Reintroducing democracy into a school bureaucracy: A case study of two districts

Amy Karen Rakoff, Fordham University


This study examined the school reform movement entitled A New Compact for Learning, devised by former New York Commissioner of Education, Thomas Sobol. In exploring the validity of this New York State mandate, this researcher examined two districts, Eastpointe and Westpointe. Both districts were to incorporate a mandate that stipulated parents, teachers, and principals will form Compact Committees. These committees will participate in a shared decision-making process to devise recommendations for policy. These recommendations would be responsive to the entire school community. In determining the success of the committees established in the two districts, several areas of research were conducted. An examination of the relationships that existed among superintendents, boards of education, and committee members occurred to determine the relationship between the levels of conflict and the transfer of power to committee members. Careful observation of support services, committee activities, and reward and recognition to committee members were conducted. The final portion of this research analyzed the proposed and accepted recommendations made by committees at both sites. Accepted recommendations were examined regarding their value to the district. It is with honorable intent that Thomas Sobol believed his document had all the makings of a reform that would instill positive change. The concept of shared decision making, in its purest form, is one that breeds hope. But this document would find difficulty existing in the political environment currently found in schools. At Eastpointe, a severed relationship between the new superintendent and teaching staff set the stage for conflict and a lack of transfer of power from the administration Compact Committees. At Westpointe, where the political relationships appeared to be in accord, the autocratic nature of the superintendent controlled the goals to be set by the Compact Committee and therefore minimal transfer of power occurred. The deeply embedded political environments at both districts made it difficult for the document to be utilized properly. Support services, committee activities, and rewards and recognition are all a valued part of this mandate and were lacking at both sites. If these two districts chosen typify other New York communities, we must re-evaluate the viability of this mandate.

Subject Area

School administration|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Rakoff, Amy Karen, "Reintroducing democracy into a school bureaucracy: A case study of two districts" (1998). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9923443.