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K-12 Dissertation Abstracts

The Educational Administration Department is pleased to present a compilation of Dissertation Abstracts from the HALE Ph.D. and K-12 Educational Administration Ph.D. programs.  These abstracts represent the rich and dynamic community of scholars in EAD.  The research presented reflects the wide range topics that emerge from a local as well as global perspective on postsecondary education and educational leadership.  In reviewing these abstracts we hope you will learn about the interesting research that goes on in the EAD doctoral programs.

K-12 Educational Administration

2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

Ranae Beyerlein (2008)
Advisor: Dr. Maenette Benham

Neoliberal discourse and a public demanding accountability and efficiency in education forebode a "growing testing" culture that advantages more privileged groups of students. In this dissertation, Hopeful Learning Environments (HLE's) are envisioned as diversified, democratically engaging, and welcoming places that utilize community resources, action research, and learning theory to promote effective teaching and learning for all. This study uses qualitative methods, including the use of a modification of PhotoVoice, to investigate where the collision points are that constrain teachers from building capacity to create HLE's in three suburban high schools in Michigan. The findings show that the essential elements that contribute to building capacity to create HLE's include: (a) accessing resources to support students' learning in schools and its extended environment; (b) building authentic relationships with students, teachers, administrators, and community members that are respectfully reciprocal and productive; (c) accessing ongoing professional learning to ensure their relevance as teachers, in particular the use of technology as a learning tool and (d) acknowledging the teacher's sense of value (self‐efficacy) as contributing citizens of school experiences. It appears that when these four elements are positively present an HLE thrives. The factors that constrain teachers are the lack of adequate funding in Michigan, students' lack of readiness to learn, a divestment from building learning relationships among teachers through professional development and from engaging in a professional environment, school policies that divert attention to testing and away from nurturing the human spirit, and the lack of time is an overarching constraint that may result and contribute to a number of the other constraining factors. Educators can better construct their work by engaging in dialog about creating HLE's, making time for students and colleague relationships, being reflective about practice, making practice public, and engaging the community in the process of making HLE's.

Thomas E. Davis (2008)
Advisor: Dr. David Arsen

My dissertation consists of three essays in education policy. The first essay analyzes the link between school facilities and student performance on standardized tests with a production function model. The second essay investigates whether a statewide single‐payer healthcare plan for school employees slows the rate of growth in expenditure for employee benefits. Finally, the third essay uses a more theoretical approach to examine the choice of policy instruments and institutions best suited to educate political refugees in their country of refuge taking into account the unique circumstances in the host country.

Chapter 1: Investigating the link between school capital and student performance. The first essay develops a production function model based on a widely applicable measure of building capital and controls for an array of socio‐economic and educational input variables to show that better facilities have a positive impact on the percentage of students who meet or exceed the requirements of the Michigan Education Assessment Program. The chapter concludes with a sophisticated sensitivity analysis that demonstrates that this conclusion is fairly robust to any potential omitted confounding variables.

Chapter 2: School employee healthcare: Does a statewide healthcare plan reduce costs? This study first shows that employee benefit costs are rising as a share of compensation while compensation is falling as a share of school district expenditure. Using a quasi‐experimental design, the analysis uses financial data from the National Center for Education Statistics and employs a three‐level hierarchical linear model for employee benefit expenditure to estimate the savings from the implementation of a statewide healthcare plan. Finally, the essay focuses on California and Texas to investigate the extent to which their statewide health plans slow the rate of growth of healthcare costs.

Chapter 3: Refugee education: A case study in the choice of policy instruments and institutions. The third essay provides a theoretical analysis of the competing interests involved in the education of refugees in their country of asylum. First, it looks at the choice of policy instruments in the unique circumstances that surround refugees. Second, the paper describes the problems associated with picking the institutions to implement education policies and describes how precarious their authority is. The study makes use of analogy to help place the policy instruments, institutions and competing stakeholders into historical context. The backdrop for this analysis is a case study of the refugee camps in Ngara, Tanzania, which received 250,000 Rwandan refugees during a 24‐hour period on April 28, 1994.

