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School Districts as Learning Organizations Open Access

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The accountability era focuses attention to the district’s role in student achievement, transforming the role of districts and the leaders within them from managing functions of teaching and learning to supporting efforts of teaching and learning (Daly & Finnigan, 2011; Honig, 2008). With this new focus, central office leaders are expected to bring about change in structures, routines, and culture to carry out ambitious reform efforts and increase student achievement (Finnigan & Daly, 2012). Creating a district that learns is an important facet to consider when examining these changes. Researchers have studied what school districts that are learning organizations do. The focus for researchers has been on understanding learning from decision-making and research use at the district level, connecting the school district with the environment, such as policies and community agencies, connecting communities of practice across organizational boundaries, providing instructional support as a strategic leadership practice, providing various learning opportunities for all organizational members, communication and dialogue, collaboration and team work, and the role district vision plays in empowerment. Researchers have found these characteristics to be in alignment with characteristics of effective school districts. Researchers in the business and higher education fields have examined organizations as learning systems in relation to organizational outcomes. The findings revealed that learning organization dimensions are predictive of organizational outcomes (Davis & Daley, 2008; Ellinger, Ellinger, Yang, & Howton, 2002; Kim & Callahan, 2013; Kumar & Idris, 2006; Wetherington & Daniels, 2013). This is very promising in the K-12 public education sector as researchers have examined the characteristics of effective school districts and found these characteristics to be aligned with characteristics of learning organizations. A need to study school districts as learning organizations exists as this has a potential to increase organizational outcomes.This nonexperimental study explored the relationship between learning organization dimensions, as perceived by central office leaders, and district effectiveness, as measured by student achievement on the state standardized test in reading in grades 5, 8, and 11 in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Examining the perceptions of central office leaders is vital as “organizational learning is not possible unless some learning first takes place in the executive subculture” (Schein, 1992, p. 5). A between-subjects design was utilized. Hierarchical multiple regression analyses were conducted to determine the predictive nature of the overall model with regards to district effectiveness and to determine which dimension was the greatest predictor of district effectiveness. Learning organization practices (predictor variable) was measured with the Dimensions of a Learning Organization Questionnaire (Marsick & Watkins, 2003) and district effectiveness (criterion variable) was measured using state standardized scores on the reading assessment in grades 5, 8, and 11. Socioeconomic status as measured by the percentage of free and reduced-priced lunch was the control variable. The overall model did not support the hypothesis that learning organization dimensions predict district effectiveness when controlling for SES, F(7, 70)=1.336, p=.247, R2change=.035. A review of the standardized coefficients indicated that only the capturing learning dimension contributed significant effects on student achievement, t(71)=2.213, p=.030, sr2=.018. Keywords: Learning organization, central office, school district effectiveness

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