Conceptualizing an Institutional Ethnography Contribution to Education’s Use of Improvement Science

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:50
Oral Presentation
Lois ANDRE-BECHELY, California State University, Los Angeles, USA
There is a long history of reforms in U.S. public education that have not always resulted in effective, sustainable change. Administrators and teachers/faculty are well-intentioned in trying to bring about more equitable outcomes however they often encounter organizational processes and practices that stunt the local work they are trying to do. Recently, some educational leadership programs have advocated for the incorporation of “improvement science” into professional educational doctorate programs. Improvement Science focuses on two different types of knowledge: basic knowledge of the discipline (in this case education), and a “system of profound knowledge” (Langley et al, 2009) drawing from sociology and other disciplines to understand organizations and complex systems. One of the features of improvement science are the questions that practioners ask to drive their improvement work: 1) What are we trying to accomplish; 2) How will we know that a change is an improvement; and 3) What change can we make that will result in improvement? While these educators are studying various data at local sites, planning change and so forth, missing in their initial questioning of the problems and issues they attempt to address is the foundational question of Institutional Ethnography, “How does it happen?” In this case, “How do the inequities you want to address happen?” should be asked before considering what kind of change would be an improvement. This paper will examine improvement science in use in doctoral study and then conceptualize how Institutional Ethnography can expand theoretically and methodologically, the ways in which educators in professional doctorate programs can study problems of practice. Drawing on the work of institutional ethnographers Smith and Turner (2014), Griffith and Smith (2014) and Pense (2011), the paper brings Institutional Ethnography into conversation with those in education who are exploring improvement science as part of the organization of schooling.