School choice or schools' choice? managing in an era of accountability

Jennifer L. Jennings

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Drawing on a year and a half of ethnographic research in three New York City small high schools, this study examines the role of the school in managing school choice and asks what social processes are associated with principals' disparate approaches. Although district policy did not allow principals to select students based on their performance, two of the three schools in this study circumvented these rules to recruit and retain a population that would meet local accountability targets. This article brings together sensemaking and social network theories to offer a theoretical account of schools' management of choice in an era of accountability. In doing so, the author demonstrates that principals' sensemaking about the accountability and choice systems occurred within the interorganizational networks in which they were embedded and was strongly conditioned by their own professional biographies and worldviews. Principals' networks offered access to resources that could be activated to make sense of the accountability and choice systems. How principals perceived accountability and choice policies influenced whether they activated their social networks for assistance in strategically managing the choice process, as well as how they made sense of advice available to them through these networks. Once activated, principals' networks provided uneven access to instrumental and expressive resources. Taken together, these results suggest that schools respond to accountability and choice plans in varied ways that are not simply a function of their short-term incentives.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)227-247
    Number of pages21
    JournalSociology of Education
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - 2010


    • accountability
    • principals
    • school choice
    • social networks

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education
    • Sociology and Political Science


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