Patrick Halladay (2008)
Advisor: Dr. Gary Sykes

This study considers candidates entering the classroom after extensive experience in fields outside of education‐‐career changers. Increasingly, attracting career changers is considered a prudent policy option to meet a series of classroom demands, including quality, equity, exigency, and fit. While there is wide speculation about the value career changers will bring to the classroom, little is known about their actual characteristics. This study examines three programs dedicated to preparing career changers for teaching, examining the design of the programs, the candidates they prepared, and the context that shaped the programs and candidates. The findings of this study suggest not only is there great diversity in program design, but that career changers themselves enter teaching with different sets of knowledge, skills, and experience, making classification of them as a uniform group impractical. Additionally, the local context has a strong influence on both a program's appearance and the candidates who choose to enroll. The policy aims of quality, equity, exigency, and fit appear to be, in part, in conflict with each other. If simultaneously meeting multiple policy goals proves untenable, it is incumbent upon policy makers to prioritize their aims by understanding how the local historical, economic, and demographic context structures local schools and teacher labor markets.

Muhammad A. Khalifa (2008)
Advisor: Dr. Christopher Dunbar

This study examined how school leadership at Urban Alternative High School (UAHS) adequately addresses the needs of at‐risk alternative school students. The school's principal, Joe, was different from other traditional and alternative school principals in that most have been unable to address the educational needs of African American at‐risk children. Unlike the 'dumping‐ground' depictions that characterize many alternative schools for at‐risk children, UAHS was an environment in which many at‐risk children academically and socially succeeded. Students who were previously in academic and social distress at traditional schools came to UAHS and drastically improved their behavior, graduated from high school, and made plans for a post‐secondary education. The ethnographic research took place over two years (2006‐2008) and involved qualitative research methods in its data collection. Participant observation, field notes, interviews, official school and county documentation and interpretive follow‐up questions were all instruments used in this research. Interviews were conducted with a myriad of stakeholders: UAHS principal and other administrators in the district, 10 teachers and other UAHS staff, 5 parents, 1 community leader, 5 students and 5 former students. While strongly considering theories related to the social and familial contexts that impact education, social and cultural capital, identity formation of ghetto youth, and flexible leadership behavior, the researcher assessed how the school environment was negotiated by all people involved with UAHS. Another consideration that highlighted several parts of this research was that of race; cultural synchronization between school leader and students and communities served, differentiated racial expectations, and perceived racism were all relevant to this research. The findings have far‐reaching implications and suggest that administrators must approach leadership differently when serving at‐risk, urban, African‐American students. This study found that while it may be true that African American urban students come from families and neighborhoods that are incongruent with traditional schools, and that home environments contribute to them becoming at‐risk students, there are still ways that principals can effectively lead similar populations. UAHS students were able to merge their pre‐existent neighborhood identities with that of being 'smart.' The principal was able to earn trust and credibility, and establish rapport with communities who are traditionally hostile and distant from traditional education. And by focusing on aspects of education most important to the students and their families‐‐namely staying out of trouble, high school graduation and college attendance‐‐the principal was able positively impact the educational experiences of children.

Mary Mokeira Ombonga (2008)
Advisor: Dr. Reitumetse Mabokela

Education is considered a bedrock upon which the social, economic and development agenda of any country rests. It is regarded as a pivotal force capable of eliminating social and economic injustices inherent in many communities. The education of women in general and girls in particular provides a meaningful and inextricable link in the reduction of maternal deaths and disabilities, delayed early marriages, and prevention of unsafe sex and its consequences. It is against this background that the campaign for Education for All (EFA) was initiated. The establishment of intervention programs such as Centers of Excellence in rural and marginalized areas is one step in attempting to tackle some of the underlying socio‐cultural barriers to girls' education.

