Innovation and a Return to the Status Quo: A Mixed-Methods Study of School Reconstitution

Innovation and a Return to the Status Quo: A Mixed-Methods Study of School Reconstitution Katharine O. Strunk*, Julie A. Marsh, Ayesha K. Hashim, Susan Bush-Mecenas University of Southern California Rossier
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Innovation and a Return to the Status Quo: A Mixed-Methods Study of School Reconstitution Katharine O. Strunk*, Julie A. Marsh, Ayesha K. Hashim, Susan Bush-Mecenas University of Southern California Rossier School of Education October 17, 2015 Abstract School reconstitution, a turnaround strategy that prescribes massive staffing turnover, is expected to result in a more committed and capable school staff and innovative practices. However, little evidence supports this assumption. We use quasi-experimental designs to assess the impact of reconstitution on student achievement and teacher mobility, finding that reconstitution impacted teacher mobility and improved student achievement in the first year of the reform, with continued but smaller impacts in the out years. We draw on mutual learning theory to conduct an exploratory analysis of reform implementation. We find that initial restaffing and strategic planning may have promoted balance between exploring new and exploiting existing knowledge. Over time, however, balanced, mutual learning was not sustained. * corresponding author Katharine O. Strunk Associate Professor of Education & Policy Rossier School of Education and Price School of Public Policy University of Southern California 901E Waite Phillips Hall 3470 Trousdale Parkway Los Angeles, California (213) I. Introduction Education leaders are increasingly relying on school reconstitution as a policy solution for turning around low-performing schools (Malen & Rice, 2015). This reform strategy targets the human capital stock of schools, replacing existing teachers, administrators and support staff with more motivated qualified, and collaborative employees. Typically, school reconstitution allows existing staff members to reapply for their jobs and be rehired up until a certain threshold (usually 50% of the school s existing staff), or to otherwise transfer to another position in the school district (Malen, Croninger, Muncey, & Reymond-Jones, 2002; Malen & Rice, 2015). Additionally, reconstituted schools may receive financial resources and technical assistance to facilitate shifts in organizational design and practice. Through these efforts, reconstituted schools are expected to develop a more committed and capable school staff, innovate school and classroom practices, and support rapid gains in student achievement. The federal government has included school reconstitution in several of its recent reforms. For instance, the No Child Left Behind Act specifies school staff replacement as a potential corrective action for schools that fail to meet academic performance standards for four consecutive years (Linn, 2005; Novak & Fuller, 2003). Similarly, the School Improvement Grants (SIG) program features school reconstitution as the turnaround model for school improvement (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). 1 Many states and school districts have also relied on school reconstitution to provide a fresh start for low-performing schools, with reforms being implemented in cities such as San Francisco, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Colorado Springs, New York City, and Philadelphia (Malen & Rice, 2015). While informed by a deliberate theory of action, there is little empirical evidence to suggest that school reconstitution actually transforms low-performing schools. Extant research 1 The turnaround model in SIG requires school districts to replace school leadership, rehire no more than 50% of existing teaching staff, and grant new school principals sufficient flexibility to implement a comprehensive plan for school improvement (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). 2 has produced mixed evidence on the impacts of school reconstitution on student achievement (Dee, 2012; Hamilton et al., 2014; Malen et al., 2002), and indicates that school reconstitution might lead to negative and unintended consequences for the human capital of schools (Malen et al., 2002; Malen & Rice, 2004, 2009; Rice & Malen, 2003; Rice & Croninger, 2005). In order to provide further evidence to inform the use of reconstitution in education reform, this paper examines the implementation and outcomes of three reconstituted schools in a large urban school district. Identified based on past performance, these low-performing schools engaged in a local school redesign process, including reflection and detailed instructional and operational planning, which culminated with district-led reconstitution. In particular, we ask the following research questions: 1) How does school reconstitution impact teacher mobility and the teacher workforce of lowperforming schools?; 2) How does school reconstitution impact student outcomes in low-performing schools?; and 3) What