Elementary schools with mandated or voluntary school-site decision-making: A multiple case perspective

Date of Completion

January 1998


Education, Administration|Education, Elementary|Sociology, Individual and Family Studies




A primary component of recent school reform recommendations is parent involvement (Barth, 1990; Goodlad, 1984; National Education Goals Panel, 1994; Schlechty, 1990). There are few studies that contrast parent power in school governance structure in either mandated or voluntary school-site decision-making settings. This study examines the relationships of parents in school improvement and governance structures defined by participation in mandated or voluntary school-site decision making through the use of the social-theoretical concept of power nested in critical theory perspective as its analytical lens and naturalistic inquiry as its mode of data gathering (Carspecken, 1991; Freire, 1993). The study examines conversations, interactions, and documentation to determine the subtle meaning exchanged in relationships of parents, teachers, and administrators as they communicate with each other about school and their students. A multiple case study format with a critical theory perspective is used. Emerging factors were developed through results of interviews, observations, document analysis, and focus group discussions. Two sites in two different New England states were used in the study. Results indicate (a) there is no relative difference between mandated school-site decision making and voluntary school-site decision making; (b) parent participation in school-site decision making does not change the way decisions are made about curriculum, budget, or personnel; (c) parent participation does change the way in which parents who participate view school problems; (d) parent power is derived from being present at the decision making site; (e) parent participation in school-site decision making is defined by middle-class values rather than by reform efforts; (f) low socio-economic status defines participation at school and in the decision-making process; (g) parents can be intimidated by school; (h) principals remain key to successful implementation of school governance structures; (i) within the school-site decision-making political posture parents act as trustees; and, (j) there is no struggle or transformation during the governance process--the parents who can participate in school governance do participate in school governance, the rest do not. Thus, the reform strategy of school governance does not increase parent involvement, it diverts it. ^