Dissertation

Principals’ Perceptions of Autonomy to Implement Change for English Language Learners

For almost three decades a spotlight has been placed on the problems of the American educational system. Reform efforts put into place were intended to improve our schools by ensuring that all students’ needs were met and to close the achievement gap however, the number of schools and districts labeled as failing is growing and the achievement gap grows larger. In California, one particular significant subgroup, English language learners, is a group whose population continues to grow in number and yet the number of students in this subgroup who are not meeting state targets grows (California Department of Education, 2009). As this crisis evolves, and a myriad of reform efforts are exhausted, the role of the instructional leader evolves as well.
 
 The latest federal legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has created a high stakes accountability climate by setting federal mandates for increasing levels of student achievement of significant subgroups. Schools and their districts who fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) guidelines for all subgroups are subject to progressive degrees of corrective action. This might include restructuring the school by removing or replacing the school site’s instructional leader. As a result, the role of principal takes on even greater importance as educational researchers and policymakers seek reforms to meet these new demands. These reforms or demands for immediate changes, designed to support student achievement may actually constrain the role of the principal as the instructional leader.
 
 The primary purpose of this study was to examine how reform efforts support or constrain principal autonomy in meeting the needs of English language learners. Utilizing the theoretical frameworks of School Reform and Social Network Theory, this study compared the level of principal autonomy in two distinct districts, one centralized and the other decentralized, that is, how information and resources are transmitted. This mixed methods study compared student data, survey results of district and site leaders, principal interviews and a review of documents.

For almost three decades a spotlight has been placed on the problems of the American educational system. Reform efforts put into place were intended to improve our schools by ensuring that all students’ needs were met and to close the achievement gap however, the number of schools and districts labeled as failing is growing and the achievement gap grows larger. In California, one particular significant subgroup, English language learners, is a group whose population continues to grow in number and yet the number of students in this subgroup who are not meeting state targets grows (California Department of Education, 2009). As this crisis evolves, and a myriad of reform efforts are exhausted, the role of the instructional leader evolves as well. The latest federal legislation, No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has created a high stakes accountability climate by setting federal mandates for increasing levels of student achievement of significant subgroups. Schools and their districts who fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) guidelines for all subgroups are subject to progressive degrees of corrective action. This might include restructuring the school by removing or replacing the school site’s instructional leader. As a result, the role of principal takes on even greater importance as educational researchers and policymakers seek reforms to meet these new demands. These reforms or demands for immediate changes, designed to support student achievement may actually constrain the role of the principal as the instructional leader. The primary purpose of this study was to examine how reform efforts support or constrain principal autonomy in meeting the needs of English language learners. Utilizing the theoretical frameworks of School Reform and Social Network Theory, this study compared the level of principal autonomy in two distinct districts, one centralized and the other decentralized, that is, how information and resources are transmitted. This mixed methods study compared student data, survey results of district and site leaders, principal interviews and a review of documents.

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