Dr. Joshua Beardall, '11
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Mary McCullough
Taken Over: The Story of the Locke High School Takeover Through A Qualitative Study of Student Voice
In Los Angeles, the charter movement has gained incredible momentum as Charter Management Organizations take over troubled public schools in working class neighborhoods and communities of color. In Watts, a Latino and African American working class neighborhood, Locke High School had long stood as a troubled school in the Los Angeles Unified School District. After decades of low test scores, violence, and astronomical dropout rates, Green Dot Public Schools took over the campus and, in 2008, opened Locke as a public charter school under its management. This study examined the perceptions, experiences, and stories of five 12 th -grade students at Locke whose high school was taken over. These students described the impact this charter takeover had on their social, academic, and personal lives. Using qualitative research methodology, this study utilized student-created photo essays, in-depth semistructured interviews, and a focus group. Though the media prematurely labeled the takeover a success, the students' views differed. They described how the takeover helped them academically, but failed to give them a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. The takeover also failed to meet their social needs. These students discussed how the takeover improved the Locke campus, but failed to make ongoing improvements throughout the school. Students offered their stories and counterstories to the mainstream media, which applauded the changed atmosphere. They reminisced about the past, mourned social loss, complained of uniforms and strict compliance to rules, and hoped for additional changes. These students added personal voices to the takeover of their high school.
Dr. Tommy Chang, '13
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Shane P. Martin
Charter Schools as Leverage for Special Education Reform
Few studies have examined the intersection of charter school and special education policies. The concerns around the serving of special education students in charter schools must be carefully studied, especially as charter schools continue to grow in numbers and continue to serve a greater percentage of public school students. New policies must not only address equity in access for special education students in charter schools but must also study how charter schools can be leveraged to generate innovative and promising practices in the area of special education.
This study examines a recent policy change in the Los Angeles Unified School District that provides great autonomy and increased accountability for charter schools in their provision of special education services. This policy change promotes key tenets of charter schools: (a) autonomy and decentralization, (b) choice and competition, and (c) performance-based accountability with the aim of increasing access for students with special needs and increasing the capacity of charter schools to serve them. The research design utilizes a mixed method approach to collect qualitative and quantitative data to evaluate the goals of this major policy change within this particular school district.
Dr. Rodolfo Cuevas, '12
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Yvette Lapayese
Teacher Understanding of Curricular and Pedagogical Decision-Making Processes at an Urban Charter School
This qualitative study featured two research endeavors. The first was a narrative inquiry of six teachers at Weedpatch Charter School as they understood curricular and pedagogical decision- making. These teachers, along with the Weedpatch Charter School founder, participated in this study soon after the curriculum and instruction decision-making had undergone a democratization effort whereby a top-down administrative approach was replaced by a teacher- led effort. Ironically, WCS school leadership welcomed the latter effort, despite the anti-teacher legacy of the charter movement, which has long featured "at will" employment and no collective bargaining. The second component of this study was a critical discourse analysis (CDA) of the curricular and pedagogical manuals used at WCS before and after the democratization effort. The findings in this study point to a dialectical set of developments at WCS that made it possible for teachers to move from a period of disillusionment into a period of active teacher agency. Similarly, the document analysis findings point to the need for more nuanced understandings of the ideological underpinnings of charter schools.
Discourse analysis determined that WCS did not necessarily present a classic example of neoliberalism. Given the latter nuance, the manual that the teachers created was counterhegemonic, liberatory, and ultimately contextual and contingent upon that very unique WCS dynamic. As such, the conclusion of this study was that charter leaders could learn from teacher understandings not by being prescriptive but by abiding by what the author has coined contingent collectivism.
