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Representations of Stakeholders in School District Policy Making

Sat, April 6, 4:10 to 6:10pm, Metro Toronto Convention Centre, Floor: 200 Level, Room 201B


Purpose. Recent research presents policymaking in district central offices as involving negotiations about the nature of the key issues at hand. Decision makers do not always have a shared understanding of the problem to solve or the solutions to pursue (Stone, 1988), or that actual decision making involves negotiation and deliberation of the different problems and possible solutions at hand (Author, 2009). What we know less about, however, is how and when invocations of stakeholders enter into policy making discussions over time.

Framework. Here, we draw on a conceptual framework rooted in the ideas of Goffman (1974), particularly his notions of “front stage” and “back stage” work that can animate social life, and an adaptation of his concept of “footing” to understand how stakeholders were positioned by district leaders.

Methods and data. We offer an in-depth case study of one mid-sized urban school district determining how to respond to Common Core State Standards in mathematics. This district, like many districts nationally, needed to figure out how to respond to the shifts in secondary standards which ran counter to a pre-existing Algebra for All policy in 8th grade. The policy redesign unfolded across 18 months of meetings, ending with a new policy approved by the school board. Our data collection involved over 20 hours of observations of these district meetings, and analysis of relevant policy documents, including the final policy paper.

Results. We present three findings based on this analysis. First, district leaders explicitly talked about a wide range of stakeholders in these conversations. Across all meetings, district leaders named (in order of frequency from most to least) students or kids, school leaders, parents/families, other district central office administrators, teachers, and school board members. A second finding from the study is that, when district leaders referred to stakeholders not in the meeting, they did so in different ways. 1) naming the needs of stakeholders to be taken into account in policy designs, 2) invoking the “voices” of stakeholders to be considered, and 3) invoking stakeholders as audience members to be informed or persuaded. There were patterns to these different positionings of stakeholders. For example, when students came up in discussion, district leaders most often identified their needs as learners to be designed for, whereas parents and school board members were most often mentioned as the audience members for district leaders’ policy messages. The third finding in the paper is that patterns of when and how leaders represented stakeholders shifted over the 18 months as the discussion transitioned from internal meetings and towards the public sharing of the position paper at the final Board meeting. The shifting stakeholder representations suggest different phases in the policymaking process.

Scholarly signifiance. This paper has implications for researchers interested in the dynamics and processes of decision-making in central offices as well as school district leaders. How stakeholders needs and perspectives are represented in district policymaking provides a window into how these role groups are conceptualized by leaders, and how impacts of policies and practices are imagined by key decision-makers.


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