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Democratic Dilemmas

Joint Work, Education Politics, and Community

Julie A. Marsh

Publication Year: 2007

Drawing on three years of field research and extensive theoretical and empirical literature, Democratic Dilemmas chronicles the day-to-day efforts of educators and laypersons working together to advance student learning in two California school districts. Julie A. Marsh reveals how power, values, organizational climates, and trust played key roles in these two districts achieving vastly different results. In one district, parents, citizens, teachers, and administrators effectively developed and implemented districtwide improvement strategies; in the other, community and district leaders unsuccessfully attempted to improve systemwide accountability through dialogue. The book highlights the inherent tensions of deliberative democracy, competing notions of representation, limitations of current conceptions of educational accountability, and the foundational importance of trust to democracy and education reform. It further provides a framework for improving community-educator collaboration and lessons for policy and practice.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-vix

Figures and tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii

Like the subject of my research, joint work, the process of completing this manuscript relied on the collaboration and contributions of many individuals. First, I am forever grateful to the more than 100 individuals in the case study districts who graciously and generously shared their time and insights...

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pp. 1-16

This book addresses a critical challenge facing America’s public schools: how to engage citizens in the process of educational improvement. In the current high-stakes accountability environment, schools and school districts are under enormous pressure to improve teaching and learning. Given limited fiscal, human, political, and organizational capacity, many administrator...

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1 Setting the Stage

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pp. 17-58

IN THIS CHAPTER I describe the two collaborative endeavors. First, I situate the cases in their state, regional, and local contexts and provide a brief historical background on the two efforts. Drawing on the principles of democratic joint work explained in the previous chapter, I then describe who participated...

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2 Participation and Power

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pp. 59-78

AS THE ABOVE statements suggest, in an ideal, deliberative democracy, participants have equal standing. That is, the status, resources, and cultural capital participants bring to the table—be it their gender, positional authority, access to information, or skills—should not affect their ability to participate in and influence the conversation and decisions. Although theoretically...

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3 Institutional Discord and Harmony

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pp. 79-100

MIKE’S OBSERVATIONS ABOUT institutionalized customs capture another important factor influencing deliberations in both districts. As citizens examining and suggesting changes to the Mid Valley School District’s programs, Mike and his colleagues on the CAP Advisory ran up against a set of deeply embedded beliefs, values, and norms within the district, many of which resisted the involvement of laypersons in professional decision making...

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4 The Democracy-Bureaucracy Face-off

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pp. 101-130

DIFFERENCES IN ORGANIZATIONAL structure, culture, and leadership in Highland and Mid Valley created important contextual conditions for joint work. In my three years studying these districts—examining their policies and programs, getting to know central office leaders, and closely following the progress of a sample of schools—I found consistent differences in everyday...

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5 Climates of Trust and Mistrust

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pp. 131-156

AS THESE COMMENTS SUGGEST, levels of trust (or mistrust) within a district and among participants contribute greatly to deliberative democratic practice. The Mid Valley and Highland stories indicate that one’s attitudes about and behavior in the deliberative process are closely linked to one’s relationships with and perceptions of its convener(s) and codeliberators. Thus, the process...

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6 Implications for Policy and Practice in an Era of Accountability

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pp. 157-184

THE EXPERIENCES OF Mid Valley and Highland expose the “messiness” of democratic joint work. While leaders in both districts started with similar goals, they achieved very different results. Highland’s strategic planning process involved a wide range of stakeholders in a reason-based decisionmaking process that yielded several ideas for districtwide improvement—...

appendix a

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pp. 185-192

appendix b

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pp. 193-196

appendix c

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pp. 197-200


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pp. 201-214


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pp. 215-224


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pp. 225-228

E-ISBN-13: 9780791479933
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791471272
Print-ISBN-10: 0791471276

Page Count: 242
Illustrations: 20 tables, 4 figures
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Educational change -- California.
  • Education and state -- California.
  • Community and school -- California.
  • Decision making -- California.
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