Otten, Amanda St. Clair (2016-11). Too Much Reform, Not Enough Change: A Case Study of Transformational Potential and Stakeholder Readiness for Change in an Urban Middle School. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Research demonstrates the failure of the American public school system to meet the needs of all students, particularly urban students of color. Despite billions of dollars spent on various education reforms, little systemic change has taken place in urban schools. This qualitative study utilized a case study design to examine the experiences of stakeholders at Southmore Middle School (pseudonym), an urban middle school undergoing reform in the northeastern United States. Archival data, collected in the 2008-2009 school year as part of a previous study of a community school reform effort, the Allied Community School Cooperative (pseudonym), included semi-structured interviews collected from 23 participants at Southmore. Participants were teachers, administrators, and support staff. Using a constant comparative method, the present study examined these stakeholder groups and their readiness for change. The researcher used an inductive process to make meaning of the archival data, allowing research questions to emerge concurrently with analysis. Literature on school culture elucidated the role of human actors in urban schools undergoing reform. Through an ecological lens informed by theories of competing expectations, race/class and organizational habitus, and transformation of intentions, the researcher coded data and extracted themes. These themes led to the development of transformational potential, a framework that assesses the degree to which a reform effort and a local school system are able to achieve synthesis toward creating systemic change. Transformational potential requires a synthesis within and between stakeholder groups and the reform in five key areas: ideologies, engagement, intentions, amelioration, and culture. This study extends the literature on school culture and reform, suggesting that culture should be included as a facet of a school's ecology to represent the role of stakeholders in impacting a school and efforts to transform it. The transformational potential framework will be a useful tool for stakeholders in schools undergoing reform as they interrogate their own ideologies, motives for engagement, intentions, understanding of amelioration, and culture. Administrators, who are often the first stakeholders to interact with potential reforms, will find this research particularly useful as they negotiate the multiple levels of synthesis required for successful reform.

publication date

  • November 2016