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The Organization as a Filter of Institutional Diffusion


by William R. Penuel, Kenneth A. Frank, Min Sun, Chong Min Kim & Corinne Singleton — 2013

(Coequal authorship for the first two authors)

Background/Context: Institutional theories sometimes characterize the normative influence of institutions as diffusing like waves and as exerting uniform pressures on individuals. This article contributes to a growing literature on the microfoundations of institutions, investigating how intraorganizational networks mediate the diffusion of institutions on teachers’ instructional practices.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study focused on the normative influence of reading policy on teaching practice in the early 2000s. We chose to focus on reading during this period, which was marked by an unusual level of policy coherence. Federal and state agencies, as well as school districts, implemented a number of policies and programs to encourage teachers to follow the National Reading Panel’s (2000) recommendations to emphasize basic skills development in reading instructional practices.

Setting: The research took place in 11 elementary schools. An important note is that the pressure teachers experienced in these schools to adopt the practices recommended by the National Reading Panel was indirect. The schools in the study did include three Title I schools, but no schools in programs that required them to adopt these practices. All schools used state-adopted curricula in reading that were aligned with recommended practices.

Population/Participants/Subjects: All faculty members in the 11 schools were part of the study from 2004 to 2008. The sample in the final analysis (n = 136) included teachers with direct responsibilities for teaching reading in a single school over these 4 years. This figure represents 84.47% of our original sample (N = 161).

Research Design: This study is a longitudinal observational study that includes social network data and multilevel analysis. We surveyed faculty four times in waves conducted in 2004, 2005, 2007, and 2008.

Data Collection and Analysis: The primary source of data was a survey that asked teachers to identify their close colleagues and colleagues who provided them with help on reading instruction (including measures of frequency of interaction). The dependent measure in our analyses was based teachers’ responses to items about instructional practices in reading, especially skills-based instructional practices. We fit multilevel models to estimate the extent to which reading practices were a function of teachers’ interactions with colleagues and their membership in subgroups, which were identified from the indicators of closest colleagues using Frank’s algorithm.

Findings/Results: Teachers’ practices did not conform exclusively to the new normative regime but rather depended on exposure to external professional development in reading instruction and on local norms of practice in their schools and collegial subgroups. Over time, moreover, subgroups’ practices diverged with respect to teachers’ implementation of skills-based reading instructional practices.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Our study findings provide strong evidence that local social dynamics such as the ones we illuminate here are key in shaping the implementation trajectory of any instructional practice or reform. Policies may set the stage for adopting particular practices and direct resources toward certain kinds of supports through curriculum and professional development programs they incentivize. However, teachers’ interactions with colleagues mediate the response to these directions and incentives in ways that can produce outcomes that diverge widely from policy makers’ intentions.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 1, 2013, p. 1-33
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16742, Date Accessed: 9/19/2014 12:01:01 AM

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About the Author
  • William Penuel
    University of Colorado at Boulder
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM R. PENUEL is professor of educational psychology and learning sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His research examines the design and implementation of innovations to improve learning in formal and informal settings. His research has appeared in Educational Researcher (2011, “Organizing Research and Development at the Intersection of Learning, Implementation, and Design,” with Barry J. Fishman and Britte Cheng) and the American Educational Research Journal (2011, “Preparing Teachers to Design Sequences of Instruction in Earth Science: A Comparison of Three Professional Development Programs,” with Lawrence Gallagher and Savitha Moorthy).
  • Kenneth Frank
    Michigan State University
    KENNETH FRANK received his Ph.D. in measurement, evaluation and statistical analysis from the School of Education at the University of Chicago in 1993. He is currently a professor in counseling, educational psychology and special education as well as in fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University. His substantive interests include the study of schools as organizations, social structures of students and teachers and school decision-making, and social capital. His substantive areas are linked to several methodological interests: social network analysis, causal inference, and multilevel models. Recent publications appear in the Sociology of Education (2011, “Focus, Fiddle and Friends: Sources of Knowledge to Perform the Complex Task of Teaching,” with Yong Zhao, William Penuel, Nicole Ellefson, and Susan Porter) and American Behavioral Scientist (2009, “Quasi-Ties: Directing Resources to Members of a Collective”).
  • Min Sun
    Virginia Tech
    E-mail Author
    MIN SUN is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Virginia Tech. Her research focuses on educational policy analysis, the development and evaluation of teachers and principals, and quantitative research methodology. Her dissertation investigates how school intraorganizational mechanisms mediate the impact of external interventions on improving teaching and learning. Her research has appeared in Leadership and Policy in Schools (2009, “How Does District Principal Evaluation Affect Learning-Centered Principal Leadership? Evidence from Michigan School Districts,” with Peter Youngs).
  • Chong Kim
    Northwestern University
    E-mail Author
    CHONG MIN KIM is currently a postdoctoral fellow for the Distributed Leadership Study at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. He received his BA and MA in education from college of education science at Yonsei University in South Korea and his Ph.D. in measurement and quantitative methods from the College of Education at Michigan State University. His areas of interest include social network analysis, distributed leadership, school improvement, and causal inference. His dissertation investigates the effect of teachers’ social networks on teaching practices and class composition.
  • Corinne Singleton
    SRI International
    E-mail Author
    CORINNE A. SINGLETON is a research social scientist in the Center for Technology in Learning at SRI International. Her evaluation research uses both qualitative and quantitative methods and includes projects related to education policy, school reform, 21st-century learning, and educational technology. Her recent publications have appeared in the Journal of Computers in Mathematics and Science Teaching (2011, “Classroom Network Technology as a Support for Systemic Mathematics Reform,” with William Penuel and Jeremy Roschelle) and Educational Researcher (2008, “Mathematics Worth Knowing, Resources Worth Growing, and Research Worth Nothing: A Response to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel Report,” with Jeremy Roschelle, Nora Sabelli, Roy D. Pea, and John D. Bransford).
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