Active accountability: A cross-case study of two schools negotiating improvement, change, and organizational integrity
Educational accountability has come to be defined almost exclusively in terms of schools meeting external standards of improvement. Building on a body of scholarship that presents schools as complex organizations, this research proposes that a more robust understanding of educational accountability must be grounded in practitioners perceptions of what being accountable means and how they enact accountable practices within the context of their particular school settings. Specifically, this study draws on one line of scholarship that conceptualizes strong internal accountability as the alignment between individual, collective, and organizational understandings of for what and to whom each is accountable, and another branch of literature that articulates school-based accountability as an internally negotiated process of continual, responsive change.
A cross-case study of two schools with philosophically dissimilar foundations—the staff in each holding distinct understandings of for what and to whom they are accountable—this dissertation develops a working theory of Active Accountability (AA) to examine culturally grounded iterations of internal accountability processes. Throughout the data collection, analysis, and reporting phases of this study, the AA framework highlighted commonalities in the internal accountability system in each research site without losing sight of local distinctions or complexities.
Findings from this study reveal that a significant component of internal accountability in both research sites involved staff managing a balance between the seemingly conflicting imperatives of responsive change and sustaining organizational integrity. Cross-case analysis illuminates how staff in each school engaged in processes of reconciling and prioritizing, setting and pushing boundaries of acceptable practices as they negotiated ways to integrate proposed changes into the logic of established organizational norms. Further, despite their considerable differences, both participating schools were found to have cultivated a high degree of collegial trust and to have put in place structures that supported intensive collegial communication, which in turn enabled staff to navigate extended periods of uncertainty involved in the responsive change process. This research contributes to literature documenting the exacting and infinite character of meaningful and sustainable school-based accountability.
0449: Educational leadership
0514: School administration