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Abstract

In the 1980s, "A Nation at Risk" kicked off forty years of education policy directed at providing excellent education to all students. Since that time and despite substantial resources, innovation, and research; there has been little improvement in aggregate student achievement or school effectiveness. This dissertation asks why. The answer lies in schools’ inability to achieve strategic change. I come to this through an in-depth case study of one exception to this trend: a no-excuses charter school. No-excuses charter schools appear to have found a way to provide a high-quality education to traditionally disadvantaged students. However, some argue this is due to longer school days and school years while others argue these gains are due to genuine, repeatable innovations in school culture, teacher preparation, and data-driven strategy. Combing 16 months of fieldwork, interviews with key staff, and archival data from the school’s server, I looked at how one such high-performing charter school implemented these three innovations. For each innovation, I show how strategic change was undermined by processes that have yet to be fully theorized and which minimize the school’s success. Thus, though we have learned much about what makes schools effective in the past forty years, we are still far from being able to make them effective.

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