Kvalitetsvurdering som organisasjonslæring mellom skole og skoleeigar
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This thesis focuses on how schools and school owners collaborate on questions of quality assurance in a national system based on management by objectives, performance management and accountability. Norwegian schools face major challenges both in terms of academic achievement, social equity and increased dropout rates during the 13-year basic education. To meet these challenges, Norway follows international management trends placing increased emphasis on quality assessment and local responsibility. Municipalities are – as school owners – held accountable while simultaneously expected to attain national as well as local targets by working as learning organisations. Academic theories on organisational learning thus become a relevant framework for studying how school and municipal levels collaborate on the quality assessment work. This study is part of a larger research project financed by the Norwegian Research Council, “Achieving School Accountability in Practice” (ASAP), involving analyses of the quality assessment work carried out at the national, municipal and institutional levels in Norwegian schools. My work has been linked to a subproject within ASAP aiming at achieving researchbased knowledge about how local actors understand the extended room to maneuver they have been granted through the latest reforms. The objective of my study has been to develop knowledge on the organisational learning processes that take place between schools and school owners when they collaborate on issues of quality assessment. The empirical material builds on focus group interviews and individual interviews in municipalities that have over time been engaged with developing quality assessment systems. To establish a deeper understanding of learning processes between the school and municipal levels, I have studied the challenges and possibilities as they are perceived by academic, administrative and political leaders in their work on assessing quality in schools. The theoretical framework for the thesis consists of different approaches to organisational learning, and draws on the work of Gregory Bateson, James March, Argyris & Schön, Peter Senge and Nonaka & Takeuchi. Different perspectives on learning in organisations are discussed along with central aspects of the criticism raised against the discourse on organisational learning. The thesis also looks at the relationship between organisation, administration and learning to clarify different academic views on quality and assessment. The study shows that the school’s quality discourse and the day-to-day teaching and learning work can go on in two independent spheres. Results from quality assessments are passed on to politicians, managers, teachers, students and parents, but the daily work in the classroom tend to continue much as before. At the same time the study shows that municipal managers are aware of this challenge and work to develop strategies to stimulate a knowledge-developing quality work between the users, the groups of professionals, the administration and the politicians. The transition from information to knowledge is challenging schools and school owners alike. National, municipal and school-based programs for quality assessment generate large quantities of information, but as the study shows, the assessment information in itself does not lead to new understanding or active development work. Unless data is presented in ways that provide collective insights and commitment, increased availability of information can actually be counterproductive. One of the findings in this work is that quality discussions both at the school and municipal levels are often characterised by incommensurable contributions, ranging from purely positivistic ones concerned with causal explanations, to social-constructivist approaches that view quality work as intersubjective meaning making. The various actors engage in different discourses. In order to establish a knowledge-developing quality assessment procedure between schools and school owners, some basic prerequisites appear to be: - a broad body of qualitative and quantitative information - use of both internal and external quality assessment - development of joint arenas and meeting forms conducive to productive work on quality assessment The study shows that assessment work at one level is dependent on good assessment processes at other levels of the educational system. High quality formative and summative pupil assessment creates good conditions for school-based assessment, which in turn increases the school’s ability to make use of external assessment. Similarly, constructive collaboration between teams of teachers, trade unions and headmasters at individual schools seems to have a positive effect on the interaction between the group of headmasters, the municipal administration and the politicians. The quality assessment work thus seems to function productively when an assessment culture is created from below throughout the municipal school system. Such an assessment culture also seems to be characterised by balance and coherence between the experience–expectation, reflection–action, structure–culture and individual–collective axes. In order to build this kind of bottom-up culture for assessment, the top leaders have to understand this relational way of thinking. No assessment tools and methods stand out as better than others. The crucial factors seem to be the provision of ample assessment information and high-quality discussion and interaction processes in the quality work. When schools and municipalities hire external evaluators, the study shows that it is decisive to cooperate on identifying the areas, criteria and methods of assessment. Quality assessment work is unlikely to be productive if teachers, students and parents are merely informers and suppliers of data. They must also be involved in determining what is to be examined and what changes are necessary. The study shows marked divisions between unsystematic, systematic and systemic features of quality work. A systematic approach emphasises quality systems, with linear plans for the use of tests, user surveys and information on outcomes. The systemic approach places more emphasis on quality work, including descriptions of dialogue and interaction across traditional hierarchical levels to identify knowledge developing processes. Both groups of professionals, the administration and the politicians must be involved as co-creating participants in the quality work. This enables them to combine control-oriented, decision-oriented, teaching-oriented and processoriented strategies. The management of knowledge-developing processes seems to require forms of preparation, implementation and follow-up that differ from traditional bureaucratic working methods. The main task of managers is not primarily one of preparing the relevant information and suggesting decisions, but one of preparing problems for professional discussion and suggesting distinct process steps that can mobilise a high degree of reflection, creativity and responsibility between those involved in the quality work. Actively using systemic patterns of interaction, schools and school owners can establish a genuine, local room of maneuver for the development of the school’s teaching and learning efforts. Deprived of this insight, municipalities could perceive the logic of accountability as implying that quality assessment work increases the distance between schools and control-oriented municipal bureaucrats and politicians. Based on this observation, the thesis also raises the question of how the state level could help municipalities become school owners with an advanced capability for systemic development.