School-based management of special education in New York City: Monitoring for accountability

Alan Sebel, Fordham University


The school reform movement sends contradictory messages to the field: (a) tighter control and regulation from federal, state, and local authorities, and (b) school-based decision-making. When New York City administratively decentralized special education and instituted a compliance monitoring system in 1987, it was reacting to the dichotomous messages of the reform movements. This study sought to examine how the New York City school system attempted to balance conflicts that emerged between the school system's need to maintain control and compliance and the principals' needs to exercise autonomy and discretion, resulting from the system's actions. The research was conducted in the embedded case study format. It focused on a regional office of monitoring and the schools under its jurisdiction. Four schools were selected from a universe of 140 schools to serve as representations of the variety of interactions that developed over a 2-year period. The researcher was an active participant in these interactions. The data reviewed in the process of selecting the sample included: the notes of the researcher taken during conversations at the schools and in discussions with other regional staff; monitoring reports sent to the schools; principals' compliance plans submitted in response to those reports; and other written communications. During the fall of 1989, after the schools were identified, the researcher interviewed the four principals, special education supervisors, and the community superintendents or their designees. The recordings and notes taken form a significant portion of the data analyzed. Analysis of the data showed that principals generally followed two modes of behavior: compliers and resisters. The system's monitoring process was able to control the resisters and ensure that they demonstrated movement toward compliance with the system's goals. The most productive situations occurred when the regulatory agency and the principals were able to achieve compromise that allowed the principal to exercise discretion and autonomy, while ensuring that the system's needs were also realized. Analysis of the data showed that the school system was able to ensure compliance and balance the system's needs and the principals' needs, thus allowing the system to resolve conflicts and to continue functioning.

Subject Area

School administration|Special education

Recommended Citation

Sebel, Alan, "School-based management of special education in New York City: Monitoring for accountability" (1990). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9109271.