisions, leaders must consider that school choice deviates from traditional remedy due to its increased complexities. In line with Kruis et al. (2020), twenty-first century social and family dynamics influencing school choice mobility make teaching and learning complex rather than simply complicated. What it is like to experience this phenomenon is best, and perhaps only, captured by the most profound insights of student participant voices themselves.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access