Continuous Improvement in the Leander ISD: A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment of Culture and Core Values

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2011-10-21

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Many of today?s schools are caught at the center of a perfect storm fueled by the pressures from a more demanding public, increased governmental accountability, warring political factions, shrinking resources, and new technologies and methodologies. Proponents of Quality Management/Continuous Improvement (QM/CI) have championed the philosophy for over two decades as a solution for addressing these kinds of pressures and systems problems. Unfortunately, QM/CI theory remains underdeveloped and subsequently often fails to align with or guide practice. Detert, Louis, and Schroeder propose that QM/CI theory is best explored through the organizational culture framework that borrows heavily from the work of Edgar Schein. According to Schein, organizational culture exists at the multiple levels of espoused values, material artifacts and creations, and underlying assumptions (deeply held organizational values that guide the norms of behavior). Detert and colleagues contend that there are ?nine? core values that define the efficacy of QM/CI in school cultures. To assess the viability of these values, as lived out in the Leander ISD, Leander, Texas, the study employed both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies, and was both confirmatory and exploratory in research intent. The Nine Core Values were examined through surveys, purposefully selected interviews, a review of the quality literature, on-site observations, and school documents, with the results triangulated to derive the findings and conclusions. Deeply and widely held values should be observable throughout the multiple levels of culture, expressed through espoused values, material artifacts and creations, and practices that reflect the norms of behavior. The findings and conclusions suggest that the first eight of the Nine Core Values are lived out in the Leander ISD as identifiable norms of behavior: shared vision, outside stakeholder involvement in educational decision-making, long term commitment, continuous improvement, employee involvement in improving the school, collaboration, fact-based decision-making, and focusing on processes rather than people. The ninth Core Value, ?Quality can be improved within existing resources?, could not be corroborated across the methodological triangulations. The study also unearthed two additional Core Values, one associated with the organizational learning dimension of QM/CI, and a second incorporating the elimination of fear and blame.

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