Guiding School Improvement with Action Research

By Richard Sagor | Go to book overview

13 Collaborative Action Research
and School Culture

The most exciting moment of my professional career was when I first heard the late Ron Edmonds speak. As he shared his then ground-breaking research on effective schools, I heard empirical confirmation of my belief that schools are capable of preparing all students for equality of opportunity.

The work of Edmonds (1979), Brookover and Lezotte (1979), Rutter, Maughn, Mortimore, Ouston, and Smith (1979), and the other effective schooling researchers who followed in their footsteps provided all the positive proof needed to establish that schools do indeed make the critical difference in student learning, that nurture is more powerful than nature, and that school characteristics are better predictors of student performance than socioeconomic status. This was the most exciting piece of social research I could ever have imagined. To realize that educators had in their power the means to provide every child, regardless of social class, an equal opportunity to develop the academic skills necessary for lifelong success was all the vindication I needed for my decision to spend my life pursuing social justice through education.

That exhilaration was soon followed by years of frustration over the inability to clone effective schools. It appeared that the transformation of an ineffective school into an effective one required more than a focus on adopting a list of correlates. Fortunately, the findings of a new generation of researchers such as Sarason (1982), Schein (1992), Bryk and Driscoll (1988), Little (1982), and Rosenholtz (1989) helped illuminate the hidden ingredient of effectiveness—the mortar that binds the building blocks of effectiveness and the key factor that had apparently escaped the attention of the original effective school researchers. These researchers uncovered the power of organizational culture. They docu-

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