Dissertation: Anita Benitas

Cohort 1, published 2012


Overcoming Program Improvement Status: A Strength Based Approach to School Improvement


During the last several years, this researcher has often ponder why it is that some of California's public schools receiving Title I federal funds are able to successfully exit and move beyond their Program Improvement (PI) status. Conversely, other public schools in California receiving Title I federal funds maintain their program improvement status for several years; and they exhibit little hope of ever exiting program improvement status and entering the “Land of Promise" a land without interventions, sanctions, and consequences. California has been confronted with a significant increase in the number of public schools receiving Title 1 federal funding, as well as, a significant increase in the number of public schools in program improvement. As the timeline approaches to meet the goals set under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, California is faced with an eminent urgency for new legislation and policies to be created and implemented to address the momentous issues of the state's increasing number of public schools in program improvement. The purpose of this study was to pursue further investigation into program improvement; it is hoped that this study will assist in identifying any conditions, factors, processes or elements that may have contributed to a Title I federally funded California public urban elementary school's ability to successfully exit and move beyond their program improvement status. More specifically, this researcher sought to develop a series of suggestions that could prove to beneficial to the 3,169 public schools in California that are currently designated as program improvement schools under the NCLB Act of 2001. Answers to the following research questions were sought: 1) What instructional and non-instructional practices or programs were used to drive the school improvement process in an urban elementary school that has been able to successfully exit and move beyond its program improvement status? 2) What perceptions about a school's environment and interpersonal relationships exist within an urban elementary school schools culture that promotes positive systemic school change? 3) What role does leadership and the self-perceived value of school personnel have in an urban elementary school's that has been able to successfully exit and move beyond its program improvement status?

The Center on Education Policy (2011), an independent nonprofit organization, has been monitoring national AYP data going back to 2005. On April 28, 2011, they released a report entitled How Many Schools Have Not Made Adequate Yearly Progress? The report findings sustain the findings of various other studies: An estimated 38 percent of the nation's public schools did not make AYP in 2010. This marks an increase from 33 percent in 2009 and it is the highest percentage since NCLB took effect.

Since the early years of NCLB implementation, various analysts have predicted that the number of schools not making AYP would increase rapidly in future years and would eventually include a majority of the nation's schools (Olson, 2002; Olson 2005; Wiley, Mathis & Garcia, 2005; University of California Riverside, 2008). According to State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson, “4,600 or 80 percent of the state's schools that receive federal Title I funds will be in improvement status for the 2011-2012 school year” (Lambert, 2011, p. 2).

This mixed-methods research study was directed towards a California public urban elementary school with a large at-risk population of English Language Learners located just fifteen minutes from downtown Los Angeles. This study was guided by two strength-based theoretical models “Appreciative Inquiry” (inquiry framework ) and “Positive Deviance” (behavioral framework). Strength-Based or Asset-Based theoretical models focus on successes, “what is working” rather than failures “what is wrong or broken” (Hammond 1996; Stavros & Hinrichs, 2009). Strength-based or asset-based pedagogical models are framed around personal, social, or community assets and focus on unique talents, strengths, qualities and positive experiences.

Millions of dollars have been spent to study what our schools are lacking, what our schools are doing wrong, and what teachers are not doing right, yet the number of schools entering program improvement continues to increase every year. The time has come to stop focusing on what our schools are not doing right and to start focusing on what they are doing right.

This study suggest that in order to effectively meet the needs of the ever changing and evolving world, educators, educational leaders, policymakers, and legislators must begin to move beyond, simply treating the symptoms of program improvement; they must begin to investigate and understand the factors that create and influence successful systemic school improvement.

Furthermore, the findings of this study indicate that the true answers to the program improvement dilemma can be sought; if future researchers can move beyond problem solving, and break free from the bondage of the traditional deficit model of school improvement. By continuing to examine the schools that have been able to succeed in beating the odds by successfully exiting and moving beyond their program improvement status, future researchers could prove to be the catalysts in a strength-based movement; thereby, creating a paradigm shift in the future of educational research.

Link to Dissertation

Full Dissertation PDF Document