Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 71–98 | Cite as

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

  • Lisa M. Dorner
  • James P. Spillane
  • James Pustejovsky


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 



The Distributed Leadership Studies, funded by research grants from the US National Science Foundation (REC–9873583 and REC–0412510), the Searle Foundation, Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy and Institute for Policy Research, supported work on this paper. The authors would like to thank Dan Lewis, Joseph Polman, Eric Turley, and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful input on earlier drafts. We are also indebted to project researchers for their data collection and analysis efforts including Muhammad Faress Bhuiyan, Michelle Blum, Laura Grandau, Yondi Morris, Rick Orlina, Amber Stitziel Pareja, Virginia Pitts, Camille Rutherford, Cindy Sigal, and Anita Zuberi, among others. Opinions and conclusions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of any funding agency.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa M. Dorner
    • 1
  • James P. Spillane
    • 2
  • James Pustejovsky
    • 2
  1. 1.College of Education, University of MissouriSt. LouisUSA
  2. 2.Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA

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