Explaining the Contradictions: Autonomy, Equity, and the Development of Exclusionary Discipline and Tracking Practices in an Innovation School
Kathryn Wiley

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Colorado Boulder

Primary Discipline

In places such as Massachusetts, Washington, and Colorado, policymakers are turning to “Innovation schools” and other autonomous forms of schooling in the hopes of improving school performance. These schools are provided increased autonomy from the district and are promoted on the basis that they will improve educational access and equity for traditionally underserved families; however, historical civil rights legacies illustrate that school autonomy has had different implications for different communities depending on how educators enact such reforms. Increased autonomy may offer one way to improve schools, but at the same time it also raises questions about how educators will use their decision-making power, and how these decisions will impact students’ access to educational opportunities. This 2.5-year ethnographic dissertation study of an Innovation school identified two key practices that challenged the school’s realization of providing greater educational opportunities to all students: the use of exclusionary school discipline and academic tracking, both of which created a racialized hierarchy of opportunity in the school. In light of these practices, I asked: (1) in a school premised upon greater flexibility and opportunity for all students, what processes drove the development of these inequitable practices? (2) What role did autonomy play in these developments? (3) What can the development of these practices tell us about the processes through which equity may be realized within Innovation schools? The analysis draws on social practice theorists and theories of organizational change to offer educators, researchers, and policymakers insights into the practices that arose in an autonomous school setting, and contextual processes that drove them.
About Kathryn Wiley
Kathryn E. Wiley is a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. She is currently a research assistant at CU Boulder and research associate for the University of Denver where she works for a University-district partnership. Her research focuses on school reform and racial equity; draws from theories of organizational change and sociology of education; and is conducted using qualitative methodology. She has worked for the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles. She received her B.A. at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio and her M.A. in Education Policy from the University of Colorado Boulder. Earlier in her career she worked as a youth advisor and as an instructor for Upward Bound.

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