Department

Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

Institution

University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources

Text

Place of Publication

Greeley (Colo.)

Publisher

University of Northern Colorado

Date Created

8-2021

Digital Origin

Born digital

Abstract

A key element within school accountability frameworks across the United States is student performance as measured by standardized assessments. Scholars have argued that these types of assessments and accountability systems have narrowed the curriculum to emphasize students' development of discrete, specialized skills. Researchers have recently suggested that deeper learning approaches will better support students in building the skills and understanding needed for life and work. Unfortunately, deeper learning has not commonly been observed at the school-wide level. Recent research suggested that a prevailing culture of district-level curriculum leadership serves as a potential barrier to the enactment of deep learning in schools. The purpose of this instrumental case study was to generate a detailed description of the beliefs, values, and attitudes that characterize the culture of district-level curriculum leadership in one large public school district. The findings were then compared to the conditions scholars have suggested as supportive of deeper learning. Data were collected from 22 interviews, 13 documents, and two observations. Participants included six district-level curriculum leaders, three school principals, and 12 teachers. A key feature of the culture in Haggerty, the sampled district, was its commitment to a uniform curricular approach across schools. Specifically, findings indicated a high degree of prescriptiveness concerning content and instructional materials. While the literature suggested this form of prescriptiveness has typically been enacted through centralized control, the approach to influencing teachers in Haggerty did not include mandates or other forms of coercion through power. One important condition to support deeper learning is that the district culture reduces emphasis on pacing for coverage of curriculum and, concurrently, increases flexibility for teachers to address the unique and varied needs and interests of students. While the curriculum leaders in Haggerty encouraged teachers to serve student needs and interests, the culture also placed value on curricular coverage. Teachers in the district’s classrooms were faced with daily decisions regarding whether to adjust the prescribed approach to meet unexpected needs or interests or remain faithful to the district’s curricular guidance. As the culture did not use power to police or punish non-compliance, the decisions being made by teachers, teams, and schools resulted in variability across the system. While the prescribed curriculum in Haggerty was well defined, guidance concerning daily decision-making was not as systemic. For deeper learning to proliferate, district-level curriculum leaders need to develop teachers’ knowledge and understanding regarding decisions that shape those experiences for students. Haggerty’s leaders were aware of this tension and the data indicated that some degree of reculturing was taking place in the district. Beyond the one tension that was described, the culture in the district was evolving in ways that align well with the conditions identified as supportive of deeper learning. The findings from this study may support district curriculum leaders in analyzing their own cultures and considering what aspects may need reculturing. However, more studies are needed to richly describe existing cultures of curriculum leadership and to adequately characterize cultures that are most aligned with the conditions necessary for deeper learning to proliferate.

Degree type

EdD

Degree Name

Doctoral

Language

English

Rights Statement

Copyright is held by the author.

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