Dr. Liam Joyce, '09
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Thomas Batsis
Closing the Achievement Gap: A Case Study of One High-Performing Public Elementary Charter School Supporting Historically Marginalized Students
Dr. Maureen Kindel, '11
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Shane P. Martin
The 1992 California Charter School Law: Its History & Unintended Consequences
Dr. Elaine McNeil-Girmai, '10
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Marta Baltodano
"This is our life. We can't drive home." An Analysis of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy as Perceived by Elementary Teachers, Students, and Families in an Urban Charter School
As schools have become more diverse ethnically and linguistically, the likelihood of cultural mismatches among students, families, and teachers has increased (Frank, 1999). Culturally relevant pedagogy has at its core the understanding that incorporating students' culture into the practices of the school and the classroom through culturally relevant curriculum is likely to improve student cooperation, inspire a greater understanding of the educational program, and increase academic outcomes (Brown, 2004). These pedagogies have the potential to be a vital tool toward closing the achievement gap, yet the practices associated with them are in danger of meeting the same fate as multicultural education. A lack of knowledge about the theory, practice, and implementation of culturally relevant pedagogy has led to ineffective attempts to meet the needs of students most at risk (White-Clark, 2005). Using the five themes of Critical Race Theory (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001) as the theoretical framework, the research examined how teachers perceive and implement culturally relevant pedagogy, and how students and their families perceive and evaluate these practices. This research conducted at a inner city, charter elementary school was grounded on Ladson-Billings' work on culturally relevant pedagogy and the three concepts of knowledge that she identified that teachers must bring to the classroom and impart to their students: (a) Academic achievement, (b) Cultural competence, and (c) Sociopolitical consciousness (Ladson-Billings, 2001). The educational significance of this study resides in an analysis of its potential to influence teaching practices in many existing classroom settings that have an ethnically diverse population of students. On a micro level, through the use of catalytic validity and ongoing dialogue with the participants, the potential arose for members of the school community to have greater input in the structuring of their children's education. As members of the school community engage in future decisions regarding culturally relevant strategies, these research findings offer them an informed and critical perspective to work from.
Dr. Elizabeth Montano, '12
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Marta Baltodano
Becoming Unionized in a Charter School: How Charter School Teachers Navigate the Culture of Choice
Charter schools have become a widely accepted and rapidly growing option for educational reform especially for low-income, inner-city students. In Los Angeles, the charter movement has promised teachers greater autonomy and collaboration than in the traditional public schools, yet the working conditions of teachers in charter schools have weakened the conditions for this movement to truly reform public education. By using a neoliberal theoretical framework and a qualitative case study design, this study captured the voices of charter school teachers and documented their beliefs and experiences in an environment shaped by a culture of choice. This study uncovered a) the culture and environment that led teachers to seek unionization, b) the relationships between teachers and management, and c) their model of unionism.
The participants' voices detailed a collaborative culture that lured teachers to escape the negative environment in the local district schools. Still, teachers faced an exhaustive workload and they chose to leave the charter school environment. Teachers valued their autonomy while not realizing that the true choice existed only for the management of the school that had the ultimate power over their working conditions. When teachers decided to unionize they faced antagonism from their school leaders, and a backlash for their involvement in the unionization. Teachers fell prey to the intimidation of the public's perception on tenure and gave up this fundamental protection. They also moved away from the traditional model and were left without a clear understanding of what being a union meant.
Dr. Jesse Sage Noonan, '09
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Marta Baltodano
"If you don't read it is like you don't exist": The Transformative Power of Critical Literacy at an Alternative Charter High School
The purpose of this youth participatory action research (YPAR) project was to challenge the pedagogy of traditional literacy instruction for low-income Latino/a students, particularly the overuse of scripted curricula and standardized tests mandated through the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Twelve student participants served as co-teachers and co-researchers as they created, implemented, and evaluated a critical literacy class based on the theoretical frameworks of critical pedagogy and critical literacy and the methodology of youth participatory action research (YPAR).
The YPAR Critical Literacy Group and research took place at one of a network of small, independent-study alternative schools called Future Horizons Charter High Schools, located in southern California. Critical pedagogy and critical literacy formed a theoretical foundation upon which the students and teacher built a class based on the tenets of dialogue, problem-posing, and generative themes based on the interests of the student co-researchers. This alternative practice of co-creating knowledge with students was paramount in facilitating young peoples' learning to think critically about their positionality within their political and social spheres. Critical literacy does not focus simply on the development of decoding and comprehension skills for reading, but students of critical literacy must "read the word and the world" (Freire & Macedo, 1997), grounding their acquisition of literacy skills through their own experiences and social contexts. This research examined the capacity of critical literacy and YPAR methodology to transform both learner and teacher.
The YPAR Critical Literacy Group at FHCHS positively impacted the student co-researchers. Elements of qualitative research, including interviews and transcription positively impacted the students co-researchers' traditional literacy skills. Student co-researchers evaluated the course as a positive experience throughout, and engaged in and comprehended texts far above their traditionally-defined decoding and reading comprehension levels. Attendance and engagement in the class for the 4-month period was consistently higher in the class than in other reading classes offered at the school. The students experienced preliminary transformation and early stages of critical consciousness from the beginning to the end of the course, evidenced by the evolution of their reflective writings and progressively sophisticated analyses of social injustice within the broader community.
