When policymakers and practitioners partner: A stakeholder analysis of an urban school reform program

Alice Elizabeth Ginsberg, University of Pennsylvania


A large number of school reform programs initiated by foundations, non-profits and universities fail to achieve their intended impact. Two commonly cited reasons are (1) outside stakeholders frequently misdiagnose, or simply fail to address, the most significant problems and constraints facing practitioners inside school settings, and (2) policymakers and practitioners often have difficulty working together to achieve common goals. This qualitative study sought to better understand the relationships among stakeholders of a school reform program titled GATE. Primary research questions were: What are the range of ways that the GATE program was adapted—as it moved from policy to practice—to meet the needs of different participants and stakeholders? Who participated in initiating, negotiating and implementing changes? How did different groups attempt to work collaboratively and cope with conflicting goals, ideologies, values, and interests? As a program officer at the non-profit organization that developed GATE, I served as the project director from 1994–97 while the program was piloted in a large urban school district. Data was collected through participatory observation, semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and analysis of written evaluations and other documents. Using an inductive method of analysis, this study sought to understand the evolution of the program from the perspectives of individuals in each of the key stakeholder groups, and to explore the vested interests around which such groups were constituted and reconstituted in different contexts. Four complicating factors included: (1) changing leadership and priorities in key stakeholder groups; (2) outside stakeholders' ignorance about the institutional frameworks within which practitioners work; (3) a dissimilar culture among participating teachers, administrators, and parents; and (4) a “false clarity” of goals for participation. However, program implementation was enhanced when outside stakeholders adapted a stance of flexibility, when practitioners had meaningful input into the reform content and process, and when all participants had sufficient time and opportunities to negotiate common agendas and form working communities. Main implications include the need for inside and outside stakeholders to better define their common interests and goals, explore the feasibility of efforts, promote joint ownership of programs, and brainstorm processes for mediating conflicts.

Subject Area

Teacher education|Educational sociology|School administration

Recommended Citation

Ginsberg, Alice Elizabeth, "When policymakers and practitioners partner: A stakeholder analysis of an urban school reform program" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9953534.