The impact of a deliberative forum process on people's understanding of a standards-based educational reform initiative in one suburban public school district

Mary Carlson Bolenbaugh, University of Pennsylvania

Abstract

The focus of this case study is the description and analysis of the impact and effectiveness of a deliberative forum model on the public's perceptions regarding a major educational reform initiative in a suburban public school district. The study sought to determine the extent to which the National Issues Forum (NIF) model of the Kettering Foundation, which has been used for identifying common ground on national policy issues, can be applied to public deliberation on an educational issue as a impetus for action. The underlying assumption is that participation in the deliberative process will serve as a means for different, and sometimes, opposing stakeholder groups in the school community to address the issue of standards and engage in public discourse in order to arrive at a reasoned public judgment and a course for future action related to the issue. The research method used to explore the deliberative model is qualitative participatory action research. The action components of this method include naming and framing the issue, creating the issues framing grid and forum discussion guide, preparing a newsletter to inform the school community; and scheduling and moderating the forums. The research involved the collection of data in the form of field notes, journal entries, survey data, and interview responses. The results of the study indicate that the effectiveness of the deliberative process was determined by movement along a continuum from individual opinions to public judgment. Study outcomes also revealed that several factors either contributed to or impeded the effectiveness of the process. These included attendance and representation, the community context in which the issue is set, the role of the moderator, the quality of the deliberations, the connection of the issue to the public's interest the selection of the alternatives for deliberation, and the organization and presentation of the discussion guide. The study concludes by recognizing that while some movement from individual opinions to public judgment can occur through the deliberative process, a complete transition from opinion to judgment is a lengthy and protracted endeavor requiring an extended period of time. The study provides insight into several implications that the school district may want to consider before proceeding with a major standards-based educational reform initiative.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|School administration

Recommended Citation

Bolenbaugh, Mary Carlson, "The impact of a deliberative forum process on people's understanding of a standards-based educational reform initiative in one suburban public school district" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3030095.
https://repository.upenn.edu/dissertations/AAI3030095

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