Dr. Esther Perez, '14
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Antonia Darder
Disability and Power: A Charter School Case Study Investigating Grade-Level Retention of Students with Learning Disabilities
Students attending charter schools, including those with learning disabilities, are subject to policies set by individual charter management organizations. One practice used within some charter schools is grade-level retention, or having students repeat a grade level. Literature overwhelmingly indicates that retention is associated with negative outcomes, yet the practice continues to be used. One particular charter school that uses a strict retention policy and retains students with learning disabilities was studied to understand how the process unfolds. Using the conceptual frameworks of critical disability theory and critical pedagogy, the study draws inferences regarding how this phenomenon blends with ableism and power imbalances. Six teachers (four general education and two special education teachers) participated in interviews for this qualitative case study. Through triangulation of findings from individual and group interviews, trends were identified. A major finding showed that although retention is conceptualized as beneficial for the school to threat unmotivated students, for students with learning disabilities, retention is still regarded as highly ineffective and harmful. Decision xi making factors used with students with disabilities include particular individual characteristics, such as abilities and parental support. Discussion into participants' perception of students with disabilities as inferior, and how retention as punishment asserts the school's power, follows a review of concepts, effectiveness, and decision-making factors related to retention. Implications for educators to improve inclusive and fair school policies, in addition to rethinking traditional methods of analyzing school practices are discussed. Further research in various educational initiatives and areas of study are summarized.
Dr. Manuel Ponce, '12
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Franca Dell'Olio
A Framework for Effective Communities of Practice between Traditional and Charter School Leaders: A Case Study
The purpose of this study was to examine the essential elements of a community of practice intended to increase communication and collaboration between traditional public and charter school leaders. Members of the Los Angeles Cohort of the School Leaders Network participated in this study.
This case study triangulated observation, interview, and document review data to identify the factors that were most beneficial to this particular community of practice. Drawing on the research of communities of practice, constructivism, and leadership theory, these factors were articulated into five domains with the hope that, with further research, this framework could influence the creation of additional communities of practice between traditional public and charter school leaders.
This framework, including indicators and action steps to aid in creating a community of practice, identified five key factors: knowledge, relationships, authenticity, constructivism, and leadership. The convergence of these five domains pointed to two key take-aways: Communities of practice must create a risk-free environment in which sharing can occur so that participants can use storytelling as a vehicle for the exchange of ideas. Essential in creating this environment is the influence of a skilled facilitator who can drive these conversations. Ultimately, in sharing stories and building community, these communities of practice are meant to further the cause of a socially just education for all students regardless of the type of schools they attend.
Dr. Beth Trinchero, '11
Dissertation Chair: Dr. Marta Baltodano
Counter Narrating the Media's Master Narrative: A Case Study of Victory High School
Since the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), Berliner and Biddle (1995) have argued media have assisted leaders in creating a "manufactured crisis" (p. 4) about America's public schools to scapegoat educators, push reforms, and minimize societal problems, such as systemic racism and declining economic growth, particularly in urban areas. The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act (2001) functions as an important articulation of this crisis (Granger, 2008). Utilizing the theoretical lenses of master narrative theory (Lyotard, 1984), Critical Race Theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001), and social capital theory (Bourdieu, 1986; Coleman 1988), this study employed critical discourse analysis (Reisigl & Wodak, 2009) to unmask the mainstream media's master narrative, or dominant story, about Victory High School (VHS), which was reconstituted under the authority of the NCLB Act (2001). Findings revealed a master narrative that racialized economic competition, vilified community members, and exonerated neoliberal reforms. Drawing on the critical race methodology of counter-narratives (Yosso, 2006), individual and focus group interviews with 12 VHS teachers, alumni, and community elders illustrated how reforms fragmented this school community, destroying collective social capital, while protecting the interests of capitalism and neoliberalism. By revealing the interests protected by the media's master narrative and beginning a counter-narrative voiced by members of the community, this study contributes to recasting the history of the VHS community, to understanding the intersections between race and class in working class communities of color, and to exposing the impact of neoliberal educational reforms on urban schools.