District Administrator Perspectives on Student Learning in an Era of Standards and Accountability: A Collective Frame Analysis

By Anderson, Stephen E.; Macri, Joelle Rodway | Canadian Journal of Education, October 2009 | Go to article overview

District Administrator Perspectives on Student Learning in an Era of Standards and Accountability: A Collective Frame Analysis


Anderson, Stephen E., Macri, Joelle Rodway, Canadian Journal of Education


Our analysis explores the agenda for student learning communicated in interviews with school district officials from four Ontario districts. Using research methods drawn from collective action framing theory, we identified six core frames and one broader frame in the discourse on student learning: (a) measureable academic achievement, (b) personalized preparation for post-secondary destinations, (c) a well-rounded education, (d) personal development, (e) faith/values-based education, (f) social identity development, and (g) developing the whole child (the broader frame). The analysis highlights the administrators' advocacy for a more encompassing educational agenda than that mandated by government curriculum and accountability policies, and the utility of framing theory for education policy analysis.

Keywords: school district administrators, accountability, learning, policy analysis, curriculum analysis

Les auteurs analysent les priorites des administrateurs de commissions scolaires quant a l'apprentissage des eleves telles qu'elles ressortent des entrevues menees dans quatre commissions scolaires en Ontario. A l'aide de methodes de recherche tirees de la theorie du cadrage de l'action collective, les auteurs ont identifie six cadres cles et un cadre pius vaste dans le discours des administrateurs de commissions scolaires sur l'apprentissage des eleves : (a) le rendement scolaire mesurable, (b) la preparation personnalisee pour le postsecondaire, (c) une education complete, (d) le developpement personnel, (e) une education reposant sur la foi/des valeurs, (f) le developpement de l'identite personnelle et (g) le developpement de l'enfant dans toutes ses dimensions (le cadre plus vaste). L'analyse met en lumiere le combat des administrateurs pour une orientation plus englobante que celle que prescrit le gouvernement dans les curriculums et les politiques en matiere d'imputabilite ainsi que l'utilite de la theorie du cadrage dans l'etude des politiques en matiere d'education.

Mots cles: administrateurs d'arrondissement scolaire, imputabilite, apprentissage, analyse de politiques, analyse d'un curriculum.

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School district leaders are expected to develop consensus around district goals and priorities for action. This responsibility implies more than simply specifying district visions, goals, and plans. It involves trying to influence the thinking and actions of local stakeholders (e.g., principals, teachers, parents) towards the collective accomplishment of those directions (Leithwood, Louis, Anderson, & Wahlstrom, 2004). In that sense, we conceptualize this kind of district level activity as aimed at creating and leading a local social movement, focused on a shared understanding of and commitment to district goals and plans. Contemporary government-mandated education standards and accountability-based policies are clearly intended to influence what local educators identify as the primary goals for student learning and the focus for district and school-level efforts to improve student learning. The extent to which the thoughts and actions of local education leaders about student learning goals and needs for improvement are actually framed in terms of government policies or in terms of other agendas for student learning is, however, not well known.

In this article, we examine school district administrator discourse around student learning in the context of provincial curriculum and student performance standards and accountability systems. The Ontario Ministry of Education has supported since 1996 the development and implementation of a core outcomes and standards-based curriculum, curriculum-aligned standardized tests, and provincially defined targets for student performance under successive Conservative and Liberal governments. Using interview data from 14 administrators from four Ontario school districts (public and Catholic, English and French), we investigated the core themes in this framing discourse, and variability in the content and construction of this discourse within and across settings.

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District Administrator Perspectives on Student Learning in an Era of Standards and Accountability: A Collective Frame Analysis
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