An informal review of Dr. Wiegand's dissertation

re:  Factors that Affect Implementation and Sustainability of a High School Reform Effort: A Case Study

I do not recall exactly what put the bee in my bonnet, but I got the idea that since Dr. Wiegand has her Ed.D from the University of Illinois, she probably has a thesis paper dissertation and the UofI probably has it in hardcopy somewhere. So I went looking. And I found it. (I have not found a full electronic copy, yet) Why? Why would I want to read it? Partially because she is the superintendent, and the superintendent makes a lot of important decisions concerning the school district. In a way, I want to get inside her head. Additionally, I find Dr. Wiegand to be an intriguing person and find myself aligning with some of her ideas.

Keep in mind that I did not know Dr. Wiegand prior to her time at the Mellon Center; even then, I found myself largely focused on other players. As her résumé states, she was a Special Ed Teacher, Dean of Students, Assistant Principal and Principal all before becoming the Director of Secondary Education. She conducted her research and wrote her thesis dissertation from 2001-2003 while a Principal at Centennial.

“High School Reform” sounds like juicy bait. Flamebait, perhaps. 🙂 But the specific reform she focuses on is a concept referred to as “teaming” – creating a “school within the school” that allocates a subset of a particular class-level into a group such that they all take classes together. They have a set of 4-5 teachers dedicated to the “team”. It is a very interesting concept. Dr. Wiegand’s Case Study focused on teaming at the 9th grade and she analyzed this effort from many different angles, including what happens when the target school district attempted to expand the teaming concept to encompass the entire 9th grade as opposed to being an option for incoming students. As I was reading, I was reminded that Edison (and perhaps other Unit 4 middle schools?) already use this method for the entire school; students are placed into teams from the get-go and progress through their middle school experience with pretty much the same group of kids. In fact, Dr. Wiegand’s Case Study and other research described Middle School (and in some cases, Junior High) Teaming to be a popular practice, much more so than at the High School level. Hence kids coming from that experience at the middle school level already know what to expect at the high school level.

Dr. Wiegand seems to acknowledge in her work that teaming is not a panacea, not a silver bullet to cure all the problems with school. In fact, I get the distinct impression why the word “teaming” is not even mentioned in the title, but rather the title focuses on “factors” that influence and dictate if and how a school can or will change. To that end, her findings were quite interesting and at the same time glaringly obvious. I hope it is not a gross oversimplification of Dr. Wiegand’s hard work to summarize her findings by saying “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”. In her words (second sentence of Summary):

The traditional structure of the comprehensive high school has been held solidly in place by a culture that strongly supports a system that has served a segment of the population very well.

Elsewhere in her work, she quotes other authors and refers to the people that comprise this particular culture as “elitist” (pg 96 and onward) and having “positional power to affect change by maintaining the status quo” (pg 98).

Note that I do not think Dr. Wiegand is trying to label anyone – rather, she is using source material from other researchers, taking advantage of terms and definitions already practiced by the academic community. I think, and I may be wrong, the point is that some folks, who have power for one reason or another, sometimes fail to see a bigger picture, and thus by exerting their power for what they think is “the best” they actually give a significant advantage of one group over another, either by accident or design.

I stated that this might be glaringly obvious. I think it bears calling it out and putting it on the table so we can see what it is and what it does. I think (again, I could be wrong) that Dr. Wiegand is doing the same thing. She is hunting for factors that affect change – this is one of them. A big one, from what I gather. I get the impression that one must be aware of these “facts of life” and plan accordingly; Dr. Wiegand goes to some length to spell out how important District Leadership and Building Staff are in presenting (and selling) an idea for change in such a way that it brings the entire community on board.

At this point, I start turning the tables a little bit. Dr. Wiegand is now in that District Leadership position she wrote about. I am curious how things look from this side of the fence. She has had a couple decades working at the building level and has surely formed an opinion about top-down administration. Last week she held the 4th book study on Dr. Marzano’s work; I am curious how her idea of district leadership is being shaped given her own past experiences, her thesis dissertation, the influence of Dr. Bob Malito and now this book study and the feedback she may be collecting from these sessions. Given what she knows of Unit 4, its teachers, it staff, its students and parents, what direction does Dr. Wiegand want to take Unit 4 in? What is her mission right now? What is most important to her as a Superintendent?

In closing her section on Recommendations, Dr. Wiegand states:

Research in [how an underserved segment of the student population performs academically in teaming situations] could provide practitioners with additional information on how to address the very pressing issue of academic disparity between students.

There are other areas of Dr. Wiegand’s research that are also noteworthy and interesting. For instance she paints a picture of what happens when a building administrator only gives lip service to implementing change, a façade that is both obvious and not well appreciated by the building staff. With teaming itself, her work covers a great many perspectives and I particularly found it enlightening to be reminded that even those with good intentions may be perceived as being selfish or prideful as in the case of a teacher who wanted to join a team, but was seen as making a power grab for honor students. Dr. Wiegand highlights the great foresight of the target district’s superintendent, how he made small incremental changes and in a way, broke the ice, in marching towards his goal. We see how difficult it is to make big changes, even if they are the culmination of acceptable small changes. And overall, we see how important communication is – how it is vital and crucial to both listen carefully to others and speak your own mind clearly and in such a way that is easy to be digested.

I would very much appreciate your own thoughts and comments. Especially if I am way off my rocker and need to be corrected.


5 Responses to “An informal review of Dr. Wiegand's dissertation”

  1. pattsi Says:

    Minor correction at the EdD or PhD level, the document is a dissertation. The term thesis is used for a masters project or maybe a senior project at a small liberal arts college. 🙂

  2. charlesdschultz Says:

    Tomatto tomaeto.

    Changes made, thanks for the clarification.

  3. charlesdschultz Says:

    Funny thing, on the very first page of the document:

    Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Education in Education in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2003”

  4. The Purpose of Education, part 3 « A citizen’s blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] Wiegand mentioned these seven principles in her dissertation/thesis/paper. A paper that focuses on, of all things, change and […]

  5. The Purpose of Education, part 3 | Citizen4: A citizen's blog about Champaign Unit 4 Says:

    […] Wiegand mentioned these seven principles in her dissertation/thesis/paper. A paper that focuses on, of all things, change and […]

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