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Published by Camille Maydonik

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Published by: Camille Maydonik on Nov 02, 2009
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Legitimating PrivatizationThe Politics of Sylvan Support Centers in the Baltimore Public SchoolSystemBetty Malen, Rebecca McAndrew, and Donna Muncey
SummaryThe Sylvan organization was able to gain and retain a foothold in the BaltimorePublic School System despite resistance surrounding privatization.Main Points:
Establishing a foothold in Baltimore was a critical test of Sylvan’s capacityto capture a meaningful market share of what is now referred to assupplemental service delivery.
The chapter focuses on the political strategies that contributed to theadoption, retention, and legitimation of this high-stakes venture.
The Baltimore school board contracted Sylvan Learning Systems for tutorial services for Chapter 1 public school students.
The authors suggest that this case study illuminated important aspects of a broader phenomenon, namely, the complex process through whichparticular types of organizations might establish and maintain legitimacy innew markets and challenging environments.Context:
Throughout the 1990’s, the Baltimore Public School system, like other urban public school systems, was plagued by chronic resource shortages,complex educational demands, and intense pressures to improve schoolperformance.
The system as a whole was not doing well on broadly publicized indicatorsof school performance.
The Sylvan contract authorized an initiative that concentrated on providingsupplemental services to select groups of students in six schools.
Sylvan executives and supporters developed strategies that helped makeprivatization palatable in a context that was challenging the effectivenessand the propriety of privatization experiments in the city’s public schoolsystem.Political Strategies:
 
Private Negotiations with Local Elites: In April 1992, Sylvan responded toBaltimore school system’s request for proposals to provide Chapter 1services for nonpublic school students who were under contract for thoseservices with the Baltimore public school system. Although Sylvanexecutives did not win this bid, they did secure access to school officialsand influentials.
Multiple Efforts to Preempt Opposition: Sylvan provided employmentopportunities for retired and current teachers and promised that thecompany would not supplant public school teachers with other Sylvanemployees.
Continuous Campaigns to Cultivate Support: The superintendent andSylvan executives, with the full support of the mayor, coordinated a publicrelations campaign to legitimate the Sylvan program with internal andexternal audiences. The program underwent an external evaluation andSylvan invested in the community, which helped take the edge off the for-profit character of Sylvan’s work in schools.Sylvan’s Longevity in the Baltimore Context:
Key Sources of Organizational Legitimation: Regulatory, normative, andcultural-cognitive pillars of social institutions.
Alignment of Privatization Initiatives with Pillars of Social Institutions:
Alignment with the regulatory pillar: directs attention to society’sregulatory systems, to the formal and informal rules that governwhat organizations can do and to the monitoring and enforcementmechanisms that may be invoked to ensure compliance with theserules.
Alignment with the normative pillar: directs attention to society’snormative systems, including the values, expectations, beliefs, andprescriptions that undergird conceptions of worthy ends and theappropriate means of pursuing those ends.
Alignment wit the cultural-cognitive pillar: directs attention to widelyand deeply held assumptions about social realities, roles, andresponsibilities.Conclusion:

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