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Title:Calling the roll: Study circles for better schools (Policy research report)
Author:Pan, D., & Mutchler, S.
Resource Type:Report
Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory
Full text:
Literature type:Research and Evaluation

The purpose of this study is to examine why and how state policy makers might interact with the public in deliberative community dialogues as they gather information, debate, and ultimately create the state policy context for local education reform in our nation of increasingly diverse communities. For purpose of this report state policymakers are defined as elected and appointed representatives whose jobs as state legislators, state board of education members or other state-level officeholders place them in a position of accountability to the citizens of their state. Findings around two key areas of impact (information flow and relationship building provide a glimpse at the way in which deliberative community dialogue might affect the disconnection between policy makers and the public. Research results in four categories--diverse perspectives, opportunity for information exchange, policy directions and collective opinion of the public and changing perspectivesÑindicated that study circles do improve information flow. The research data also indicated that policymakers struggle with establishing strong relationships with their constituents. Two categoriesÑpersonal networks and credibility between policymakers and their constituents and personal commitment toward public educationÑindicated impact on policymakers' capacity to improve relationships. The researchers investigated the use of the deliberative dialogue model known as study circles in a program Calling the Roll held in 15 Arkansas and Oklahoma communities. Baseline data were collected from thirty state legislators in the proposed study circle communities. Surveys were administered to non-policymaker participants at the beginning of the study circle programs and again at the final study circle meeting. Researchers gathered 615 completed pre-program surveys and 366 post-program surveys. Thirty-nine surveys were collected from participants immediately after their third study circle discussion session. Researchers performed observations of the study circle groups in which a state policymaker was a participant and collected and reviewed documents that provided information on the implementation process. Qualitative data analysis was conducted using open coding, axial coding and selective coding methods. Basic frequency and central tendency calculations were used to analyze the numerical survey data. The successful integration of deliberative dialog processes at the school, community, and state levels has three implications for practitioners: broader input for decision making can open the lines of communication for better understanding of complex education issues, better alignment of education initiatives with community priorities, and increased trust and credibility can foster civic participation and community building at all levels of the education system. Low participation in certain communities affected policymakersÕ ability to interact with a diverse range of their constituents. Therefore, the results of this study may not be generalizable to a broad range of settings.

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