This study sought to explore and understand experiences of girls in a Center of Excellence in Kajiado district, Kenya. Some of the girls were those who escaped or were rescued from early marriages or female genital mutilation (FGM), socio‐cultural practices prevalent in the community around Kajiado. Utilizing a qualitative case study design, this study sought to answer the following questions: (1) What are the experiences of girls prior to and after their involvement with the Center of Excellence? (2) In what ways does the Center influence the girls' current and future educational goals? (3) What strategies does the Center employ to support the girls? (4) What is the nature of the relationship between the Center and the community within which it is located?

Data for this study were collected for a period of 3 months using face‐to‐face openended interviews. The respondents included the Center's principal, 2 teachers, one female and one male and 4 student respondents in a focus group. The findings indicate that the Center, through its programs, was shaping the lives of the girls as well as empowering them to transform their lives and that of their families and communities. The study also uncovered girls' palpable dreams and aspiration to excel academically and change the perception that girls are only good as homemakers.

While the girls in the Center embodied the challenges the community was experiencing, the study garnered that the Center had started programs meant to sensitize and enlighten the community on issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention and poverty reduction. This study presents an imperative and meaningful literature that is critical to establishing innovative, culturally appropriate and gender‐friendly educational interventions and programs that can benefit girls in rural and marginalized communities. Policymakers, planners and practitioners will find it invaluable in illuminating the challenges and opportunities that can be capitalized on to address issues of gender and education, poverty and cultural practices that hinder the implementation of Universal Primary Education.

James D. Smith (2008)
Advisor: Dr. Christopher Dunbar

The primary objective of this qualitative research study is to understand, What does it mean to be prepared to be an urban school principal with a majority African American student population? Eight research findings emerged from analysis of focus group, interview, and case study data collected from the director of school leadership training and nine African American K‐12 urban school principals‐‐all working in the same urban school district in Michigan. The first research finding provides evidence that between 2006 and 2016 a significant number of highly experienced baby boom generation principals will be leaving the principalship due to retirement, promotion, or career change. The second finding is that leadership training is not a program it is an on‐going process that employs seven genres of training to develop participants skills, knowledge, and capacity for urban school leadership. Third, elementary, middle and high school principals place a different priority on the school leadership issues and challenges they face. Fourth, urban principals must focus on a myriad of diverse "nuts and bolts" issues and challenges affecting their urban school. The fifth finding is that principal preparation for urban school leadership is a continuous process with six distinct preparation activities. Sixth, principals in my participants school district are only measured, evaluated, and receive performance improvement feedback on three out of six critical areas of urban school leadership. And seventh, leadership training and preparation programs offered by school districts, universities, and private sector organizations have significant differences in their leadership training and preparation activities, structure, and outcome objectives. Synthesizing these seven findings provides an answer to my research question. My eighth finding is being prepared to be an urban school principal with a majority African American student population means having the skills, knowledge, opportunity, and resources necessary and sufficient to provide leadership in seven critical areas of urban school leadership: implementing instructional, operational, staff, and student support strategies that help educate urban children; actively participating in preparing aspiring urban school leaders; meeting school stakeholder expectations; minimizing the effects of external forces on students and school staff; addressing multiple needs of urban students; and demonstrating a professional and personal commitment to urban education. Unfortunately, only a scant amount of research literature is focused on preparing principals specifically for urban school leadership. This paucity of research suggests a fallacious operating assumption for school leadership training and preparation that the urban, suburban, or rural setting of the school does not matter‐‐that K‐12 school principals can and should be trained and prepared to address school issues and challenges and provide necessary and sufficient school leadership in any context. Based on the findings that emerged during this research, I offer a three point counter argument that, first, the urban setting and contextual school leadership does indeed matter. Second, training and preparation for urban school principals can and should be theoretically grounded, delivered, and practiced in an urban school setting. And third, based on my assumption that a significant number of baby boom generation urban school principals will be leaving, I believe a significant number of aspiring principals can and should be expeditiously trained and prepared for K‐12 school leadership in an urban setting.