Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Education

Document Type



This dissertation adds to the growing body of literature on charter school reform. Through the use of double insight, this paper details the tensions between school structures and teacher experience at a “successful” urban charter school. How do teachers construct their subjectivities in relation to a charter school’s mission and guiding philosophy? What are the inter-actions between these teacher biographies and the school’s prominent structures? This paper problematizes common discourse on charters, often reduced to identifying schools as either “good” or “bad,” to contribute to a more nuanced discussion between charter advocates and opponents.

This research utilizes a theoretical framework (poststructuralism) and method (ethnography) often neglected in research on charter schools. My poststructural lens is particularly informed through Foucault’s notion of power and Deleuze’s notion of norming. By focusing on two teachers, Maria and Barbara, I constructed my research on a foundation of teacher voice. Furthermore, I coded and themed teacher interviews, observational fieldnotes, internal school reports, and state and federal policy documents.

Four structures support the charter’s mission as a technology-infused school preparing students for the modern workforce: democratization, continuous professional development, community building, and inter-disciplinary learning and teaching. These four structures inter-acted with Barbara and Maria’s subjectivities throughout my time at Pennsylvania High Charter School, resulting in three tensions: professional expectations, and individualization, and surveillance. These seven themes and two subjectivities created a network of relationships, useful for understanding how teachers navigate the expectations of a “successful” charter school in relation to their own understanding of “effective” curriculum and pedagogy.

Teacher subjectivity is central to this research project for two reasons. First, teacher voice has largely been omitted from previous research on charter schools. Second, teacher narratives can emphasize the disconnect between theory, such as formal school structures, and practice, or the lives and experiences of teachers in their classrooms. By focusing on this tension of praxis, a more nuanced discussion of charter schools is made possible.



Committee Chair

Hendry, Petra Munro