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A Story of Equity and School Choice Policies: The Need for Caution. A Two-Decade Case Study of a Suburban/Rural School Division in Alberta, Canada Open Access


Other title
School Choice
Case Study
Complex Adaptive Systems
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Barrett, Marianne L.
Supervisor and department
Dr. Alison Taylor (Education, University of British Columbia)
Dr. Sheila Carr-Stewart (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Dr. Brenda Spencer (Education, University of Calgary)
Dr. Renee Kuchapski (Education, Brock University)
Dr. Heather Kanuka (Educational Policy Studies)
Department of Educational Policy Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
This 20-year case study is an engagement with the complexities of school choice policies and its effects on equity within one suburban rural public school division. The case study examined policy evolutions in the school division from January 1995 to December 2014 using both extensive document analyses (inclusive of school board minutes and highlights, school division plans and results reports, and policy documents) and semi-structured interviews with 29 participants who held various leadership positions (inclusive of elected school trustees, superintendents, principals, and other school division leaders) as the primary data sources. The study employed a Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) framework to demonstrate how the Suburban Rural School Division Case (SRSDC) evolved from a school division with an enabling policy environment that encouraged, promoted, and celebrated choice to a school system with a more prescriptive policy approach that actively discouraged school choice. In terms of equity, the findings demonstrate that the school division became a more inequitable school system in terms of individual access over the course of the case study and that matters of equity were reduced to economic considerations judged at the school level. Evidence from the case clearly reveal cautions are needed when considering policy directions that are influenced by market principles. From a leadership perspective, the study demonstrates how metaphors are employed by agents to navigate various policy directions, construct the “rules” of the game, and influence both policy enactment and outcomes. The findings are significant for educational leaders committed to an equity-led policy approach as they offer valuable lessons in terms of planning and playing the policy enactment game. The study concludes by offering suggestions for a way forward from an equity-led policy perspective using a CAS framework.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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