Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


Date of this Version

October 2005


Published by the Education Alliance of Brown University. Copyright ©2005 Brown University. Used by permission. This paper is also available from The Education Alliance’s online publications catalog at:


Between 2001 and 2005, the state of Maine shifted the focus of its statewide high school improvement efforts to include an explicit focus on adolescent literacy. One trigger for that change in focus was a 5-school adolescent literacy initiative previously launched in a rural county under the federal Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory contract. This monograph describes the multi-party mobilization that led to the creation and implementation of the adolescent literacy project and explains the link between that modest rural effort and the change in state-level reform efforts. The project was designed and implemented at the intersection of what we know about adolescent literacy development, systemic educational reform, and rural education. The case study’s basis in and ties to those literatures are noted. Because of this “location” at the interface of research, practice, and policy, the story is one of understanding local and state needs from a variety of perspectives and looking at how a focus on literacy might address these needs. Thus ethnographic strategies designed to capture group and individual processes for making change were appropriate methodological tools to ground this monograph. The project promoted a new focus on adolescent literacy across content areas as a lever for school improvement in five participating high schools in one rural county. As reflected in the education reform literature, this required teachers, administrators, and other participants to understand and subscribe to the new focus. Because of the participating schools’ rural isolation, limited resources, lack of nearby expertise, and learned skepticism towards externally initiated change efforts, the project also required the mobilization of multiple partners, each of whom could contribute resources, expertise, credibility, and/or access that made the project more viable and sustainable. This multi-party collaboration seems to have helped convert the county-focused effort into a vehicle for a broader state-level pursuit of high school improvement.