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One size does not fit all: A qualitative case study of choice in a suburban public elementary school district

Judith C Houle, University of Massachusetts Amherst


After fifteen years of education reform efforts since the publication of A Nation at Risk, a single most effective system of educating elementary school students has not yet emerged. What have emerged are several models of instructional practice and student grouping that show some promise. Is our inability to agree on a single best system for all our students mean that there is no one best system? Recent attention to providing choices for families has fueled this debate. This case study examines a suburban school district's twenty-six year history with an open enrollment system of choice. Little attention has been paid in the literature to intradistrict choice as a way to restructure public schools. By documenting the journey of this district's attempts to offer choices to its families, a context has been set in which a discussion of this option within public schools can take place. Several questions guided this study in order to provide the reader with a context in which this discussion can take place: (1) How did choice start (i.e., what precipitated it, who was involved in making it a reality)? (2) What are the choices that are offered, and how do parents and staff make them? (3) How has it evolved over time? (4) What enables it to continue? (5) What inhibits it from working as well as it could or should? (6) How do the participants feel about the choice system? (7) How does it impact the community as a whole? (8) Does the reality of choice live up to the promise? (9) How will this study inform future discussions? These questions are answered in the context of a review of the education reform literature. The study includes classroom observations, participant interviews, and document review. The data gathered through this process provide a thematic analysis of the issues inherent in an open enrollment system. From this context, implications for other school districts are discussed. The stories of the participants will bring added insight to the practical issues of design and implementation of a choice system for public elementary schools.

Subject Area

School administration|Curricula|Teaching|Elementary education

Recommended Citation

Houle, Judith C, "One size does not fit all: A qualitative case study of choice in a suburban public elementary school district" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9920612.