In Arizona’s mature, market-based school system, we know little about how school leaders make meaning of school choice policies and programs on the ground. Using ethnographic methods, the author asked: How do school leaders in one Arizona district public school and in its surrounding community, which includes a growing number of high-profile and “high-performing” Education Management Organisation (EMO) charter schools, make meaning of school choice policies and programs? The paper aims to discuss these issues.
The author analysed 18 months of qualitative fieldnotes that the author collected during participant observations and six semi-structured school leader interviews from both traditional district public schools in the area (n=4) and leaders from EMO charter schools (n=2).
School leaders’ decision-making processes were influenced by competitive pressures. However, perceptions of these pressures and leadership actions varied widely and were complicated by inclusive and exclusive social capital influences from stakeholders. District public school leaders felt pressure to package and sell schools in the marketplace, and charter leaders enjoyed the notion of markets and competition.
As market-based policies and practices become increasingly popular in the USA and internationally, a study that examines leaders’ behaviours and actions in a long-standing school choice system is timely and relevant.
This study uniquely highlights school leaders’ perceptions and actions in a deeply embedded education market, and provides data about strategies and behaviours as they occurred.
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