2020. By Kyle Weinberg.

Power structures in U.S. public schools have grown increasingly more hierarchical in response to a perceived decline in K-12 instructional quality. The rising prominence of high-stakes accountability mechanisms has resulted in top-down limiting of teachers’ role in site decision-making. Promoting a more prominent teacher role in school governance is a promising countermeasure to the teacher turnover and lower quality of instruction disproportionately found in schools serving vulnerable populations. When educators have a greater voice in site decision-making, they are more committed to the organizational vision and more likely to stay at a school. Student academic and civic outcomes also improve when school governance is democratically collaborative. Recognizing the need for additional research on the relationship between decision-making authority and the role of teachers in site governance at an educator-run school, one site was examined through a qualitative, case study approach using an integrated theoretical framework that incorporated structure, culture and agency and the areas of collective autonomy exploring (1) the role of teachers in site governance at an educator-run school and (2) the structural and cultural systems that support or hinder teachers’ role in site decision-making.

Qualitative data compiled through interviews, observations of decision-making meetings and gathering of site documents clarified how structural and cultural systems shape and are shaped by teachers’ participation in site decision-making. Analysis of the themes and categories that surfaced from the data shed light on the relationship between formal, prescribed decision-making authority and the dynamics of educator-run school governance in practice.

Findings from the study indicated that systems that hinder teachers’ participation in school governance are legal, district and budget constraints, lack of preparation and mistrust. Governing documents that support significant teachers’ role in school-level decisions are the pilot school agreement and Elect-to-Work Agreement with its annual teacher-driven revisiting and refinement. Representative leadership, rotating leadership and protocols help to democratize decision-making at the research site by providing transparent structures to guide selection of leaders and horizontal collaboration. Cultural systems that support significant teachers’ role in school-level decisions are a common vision, collaboration, sense of ownership, peer accountability, mentoring and organizing skills.

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