Partnership as an Intervention Strategy in Self-Managing Schools

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Northeastern University]On: 02 December 2014, At: 20:08Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    School Effectiveness and SchoolImprovement: An InternationalJournal of Research, Policy andPracticePublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/nses20

    Partnership as an InterventionStrategy in Self-Managing SchoolsHelen S. Timperley & Viviane M.J. RobinsonPublished online: 09 Aug 2010.

    To cite this article: Helen S. Timperley & Viviane M.J. Robinson (2003) Partnershipas an Intervention Strategy in Self-Managing Schools, School Effectiveness and SchoolImprovement: An International Journal of Research, Policy and Practice, 14:3, 249-274

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1076/sesi.14.3.249.15843

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  • School Effectiveness and School Improvement 0924-3453/03/1403-249$16.002003, Vol. 14, No. 3, pp. 249274 # Swets & Zeitlinger

    Partnership as an Intervention Strategyin Self-Managing Schools

    Helen S. Timperley and Viviane M.J. RobinsonSchool of Education, University of Auckland, New Zealand

    ABSTRACT

    The alternatives of taking over failing schools or handing over resources for them to developtheir own improvement strategies are recognized as ineffective in achieving improvement.When deciding how best to intervene in 26 self-managing schools, the Ministry of Education inNew Zealand attempted to avoid the negative consequences of these alternatives by developinga partnership with the schools and their communities. This article documents both thedifficulties experienced in the first intervention phase, dominated by concerns about respectingthe schools autonomy, and the successes of the second phase, when the Ministry was moreexplicit about the school improvement tasks.

    INTRODUCTION

    The devolution of governance and management responsibilities to local

    control has raised the critical policy issue of what to do when central

    authorities perceive self-managing schools to be offering an inadequate

    education. While education authorities and researchers alike have recognized

    that self-management has changed the relationship between education

    providers and central authorities (Pole & Chawla-Duggan, 1996; Whitty,

    1997), there has been less discussion of what that relationship implies for

    central intervention when local provision is judged inadequate.

    One option for central authorities wishing to retain their interest in quality

    schooling is to reassert control over local providers. Central control is rarely

    Address correspondence to: Helen Timperley, School of Education, University of Auckland,Private Bag 92019, Auckland, New Zealand. Tel.: 64 3737599 ext. 7401. E-mail:h.timperley@auckland.ac.nz

    Manuscript submitted: July 20, 2000Accepted for publication: September 30, 2002

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  • successful in bringing about sustainable change, however, because it tends to

    ignore the black box of local practices, beliefs, and traditions (McLaughlin,

    1990), and those involved at the school level are unlikely to develop the

    capacity needed to sustain their own improvement efforts (Hatch, 1998). Even

    more importantly, the schools capacity to self-govern is likely to be weakened

    rather than strengthened.

    A second option involves schools identifying their development needs and

    central authorities providing the additional funding to support these self-

    identified needs. The advantage of this approach is that schools are likely to

    develop both the local capacity and ownership that is crucial to successful

    reform (McLaughlin, 1990) and strengthen their ability to self-manage.

    The disadvantage is that self-identified solutions may not challenge the

    institutional norms that maintain the dysfunctional status quo (Anderson,

    1998) and staff may waste time reinventing previously invented wheels

    (Hatch, 1998). Datnow (1999) identified in the United States that when

    schools were free to choose their own improvement strategies, their reform

    preferences were for a tolerable course of action that modeled the reform

    choices of other schools and fitted with rather than challenged current

    practice. If the negative consequences of these take-over and hand-over

    approaches are to be avoided, a third alternative needs to be found.

    The strategy adopted by the New Zealand Ministry of Education when

    faced with the challenge of how to improve failing schools within a self-

    managing system, was to develop a partnership with the schools and their

    communities. After 7 years of decentralization, more than 40% of the schools

    in two suburbs of New Zealands largest city were identified by an

    independent audit and review agency as experiencing serious problems with

    governance, management, and curriculum delivery (Education Review Office,

    1996). It was believed that through partnership, the negative consequences of

    the hand-over and take-over strategies could be avoided, and greater

    commitment achieved through the combined efforts of the schools, the

    communities, and the state. Partnership was also a way of minimizing political

    risk because a very active local community had demonstrated that it

    would insist on being involved. The purposes of this article are to offer a

    theory of partnership and to use this theoretical framework to analyze the

    evolving partnership between the Ministry and the schools over the first 2.5

    years of the intervention. We begin by briefly reviewing some of the

    issues involved in achieving school and educational improvement through

    partnership.

    250 HELEN S. TIMPERLEY & VIVIANE M.J. ROBINSON

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  • SCHOOL REFORM THROUGH PARTNERSHIP

    Although the concept of partnership is relatively easily understood at a

    superficial level, there are considerable theoretical and practical complexities

    in understanding how this principle should direct the relationships involved.

    Little guidance was available from either international or local research, partly

    because partnership is a relatively recent policy strategy in many education

    systems (Crozier, 1998). In addition, most of the published literature on

    partnership is context-specific and relates to partnerships between schools and

    homes, businesses or universities, and does not directly address issues related

    to central intervention in self-managing schools.