conditions and factors contributed to the observed outcomes of reconstitution in our case study schools? The paper proceeds as follows. In the next section, we outline the theory of action upon which school reconstitution is based, reviewing the empirical and conceptual literature that addresses reconstitution and outlining March s (1991, 1994) mutual learning model, which we use as a lens for the exploratory implementation analysis. Next, we review the quantitative and qualitative data and methods that we use in this study. We follow this with a discussion of our results from each of the three research questions, and conclude with further discussion and implications for policy, practice and future research. II. Empirical and Conceptual Underpinnings: Grounding the Inquiry In this section, we outline the theory of action underpinning school reconstitution and summarize the key findings of the school reconstitution literature regarding the effects of school reconstitution on: 1) staffing, focusing on teacher mobility and quality; 2) school redesign and innovation; and 3) student achievement. We then review March s (1991, 1994) mutual learning model and describe how this theory of organizational learning can be applied to studies of school reconstitution. 3 The Theory of Action behind School Reconstitution While school districts have implemented school reconstitution under different labels (e.g., turnaround, redesign, reengineering) and program designs, these reforms all share a common theory of action. In particular, school reconstitution efforts are grounded in research indicating that teachers and administrators matter for student achievement (e.g., Aaronson, Barrow & Sander, 2007; Chetty, Friedman & Rockoff, 2014; Leithwood, Seashore, Anderson & Wahlstrom, 2004; Nye, Konstantopoulos & Hedges, 2004; Rivkin, Hanushek, & Kain, 2005; Rockoff, 2004), and play a central role in reform implementation (e.g., Coburn & Stein, 2006; Spillane, Halverson & Diamond, 2001). As such, efforts to improve school performance must target the quality of teachers and school leadership. School reconstitution policies further assume that low-performing schools are dysfunctional organizations, meaning that incremental changes such as new teacher professional development or evaluation procedures will not improve organizational performance (Malen & Rice, 2015, p. 5). Instead, low-performing schools must be reinvented anew by replacing existing school staff with highly qualified and motivated educators, administrators, and support personnel (Malen & Rice, 2015; Malen et al., 2002). Figure 1 outlines the sequence of events expected to follow once low-performing schools undergo re-staffing. First, new hires come with more experience, higher qualifications, and greater levels of motivation than existing school staff, thus improving the human capital stock of schools (Malen & Rice, 2015; Malen et al., 2002). Next, these reconfigured school staffs engage in school redesign (Malen et al., 2002), adopting innovative and efficient school practices that improve student achievement. Examples of such practices include community-based governance, faculty collaboration, tailor-made professional development, and teacher-initiated, inquiry-based approaches to instruction (Malen et al., 2002, p. 123). As part of this school redesign process, new employees build an organizational culture of staff collaboration, learning and adaptation (Malen et al., 2002; Rice & Croninger, 2005), which further enhances school capacity for innovation and improvement. 4 Education leaders employ two policy tools to facilitate the above chain of events. First, education leaders rely on the threat of school reconstitution, often alongside other rewards and sanctions in high-stakes school accountability systems, to incentivize returning or newly hired staff to work more productively and make efficient use of school resources (Malen & Rice, 2015; Rice & Malen, 2010). Second, education leaders provide school capacity reinforcements in the form of resources that are aligned to school goals such as new personnel, technical assistance, and professional development (Malen & Rice, 2004, 2015; Rice & Malen, 2010). All together, these incentives and capacity measures are expected to promote organizational learning and changes to school practices (discussed later in this section), guaranteeing that school staff replacement eventually leads to improvements in student achievement and school performance. A Review of the Empirical Literature on School Reconstitution There is little empirical evidence on the efficacy of reconstitution reforms to improve student and school outcomes. While there is a larger and growing body of literature on the implementation and impacts of school turnaround a broader reform movement that encompasses multiple strategies for creating rapid, substantial, and sustained improvements in school performance (e.g., Herman et al., 2008; Knudson, Shamburgh, & O Day, 2011) we focus on studies of school reconstitution efforts, which emphasize the human capital component of school