A paradox of high-achievement: Implementing Race to the Top (RTTT) policies in a high-achieving school district
Ramirez, Dean Lawrence
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The purpose of the Race to the Top grant is to empower states to institute educational reforms while transforming the lowest-performing schools. Since 2009, the State of New York has made educational reforms in alignment to the grant's standards, which include the adaptation of the Common Core State Standards and quantitative methods of evaluating teacher effectiveness. The purpose of this study was to highlight the successes and struggles endured by a high-achieving school district and its schools as that district implements top-down reform policy. The primary theme is the Threat-Rigidity Hypothesis (Staw et al., 1983; Daly, 2009). The Threat-Rigidity Hypothesis suggests that when faced with a threat, organizations (or individuals) may close down, reduce information flow, engage in poor decision making, and limit divergent views (Daly, 2009, p. 173). This mixed-method study evaluated Trust, Leadership, and Threat-Rigidity in a historically high-achieving school district during a time of change. Two Likert-style questionnaires were utilized - the MLQ, Form 5x-Short (Avolio & Bass, 2004) and the Threat-Rigidity, Trust, and Leadership questionnaire (Daly 2004, 2009). The instruments were used to evaluate the current levels of Threat-Rigidity, Trust, and Leadership within the district and its individual schools. Participants also identified the current levels of Technical and Adaptive Leadership behaviors. One-to-one interviews and focus group sessions supplemented acquired questionnaire data. The results of this study suggest that high-achieving school districts are complex organizations that struggle to sustain their "honor roll" status. In certain ways, the struggles of a high-achieving school district are similar to the adversities endured by a struggling school district. It is important for building and district administrators to understand the culture and climate of a school district and its individual schools when planning future policy implementation procedures. Understanding contextual setting(s) may ensure efficient policy implementation while certifying sustained achievement.