Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 71-98

First online:

Organizing for instruction: A comparative study of public, charter, and Catholic schools

  • Lisa M. DornerAffiliated withCollege of Education, University of Missouri Email author 
  • , James P. SpillaneAffiliated withNorthwestern University
  • , James PustejovskyAffiliated withNorthwestern University

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Guided by theories of institutions, organizations, and sense-making, this manuscript examines how public, charter, and Catholic school staff in a large urban area organize for instruction and respond to educational change. To build theory about institutional processes of “organizing” from participants’ perspectives, data included a survey regarding staff networks (N = 271) and semi-structured, qualitative interviews (n = 49). Findings demonstrate that all 11 schools in this study reflected the current reform environment with its focus on managing instruction. However, staff from different kinds of schools organized in distinct ways. Most charter and Catholic school staff described obtaining information about instruction through “organic” relationships using the metaphor of family to define their work situations. Alternatively, public schools tended to be “mechanistic,” with staff viewing themselves as professionals who were focused on standards and testing. One charter school, however, combined organic and mechanistic characteristics demonstrating the contagion that occurs among organizations in the same institutional sector and the reach that institutional policy scripts, such as No Child Left Behind, have in changing instructional practice at all kinds of schools.


Instructional improvement Neo-institutionalism Networks Sense-making and metaphors in organizations Standards and accountability policies