change. In this section, we summarize the key findings of the school reconstitution literature in terms of three key milestones as identified in our theory of action (Figure 1), namely the effects of reconstitution on: 1) staffing (teacher mobility and quality); 2) school redesign and innovation; and 3) student achievement. We conclude with a review of March s (1991, 1994) mutual learning model, which we use as a lens in our qualitative study, and a discussion of how this work contributes to the empirical and conceptual literature base on school reconstitution. Teacher Outcomes of School Reconstitution. While the theory of action behind school reconstitution hinges on school workforce improvements, research has shown that reconstituted schools experience negative human capital consequences. A series of case studies 5 of three reconstituted schools in a single urban district finds disruptive short-term outcomes including high rates of teacher exit, with first-year and non-certificated teachers often replacing more experienced and reputedly effective teachers (Malen et al., 2002; Malen & Rice, 2004, 2009; Rice & Malen, 2003; Rice & Croninger, 2005). These results suggest that newly hired teachers at reconstituted schools might actually be less qualified and committed to school improvement than their predecessors (Malen & Rice, 2015). Empirical studies of school reconstitution in Texas (Hamilton et al., 2014) and Chicago (de la Torre et al., 2013; Hess, 2003), along with state and national reports on SIG reforms (Center on Education Policy, 2012; U.S. General Accounting Office, 2012), report similar findings. To explain these human capital challenges, education scholars suggest that challenging working conditions, the threat of future corrective action, and the stigma of working at a reconstituted school create strong incentives for effective and veteran teachers to transfer to other district schools (Malen et al., 2002; Hamilton et al., 2014; Hess, 2003; Rice & Malen, 2003). In addition, school districts often face shortages of qualified and experienced teachers and school administrators (Center on Education Policy 2012; de la Torre et al., 2013; Hamilton et al. 2014; LeFloch et al. 2014; Rice & Croninger 2005), which reduces the quality of incoming staff assigned to reconstituted schools. School Redesign and Innovation in Reconstitution Reforms. Given the apparent negative effects of school reconstitution on teacher quality, it is not surprising that extant research finds inconclusive evidence about reconstituted schools capacity for innovation and improvement. Some studies suggest that school reconstitution enhances the cultural capital of schools when new staff come from similar ethnic backgrounds as students (Malen et al., 2002; Rice & Croninger, 2005), as well as improves school professional culture with new hires working longer hours and exerting more effort than previous staff (Hamilton et al., 2014; Hansen, Kraetzer, & Mukherjee, 1998; Rice & Malen, 2010). However, the extent to which these benefits translate into innovative and effective school practices that ultimately improve student 6 achievement is unknown (Malen & Rice, 2015; Rice & Malen, 2010). This knowledge gap is due, in part, to the fact that existing studies on school reconstitution have paid little attention to processes of organizational learning that contribute to school improvement. The human capital advantages of school reconstitution can also be offset by the disruptive and punitive nature of this reform, which increases both the intensity of work and pressure for success (Malen & Rice, 2004, 2015; Malen et al., 2002). These high-stress conditions can deplete the social capital of schools (Malen & Rice, 2004, 2015; Rice & Croninger, 2005), as well as focus staff efforts on reestablishing organizational routines rather than implementing new and comprehensive school improvement strategies (Malen & Rice, 2004, 2015; Malen et al., 2002; Rice & Croninger, 2005). For example, due to frequent staff and leader turnover, teachers at reconstituted schools often find it difficult to develop collaborative relationships, coordinate efforts for addressing student and school needs, or build institutional knowledge (Malen et al., 2002; Malen & Rice, 2004; Rice & Croninger, 2005; Rice & Malen, 2003). Observations and reports of classroom instruction further reflect superficial changes in teacher practices (Hess, 2003; Malen et al., 2002), low quality instruction (Rice & Malen, 2003), and the dilution of academic standards (Hess, 2003). These challenges, in turn, can deplete teachers morale and increase their sense of disillusionment, further diminishing schools human capital stock and capacity for innovation and improvement (Malen & Rice, 2004; Malen et al., 2002). Student Outcomes of School Reconstitution. Currently little is known about the impacts of school reconstitution on student and school performance. Most prior studies have focused on the effects of school turnaround rather than on the impacts of school reconstitution on student outcomes (de la Torre, et