Professional Learning Communities as a Leadership-Initiated Reform Strategy for Math and Science Teaching in Urban High Schools



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Due to the urgency of not losing more urban high school students to academic failure and dropping out, the most promising reform efforts must be investigated. One of the most promising ways of creating successful high school reform that has been advocated is through restructuring schools into community-like organizations, often called professional learning communities. Yet, limited empirical research has been conducted concerning professional learning communities, especially in urban high schools. Thus, this research sought to understand how two urban high schools, one comprehensive high school in a large urban center and one small career academy high school in a medium-sized urban center, implemented professional learning communities as a leadership-initiated reform strategy for math and science teaching. Year-long interactions with each high school including in-depth observations and eighteen interviews, nine personnel from each site, revealed that certain organizational structures (e.g. social and human resources, structural conditions) must be in place for professional learning communities to have the potential to be a successful reform effort. Specifically, the way in which leadership supports professional learning communities through structure, pressure, and support was important. Both studies show that school context and leadership significantly affect the quality of professional learning communities and their ability to reform their instructional practices in order to increase student achievement.