Date of Award


Level of Access

Campus-Only Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


George Marnik

Second Committee Member

Richard Ackerman

Third Committee Member

Sarah Mackenzie


One purpose of current education policy reform is to ensure that all students demonstrate proficiency in academic achievement. Education policy, reliant on assessment and accountability strategies, puts pressure on educational leaders to raise academic achievement. This narrative study describes how leadership decisions to improve curriculum and instruction are influenced by federal and state education policy. The context for this study is the underachievement of students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds. This is evident because of the existence of a persistent achievement gap between high and low SES subgroups - indicating that education polices have failed to meet desired goals. Data collection relied upon nine semi-structured interviews with educational leaders in three, high poverty, low achieving rural Maine middle schools. A curriculum coordinator, principal and teacher leader were interviewed in each school setting. Data analysis relied on narrative research methodology that included restorying, coding for themes and writing participant stories. Participant stories were analyzed through the lens of a conceptual framework reliant on established decision-making theories. These theories included: Site-based Decision-making Theory, Bounded Rational Theory, and Incrementalism. In summary, the findings of this study show: (a) Site-based decision-making processes benefit education policy implementation; (b) Decisions to improve curriculum and instruction are shaped by leadership perceptions about education policy; and, (c) How leaders choose to interact with education policy supports has implications on decisions to improve curriculum and instruction. A better understanding of how decisions to improve curriculum and instruction are influenced by federal and state education policy may facilitate collaboration between educational leaders and policy makers. Collaboration of this nature may help educational leaders make informed decisions about how to support effective curriculum improvement in their schools within the parameters of the current assessment and accountability policy climate.