al., 2013; AUTHORS, forthcoming). The few studies that have explicitly focused on school reconstitution find either inconsistent trends in student achievement (Hamilton et al., 2014; Malen et al., 2002) or short-term gains due to reconstitution (Archibald & Odden 2000; Dee, 2012; Hess, 2003; O Brien & Dervarics 2013; Mintrop & Trujillo 2005; Rojas 1996). Given the findings that paint a negative picture of the effects of reconstitution 7 on teacher quality and school capacity, the somewhat positive results regarding performance outcomes are surprising. However, as with the studies examining the effects of reconstitution on teacher outcomes, most student achievement studies do not employ methodologies that enable the assessment of causal impacts of school reconstitution, and should be interpreted with caution. One notable exception to this literature is a recent study by Dee (2012), which suggests that school reconstitution can improve student outcomes when coupled with complementary resources. Using a regression discontinuity design, Dee (2012) demonstrates that SIG-funded reforms in California produce significant school performance gains, with the school reconstitution model driving these achievement gains. Given that the SIG program couples school reconstitution with sizeable financial grants and local discretion for implementing school improvement plans, Dee s findings lend credence to the notion that school reconstitution can improve school performance when ample resources and local discretion are provided. Our paper contributes to this literature, as it is one of the first to use multiple methods to examine the impacts of reconstitution on teacher and student outcomes, as well as explore the implementation of reconstitution in individual case sites. Moreover, we draw on administrative data to document the simultaneous effects of school reconstitution on teacher and student outcomes. In addition, our qualitative analyses draw upon mutual learning theory (March, 1991, 1994) to posit a more nuanced understanding of the reconstitution process, and how and why changes in teacher and student outcomes may occur. Using Mutual Organizational Learning to Understand Reconstitution. Because the theory of action upon which reconstitution is based assumes that treated schools will benefit from having a mix of new and existing staff, along with the knowledge and skills that they possess, and enhanced school organizational learning, we draw on March s (1991, 1994) mutual learning theory to understand the nuances and intricacies of how school reconstitution occurs 8 and to explore how and why reconstitution may influence teacher and student outcomes. 2 March posits that organizations allocate their limited resources to exploring new possibilities and exploiting old knowledge. Exploration describes the introduction of new knowledge into the organization, through both active (as in the case of purposeful search for new alternatives) and passive processes. Thus, exploration supports organizational adaptation through the discovery of more effective and efficient practices, but also involves risk as organizations must invest time and resources to implement unfamiliar practices that may or may not lead to improved performance. Exploitation, or drawing on existing knowledge within the organization, is theorized to provide more certain and faster returns. It is through exploitation that organizations may realize the returns on their investment in new knowledge. Ultimately, organizations establish balance between exploitation and exploration to support ongoing learning and optimal performance. Consider a simple case of mutual learning in a school setting. A hypothetical high school operates on a traditional schedule of one-hour class periods. The school has long operated in this way, so teachers have developed one-hour lessons and students are comfortable with this structure. The school, however, has seen declining student achievement in recent years, perhaps related to environmental changes like decreased funding and a shift to Common Core-aligned curriculum. This school is used to exploiting its knowledge about how to function with the current schedule. Achievement may be declining due to environmental factors, but it does so steadily and predictably. We can interpret this school as having a high rate of environmental change and a low rate of exploration, which together reduce its efficiency and effectiveness. One day, a new teacher arrives at our hypothetical high school. She finds it difficult to fit her Common Core-aligned lessons into the one-hour class periods, so she suggests to the administration that they shift to a two-hour block schedule. Agreeing with her idea, the administrators invest time in convincing teachers that the two-hour block will improve student 2 While we acknowledge that there are several other theories that may contribute to and/or explain how reconstitution played out (e.g., goal theory, social capital, threat rigidity), the mutual learning model fit be
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