State leadership for school improvement: An analysis of three states

Karen R Seashore, Emanda Thomas, Molly F. Gordon, Karen S. Febey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Purpose: Extant reports on states'policy differences are mostly descriptive and largely ignore the pervasive role of political culture on their educational policy-making processes. This article examines the effect of policy culture on states' policy-making mechanisms. There is evidence that a state's political culture is a significant mediating influence on its educational policy making and leadership practices at the state, district, and local level. Data Collection and Analysis: We conducted an empirical, comparative case study of educational leadership and policy-making mechanisms in three states-Indiana, Nebraska, and Oregon. Those three states, chosen because of their similarities in size but differences in educational policy histories, were part of a larger leadership study of nine states. Within each state, researchers interviewed between 8 and 11 educational policymakers who represented a diverse array of positions and organizations. The interviews were 1 hr in length, conducted in a semistructured format, and revolved around their states' accountability and school leadership policies, key educational stakeholders, and levels of collaboration among those stakeholders. Findings: Each state in the study had very different means through which they pursued educational policies. Indiana had centralized decision-making structures that sought to promote leadership and accountability through policies that revolved around equity and efficiency. Oregon had a high level of participation and collaboration at all levels in the state's mostly decentralized but very open educational policy-making process that emphasized quality. Nebraska's policy culture, which was more independent and decentralized than Oregon's, was highly collaborative but had comparatively low levels of support for state-supported leadership and accountability initiatives. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that political culture is a mediating factor for states' responses to increasing demands for leadership and accountability initiatives; it is therefore necessary to account for the impact of each state's unique political culture when planning for and explaining results of these initiatives.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)562-592
Number of pages31
JournalEducational Administration Quarterly
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Accountability
  • Leadership
  • Policy making
  • Political culture


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