The unfinished business of building a democratic middle school

Kathleen A Foster, University of Pennsylvania


This study examines democratic practices within the middle school setting. It explores these practices with a diverse group of teachers, students, and parents in order to engage the stakeholders in thinking about ways to enhance the participation of the school community. The study was conducted over a twelve-month period in a suburban middle school in central New Jersey. The qualitative study poses the following major question: In what ways can the middle school be organized to exemplify a democratic community? From this question, two other areas need to be addressed: (a) What might democratic practices look like in the middle school? (b) In what ways can middle school students participate in the school community in order to learn about democratic practices? This project uses a variety of qualitative methods to investigate democratic practices in the middle school. Action Research is used to engage the stakeholders in the process. The stakeholder group, which consisted of parents, students, and teachers, examined the data collected, assisted in the analysis, and collectively developed an action plan. The data was collected in the following ways: first, Town Forums were held for stakeholders to learn about the democratic process; second, Focus Groups were used to gather initial beliefs, perceptions, and attitudes about democracy in the middle school; third, student, teacher, and parent interviews were conducted to explore their ideas, beliefs, and experiences related to democratic practices within the classroom and school setting. In addition, the researcher observed classrooms and recorded field notes about participating teachers' instructional practices. Once the data was analyzed, the stakeholder group and researcher formulated an action plan that focused on ways to create a more democratic middle school community. As a result, this study concludes that in order to build a more democratic middle school community, the school community members must develop a shared language about democracy, address issues of power and authority, and establish more vehicles for ongoing, interactive communication. The action plan of this research study features more opportunities for student decision making and more structures for a democratic culture of learning within the middle school community.

Subject Area

Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Foster, Kathleen A, "The unfinished business of building a democratic middle school" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3168023.