A CASE STUDY OF SCHOOL DECLINE AT A HISTORIC, PREDOMINANTLY AFRICAN AMERICAN, URBAN HIGH SCHOOL
Robinson Gatewood, Tracy Gynelle
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Background: Researchers have not identified what factors cause schools to decline initially. Public school reform requires school leaders to dig through layers of questions to understand school decline, the process in which a school’s demonstrates diminished ability to meet student achievement goals over time. To sort out the complexities of school decline, school leaders must know its root cause. If school leaders are seeking to turnaround a failing school, identifying factors for failure could help stabilize the downturn, create opportunities for early success, and lead to recovery. If school leaders fail to understand contributing factors, the school will continue to decline. Purpose: This study examined the factors that contributed to the decline of a historic, predominantly African American, urban high school. Research Questions: What in-school and out-of-school factors led to school decline at a predominantly African American, urban high school? How do key stakeholders describe in-school and out-of-school factors that led to school decline? Methods: This qualitative case study based was guided by the causal theory to gather in-school and out-of-school decline factors through an analysis of historical data and semistructured interviews. Eight participants were chosen through purposive sampling: two former principals, one former district leader, two alumni and community leaders, two alumni parents, and one parent. Data were recorded through field notes, observations during the participants’ visual review of historical data, and semistructured interviews to gain insight into decline factors. Data were coded by hand as themes emerged during the study and by using Dedoose software to identify commonalities and patterns. Findings: Four themes emerged from the historical data: An in-school decline factor was the loss of traditional legacy; out-of-school decline factors were the loss of exceptional culture around the school, the change in attitude about education in the community, and the collapse of African American leadership in the community. Three themes emerged from the interviews: In-school decline factors were fearful leadership and the loss of academic programming. The out-of-school decline factor was the erosion of the community. The participants were concerned that leaders did not have courageous leadership to adapt to the urban challenges at a low-performing school. Additionally, funding formulas are not equal for this campus compared to others in the district, resulting in the loss of educational opportunities to enhance students’ upward mobility. The politics of “raiding the feeder pattern” that removed students from the neighborhood school and the changing structures in the community prevented an affordable living for vulnerable families. Conclusion: The findings suggested participants’ perceptions of school decline were influenced by their lived experience with the study site. This study contributes to the literature regarding how school leaders can prevent in-school and out-of-school factors that contribute to school decline.
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