This blog post is a tribute to the classic paper by Mary Metz, “Real School.” In it she shows how schools follow a cultural script that demonstrates all of the characteristics we want to see in a school. The argument, in line with neo-institutional theory (see this example by Meyer and Rowan), is that schools are organized around meeting our cultural expectations for the form that schools should take more than around producing particular outcomes. Following the script keeps us reassured that the school we are associated with — as a parent, student, teacher, administrator, taxpayer, political leader, etc. — is indeed a real school. It follows that the less effective a school is at producing desirable social outcomes — high scores, graduation rates, college attendance, future social position — the most closely we want it to follow the script. It’s a lousy high school but it still has an advanced placement program, a football team, a debate team, and a senior prom. So it’s a real high school.
Here’s the citation and a link to a PDF of the original article: