Margaret LeCompte
Professor Emerita

Margaret D. LeCompte is Professor Emerita of Education and Sociology. She is internationally known as one of the leading proponents of qualitative and ethnographic research and evaluation in education. In addition to numerous articles and book chapters on research methods in education and the social sciences, her research also includes studies of school reform and school organization, and of at-risk, ethnically diverse, gifted, artistically creative, and language minority students. A critical theorist trained in action research and the interactionist tradition, her fieldwork includes a five-year study of school reform and culture on the Navajo Nation in the United States, a longitudinal study of programs for urban American Indian children in the Southwest, and an ongoing study of identity construction among middle school children in an arts enrichment public school. She has won the University Press of America award for Outstanding Research Article in 1994 and the American Educational Studies Association (AESA) award for Outstanding Book in 1986.

Dr. LeCompte is a member of numerous professional organizations in education and anthropology and was president of the Council on Anthropology and Education of the American Anthropology Association. She serves on several editorial boards as well as committees for the American Educational Research Association. She served as editor of the journal, Review of Educational Research from 2003-2006.


PhD Education and the Social Order, University of Chicago, 1974
MA Education and the Social Order, University of Chicago, 1969
BA Political Science, Northwestern University, 1964

The two separate strands of my research are epistemological and methodological issues in educational research, and problems of school success and failure, both at the individual and organizational level. I have been interested in how problems of education are posed and how they can be solved most effectively, and in how communities, scholars, and educators can work collaboratively to address issues jointly identified as significant in contemporary education. I also have investigated how schools fail to serve children who do not “fit the mold,” whether they are of color, from language minority backgrounds, have divergent talents and interests not rewarded in public schools, or are culturally different from the mainstream. Related interests include reforms that seek to change school organization and culture so that such children are more successful in school.

The Urban Arts Initiative

This is an evaluation of an eight city, multi-site collaborative project to identify, support, and mentor emerging community artists and community arts organizations. In this new project, my focus is on the “value added” to communities, organizations, and individual artists as a function of participation in the initiative.

Arts, Identity and School Culture: Arts Focus

Since 1996, I have studied teachers and students who do not “fit the mold” in a public middle school whose three arts strands—visual arts, theater and dance, and music—provide an intensive arts immersion through study in year-long, daily 90-minute blocks. Arts Focus also transforms the school curriculum, as the arts are integrated across the curriculum. I focus on relationships between school culture and the culture of the arts as they affect and transform a public school, and on the impact of arts participation on the identities and roles of teachers and students in the program.

The Culture of Change in School Emergencies: “Fort Brandon” High School

With the exception of independent and charter schools, most reforms must take existing institutional structures for granted. Begun in 1999, this project examines the impact on teacher roles and practices of an emergency that stripped away all standard “givens” of school life by closing a high school summarily. Closure made problematic space, time, work, and prerogatives for teachers as they moved to temporary and dispersed quarters, created new schedules, and tried to maintain stability for students. We examine the emergence of new patterns and their persistence once the school reopened.

Learning to Be American Indian: The Learning Circle 

Most “culturally sensitive” curricular programs for non-mainstream children focus on celebrating one discrete cultural group, an approach increasingly less viable in multi-ethnic, culturally diverse communities. The Learning Circle, an after-school enrichment program for urban American Indian children with mixed tribal and ethnic heritages, has evolved a uniquely multi-tribal curriculum; I examined its development and impact on the community it serves from inception of the project in 1993 to its integration as a locally funded project in 1999.

My teaching interests reflect my diverse research areas; they include courses in qualitative and ethnographic research methods, in the sociology of education, and in preparing teacher educators for work in public school settings serving the diverse enrollments of contemporary schools. In the latter, I involve prospective teachers in intensive service-learning projects. I also supervise the research of a large number of doctoral and MA students.

Courses frequently taught

EDUC 5276: Introduction to Disciplined Inquiry 

This course analyzes how the research process works, the designs used to organize data collection and analysis, the concepts and theories used to interpret data created in the course of investigation, and the role that the “person” of the researcher plays in the formation and conduct of research. Key is the concept of "discipline," both in its sense as a rigorous practice and as a field of study. Research is, by definition, "disciplined inquiry." "Disciplined" modes of inquiry are systematic, verifiable, and rigorous ways of learning about what happens in the world. Both “qualitative” research and “quantitative research” are disciplined, if they are done well and if they are shaped by the perspectives of the field, or “discipline” of the researcher who carries it out. Many kinds of disciplined inquiry are explored in this course—from experiments to ethnographies and historical research. The course emphasizes that no one kind of research is “best.” “Best” research is simply that which is honestly and well-done, lacking in obvious biases or omissions, and responsive to the questions asked by researchers and researcher clients. The course also introduces the major theoretical perspectives--or epistemologies--which inform empirical research in education.

EDUC 5075: Sociology of Education

The purpose of this course is both to familiarize students with a sociological way to interpret what goes on in schools and the communities around them and to alert them to the impact of historical, social structural, economic and political issues on everyday life in schools and classrooms. This is a new way of thinking about schools, teaching and learning for most educators. Usually, students tend to recall their own teachers and classrooms. All personal experience and much research in education focuses on this individual level of analysis; its micro-level perspective is encouraged by the traditional orientation toward psychology in educational research and practice. Psychologists are concerned with individual cognition and individual personality development. By contrast, sociologists are concerned with how people develop and interact in groups, and how participating in the reciprocal interaction within groups leads to construction of individual identity, social organizations, and the norms and rules that govern human life. Therefore, the class examines schools as formal social organizations, shaped by the communities in which they are located, peopled by groups with differing racial, ethnic, gender, gender orientation, economic and cultural backgrounds, and embedded in specific historical and political contexts.

EDUC 3013: School and Society

The intent of this course is to help students understand the world of education and to develop their self-understanding. Both the world and the students in it are changing rapidly, and teachers need to be flexible and open-minded to be effective. This class introduces students to the real world of teaching and learning and helps them examine their place in it. Emphasizing the socio-political and cultural context of education, the class examines the history, finance, and philosophies of education, the diversity of contemporary school enrollments, and the challenges of teaching students with diverse and special needs. While it is not a methods course focusing on how to teach, it covers many factors affecting what and who are taught, and the contexts in which teaching occurs. Linking theory to practice in this class is a 32-hour practicum working in community agencies serving children with special educational needs.

Selected Professional Service

  • Member of numerous editorial boards and review panels (see “curriculum vitae” for details)
  • Editor, Review of Educational Research
  • Editor, Youth and Society
  • Consultant to the National Indian Education Survey, Educational Testing Service, 2009-2010
  • Co-Chair, Mission Committee, Council on Anthropology and Education
  • President, University of Colorado Chapter of the American Association of University Professors, 2007-present
  • Vice-President for Administration of the Colorado Conference of the American Association of University Professors, 2008-2010
  • Member and Fellow of numerous Professional organizations, including the Society for Applied Anthropology, the American Educational Research Association, the American Anthropology Association, the Council on Anthropology and Education, and the InterAmerican Simposium on Ethnographic Investigation in Education
  • Founder and Chair, Colorado Free Press Association, 2009

Selected University Service— University of Colorado

  • Member, Program Review Panel for evaluation of the School of Music (twice)
  • Member, Dean’s Committee on Tenure and Promotion (for the School of Music, three times)
  • Member, Human Research Committee, 1992-present
  • Chair of Human Research Committee Social and Behavioral Research Panel A, 2000-2010
  • Chair, Boulder Faculty Assembly Committee on Compensation and Benefits, 2008-present
  • Member, Boulder Faculty Assembly Executive Committee 2008-present
  • Liaison to the Boulder Faculty Assembly Budget and Planning Committee  2008-present
  • Member, Faculty Advisory Committee to the CU Honor Code Committee, 2001
  • Member, Faculty Advisory Committee to the Service Learning Program, 1996-1999

School of Education

  • Promotion and Tenure Committee (1996-1997; 1995-1996; 2005; 2009, 2010 )
  • Third Year Review Committee (1994-1995; 1998-1999; 2009)
  • Search Committees: Social Studies (four times; currently chair of this committee); Literacy (two times); Educational Psychology
  • School of Education Liaison to the Human Research Committee (1992-present)

Outreach and Consulting

  • Provided consulting services to the following community and educational organizations:
    • National Teen Action Research Council, Advisory Board
    • Boulder Valley School District, Baseline Middle School, evaluation design and staff development
    • Research for Better Schools, Philadelphia, PA, Applied Research Advisory Board
    • Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, Houston, TX , evaluation
    • The Phoenix Indian Center, Phoenix, AZ , evaluation and grant writing
    • Osborn School District, Phoenix, AZ, grant writing and consulting on curriculum and program development for at-risk students
    • Kayenta Unified School District, Kayenta, AZ, consulting and grant writing research services
  • Provided faculty development and research training services to Adams State University (2002- present)
  • Provided graduate research training to students at Binghamton University, Binghamton, NY (2002); Monash University, Melbourne, Australia (1999); University of Tennessee, Knoxville TN (1986-1988)

(For complete list of publications, please see the faculty member's curriculum vitae.)

Edited Volumes

Schensul, J.J. and LeCompte, M.D. (editors and authors)(forthcoming 2010) Ethnographer's Toolkit: 7-volume paperback boxed set, 2nd edition. Altamira Press, A Division of Roman and Littlefield, NJ. Books in the Toolkit include:

  • Book 1: Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research: An Introduction. LeCompte, Margaret D. and Schensul, Jean J.
  • Book 2: Initiation Ethographic Research: Models, Methods and Measurement. Schensul, Stephen. L., Schensul, Jean J. and LeCompte, Margaret D.
  • Book 3: Essential Data Collection Methods: Observations, Interviews, and Ethnographic Surveys. Schensul, Jean J. and LeCompte, Margaret D.
  • Book 4: Specialized Ethnographic Methods: Cultural Artifacts; Secondary Data; Mapping Culture; Spatial Data; Hidden Populations; Multimedia; Photovoice, and Digital Data. Editors: Schensul, Jean J. and LeCompte, Margaret D.
  • Contributors: Steve Borgatti, Ellen Cromley, Marlene Berg, Daniel S. Halgin, Margaret D. LeCompte, Hilda Llorens, Sheryl A. Ludwig, Bonnie Nastasi, Jean J. Schensul, Stephen L. Schensul, Merrill Singer Robert Trotter, Margaret Weeks
  • Book 5: Analysis and Interpretation of Ethographic Data. LeCompte, Margaret D. and Schensul, Jean J.
  • Book 6: Ethics in Ethnography: Field Work, Researcher Roles and Institutinal Relationships. LeCompte, Margaret D. and Schensul Jean J.
  • Book 7: Ethnography in Practice: Using Collaborative Ethnography to Solve Social Problems. Schensul, Jean J. and LeCompte, Margaret D.

LeCompte, M.D., Seymour, M. and Davidson, Kristen (Eds). (2010). School and Society: A Reader in the Social Foundations of Education. Ames, Iowa: Kendall-Hunt Publishers. 480 pages.

Journal Articles

LeCompte, M.D. (forthcoming 2010). Collaboration and the context of power: Initiating community-based action and research in higher education. Urban Anthropology Studies.

LeCompte, M.D. and Bonetti, Ken C. (2010, Forthcoming July). Notes from Ground Zero: Budgetary Crises and Academic Freedom at the University of Colorado. Theory InAction, V3, N3.10 pages. Fairlawn, NJ: Transformative Studies Institute.

LeCompte, M.D. (2008). Trends in research on teaching and teachers: An historical and critical overview. In Saha, L., and Dworkin, A.G. (eds.). The international handbook of research on teachers and teaching. UK: Oxford, Ltd., Elsevier.

Aguilera, D. and LeCompte, M.D. (2008). Restore My Language and Treat Me Justly: Indigenous Students’ Rights to Their Tribal Languages. In Katz, L. (ed.) Affirming Students' Right to their own language: Bridging Educational Policies and Literacy/Language Arts Teaching Practice. NY: Lawrence Erlbaum.

LeCompte,M.D. (2008). Secondary participants. In Given, L. (ed.). SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

LeCompte,M.D. (2008). Negotiating exit. In Given, L. (ed.). SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Aguilera. D. and LeCompte, M.D. (2007). Resiliency in Native languages: The tale of three Native American Communities’ experiences with language immersion. NCCREST Special issue on Bilingualo Education in Native American Communities, Journal of American Indian Education, pp. 11-36.

LeCompte, M. D. (2002). The transformation of ethnographic practices: Past and current challenges. Qualitative Research, 2(3), 283-299.

Holloway, D. L., & LeCompte, M. D. (2001). Becoming somebody! How arts programs support positive identity for middle school girls. In B. Krensky & D. L. Holloway (Eds.), "The Arts, Urban Education, and Social Change," theme issue of Education and Urban Society, 33(4), 354-366.

LeCompte, M. D. (2000). Standing for just and right decisions. The long slow path to school safety. In G. Kozik-Rosabal & I.K. MacGillivray (Eds.), "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America's Urban Schools," theme issue of Education and Urban Society, 32(3), 413-430.

LeCompte, M. D. (1994). Defining reality: Applying double description and chaos theory to the practice of practice. Educational Theory, 44(3), 277-299.

LeCompte, M. D. (1987). Bias in the biography: Bias and subjectivity in ethnographic research. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18(2), 43-52.

LeCompte, M. D., & Goebel, S. D. (1987). Can bad data produce good program planning? An analysis of record-keeping on school dropouts. Education and Urban Society, 19(3), 250-269.

LeCompte, M. D., & Goetz, J. P. (1982). Problems of reliability and validity in educational research. Review of Educational Research, 52(2), 31-60.