Spillane, Kim, & Frank 2012 Tie Formation and Social Capital Development in Elementary Schools

Spillane, J. P., Kim, C. M., & Frank, K. A. (2012). Instructional advice and information providing and receiving behavior in elementary schools: Exploring tie formation as a building block in social capital development. American Educational Research Journal, 49(6), 1112-1145.

Summary: This quantitative study explored the creation of social capital in elementary schools. Drawing from 30 schools in a midsized urban school district, the study used a questionnaire to determine how elementary teachers formed ties and shared information in their school. They found that elementary teachers were more likely to form ties and share information if they were of the same race, gender, and career stage, but even more influential that these individual characteristics were organizational structures in the school like grade level. The study also found that those who received more professional development, particularly in ELA, were more likely to form ties and receive advise as compared to giving it.


  • “Our findings suggest that while the individual characteristics (e.g., race, gener) are significantly associated with the formation of a tie, the formal school organization is also significant and has larger estimated effects than individual characteristics” (p. 1114).
  • Teachers are more likely to receive and give advice if they are of the same gender, race, and career stage. Veteran teachers are less likely to receive information from others, particularly from those who have less experience.
  • Teachers in formalized leadership roles are more likely to give information than informal teacher leaders.
  • Organizational structures, such as grade level, have a significant impact on information giving and receiving. Those in the same grade level are more likely to exchange information with those in their same grade level than across grade levels.
  • The more professional development a teacher has, the more likely they are to receive information as compared to giving it. They are more open to receiving advice as compared to their peers.
  • “Our analysis suggests that while school leaders’ and teachers’ individual characteristics (e.g., race and gender) are associated with the existence of instructional advice or information ties, the formal organization in the form of grade-level assignment, having a formally designated leadership position, and teaching a single grade trumps individual characteristics” (p. 1135).
  • Professional development may increase a teacher’s social capital and his/her ability to form ties and have access to information to improve instruction.

Important Quotes:

  • “Social ties among actors in schools are a necessary condition for social capital because in the absence of such ties, individuals do not have access to social resources” (p. 1114).