    What this literature does identify, however, are the tensions that frequently

    arise when entities attempt to work in partnership. The autonomy one enjoys

    when working alone, for example, is inevitably constrained when working in

    a partnership, because partnership implies some degree of power sharing

    (McGowan & Powell, 1996). When partners hold different expectations about

    this distribution of power, tensions arise (Peters, Williams, & Johnson, 1999).

    In a study of partnership between schools and parents in Britain, Crozier

    (1998) concluded that partnership is a double-edged sword. Although the

    partnership between the parents and teachers was designed to encourage

    greater involvement in and commitment to the task of educating children, it

    also intensified the surveillance of each partner by the other. Increased

    surveillance of professionals by parents was an explicit part of the British

    policy strategy. By providing parents with improved sources of information

    about their children and the school, it was intended that parents would know

    how well schools were performing (U.K. Department for Education, 1992).

    Crozier argues that the schools surveillance of parents also increased because

    the development of the partnership is carried out through a process of teacher

    domination and on the basis of the teachers agendas (p. 126). This latter

    perspective is supported by the work of Vincent and Tomlinson (1997), who

    demonstrated that the rhetoric of home-school partnerships was used

    increasingly as a mechanism by schools to control the behaviour of parents

    and their children.

    These studies of partnership, together with many others, focus on

    relationship issues. The task that the partnership was formed to achieve is a

    second important dimension of any partnership. Although relationships

    always sit alongside the task dimension and influence its success, a good

    relationship does not guarantee task success. The task both motivates the

    PARTNERSHIP AS AN INTERVENTION STRATEGY 251

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  • partnership and provides constraints on how the partnership is conducted, for

    different partnership processes will have detectable consequences for the

    success of the task. For the relationship to be a partnership, those involved

    need to accept some responsibility for the task and agree that they will pursue

    it in partnership.

    This task dimension is usually given cursory attention in the research

    literature as a statement of aims or potential for the partnership (e.g., Stevens,

    1999), but it is rarely the focus of analysis. Edwards and Warins (1999) 5-year

    study of an initiative to increase parent-school collaboration in 70 schools is

    an exception. They found that it was difficult for them as researchers to discern

    what exactly the schools wanted the parents to contribute and for what

    purpose.

    In this study, we have defined partnership in a way that attempts to capture

    both the relationship and task dimensions and have structured our analysis

    accordingly. We propose that two or more entities are in partnership when

    they accept some responsibility for a problem or task, and establish processes

    for working together that imply mutual accountability and shared power over

    task-relevant decisions. Our analysis was guided by two research questions

    arising from this definition. The first focuses on the relationship dimension

    and asks: What processes were established for sharing power and working

    together on task-relevant decisions, and how were these perceived by each of

    the partners? The second examines the way in which those processesaffected task success and asks: What implications did the relationship have

    for achieving the task of strengthening education in the two districts?

    PARTNERSHIP AND THE NEW ZEALAND

    EDUCATIONAL CONTEXT

    New Zealand is a small country of nearly 4 million people. Its educational

    system, however, has relevance to many others. The population is roughly

    equivalent to the median American state and larger than most Australian states

    which have constitutional responsibility for education in these countries

    (Fiske & Ladd, 2000). In addition, New Zealand faces many of the educational

    issues common to others. The issues most relevant to this article are failing

    schools with alienated, low-achieving urban minority populations.

    Prior to 1989, New Zealand had developed one of the most highly

    bureaucratized systems in the western world, but the system had become

    252 HELEN S. TIMPERLEY & VIVIANE M.J. ROBINSON

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  • cumbersome and unresponsive to changing local needs and the new economic

    imperatives of a global economy (Butterworth & Butterworth, 1998). In 1989,

    almost overnight, all layers of district administration were abolished and the

    old central Department of Education was down-sized into a policy-only

    Ministry of Education whose primary role was to give policy advice to the

    Minister of Education in the government of the day (Education Act, 1989). A

    central tenet of the new system was that each school was to be administered as

    a partnership between the professionals and the particular community in

    which it is located; and the mechanism for such a partnership be a board of

    trustees (Taskforce to Review Education Administration, 1988, p. 43). A

    high level of autonomy was devolved to the Boards of Trustees, who were now

    responsible for most operational matters, such as the employment and

    performance management of administrative and professional personnel, the

    quality and assessment of curriculum delivery, and financial operations. At

    this time, decentralization of decision-making was gaining popularity in many

    countries (Beattie, 1989; Rogers & Chung, 1983), but nowhere had it been

    taken to the extremes of the restructured New Zealand system.

    An independent audit and review agency, the Education Review Office, was

    charged with reviewing individual school performance on a triennial basis. In

    1996, the office broke with its traditional role of focusing on individual

    schools and reported on concerns about the quality of educational delivery in

    40% of schools in two low-income suburbs in Auckland, New Zealands

    largest city.

    When a decentralized system like that in New Zealand fails to deliver the

    expected teaching and learning outcomes, the issue is whether the state should

    increase or decrease its influence and if so, how. The most obvious response to

    failure is to increase central control, but this approach inevitably creates

    tensions as the schools autonomy is reduced and new relationships and

    responsibilities developed. As Bryk (1999) described in Chicago when

    education authorities introduced initiatives to improve the education offered in

    decentralized schools, . . . central initiatives coexist in an uneasy andunsettled fashion with the democratic localism set in place (p...

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