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Case Studies – Issues in Education

Exploring issues in education through case studies

By Matthew Keil


Educational leaders are faced with many challenges on a daily basis. Issues in education exist on many different levels ranging from classroom situations that are within individual schools to situations at the district, state, and national levels. Some of the top issues being discussed in 2010 include high-stakes testing, bullying, teacher effectiveness, and budget cuts. This chapter provides a brief overview of the case study qualitative approach to inquiry and discusses how educational leaders can explore issues in education through qualitative case studies.

Definition of Case Study

According to Creswell (2007), case study research is a qualitative approach in which the investigator explores a bounded system (case) or multiple bounded systems (cases) over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information (for example, observations, interviews, audiovisual material, and documents and reports), and reports a case description and case-based themes (p.73). A case study can be considered a methodology, strategy of inquiry, or research strategy. It involves the study of an issue through specific cases. In case studies emphasis is placed on the exploration and description.

Types of Case Studies

Different types of case studies exist. The characteristics of the case can determine what type of case it is. For example cases can involve different sizes ranging from one individual to large groups, programs, or even activities. Another characteristic that determines the type of case is the intent of the case. According to Creswell (2007), three variations exist in terms of intent: the single instrumental case study, the collective or multiple case study, and the intrinsic case study. Figure 1 provides a chart explaining the characteristics of each type of case study. 

Conducting a Case Study

Educational leaders can use many different procedures on how to conduct a case study. Creswell (2007) prefers to use Stake¿s (1995) approach. Figure 2 illustrates the steps suggested by Creswell (2007) and Stake (1995).

Challenges of Case Studies

Many challenges of case studies exist that educational leaders should be aware of before conducting their own case study or reviewing an existing case study. Most of the challenges involve the choices of identifying a case. The researcher must choose which bounded system to study, whether or not it is worth studying, and how many cases to study. These decisions are very important in driving your study and can be very challenging.

Case Study Approach to Issues in Education


Example Case Study-- Bullying in Schools

Teasing, rejection, and violence: Case studies of the school shootings (pages 202--214)Mark R. Leary, Robin M. Kowalski, Laura Smith and Stephen PhillipsArticle first published online: 22 APR 2003 | DOI: 10.1002/ab.10061


Media commentators have suggested that recent school shootings were precipitated by social rejection, but no empirical research has examined this claim. Case studies were conducted of 15 school shootings between 1995 and 2001 to examine the possible role of social rejection in school violence. Acute or chronic rejection in the form of ostracism, bullying, and/or romantic rejection was present in all but two of the incidents.  In addition, the shooters tended to be characterized by one or more of three other risk factors-an interest in firearms or bombs, a fascination with death and Satanism, or psychological problems involving depression, impulse control, or sadistic tendencies.  Implications for understanding and preventing school violence are discussed.  Aggr. Behav. 29:202-214, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

Learn more about case studies on issues in education:

BooksQualitative Research and Case Study Applications in Education. Revised and Expanded from "Case Study Research in Education."

Case Study Research in Education. A Qualitative Approach.

Civic Education across Countries: Twenty-four National Case Studies from the IEA Civic Education Project.

ReportsCase Studies in Science Education, Volume I: The Case Reports.

The Information Age Confronts Education: Case Studies on Electronic Classrooms


You have received an overview of case studies including the different types, procedures involved, and challenges that exist. Different issues in education have also been mentioned. Now what? The next step is to consider this content when reviewing existing case studies on issues in education or deciding on a qualitative approach to a research study on issues in education. Hopefully this chapter provided the information needed to understand the case study approach and how it can be applied to studies on issues in education.


Creswell, J. W. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches, (2nd Edition). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publication.

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  1. Your additional resources are helpful. The visual representations add meaning to the content. Good job!

  2. Hi Matt,

    This is a well written chapter on the many issues we face in education. I especially like how the cartoon in your introduction eludes to one of our major challenge in education- the NCLB act.

    Prior to this class, I know conducting a qualitative research from an educator's point of view seemed like a daunting task. The layout and step-by-step instruction you have given in this chapter, makes conduting a Case Study attainable for any educator with little or no qualitative research background. Furthermore, I like the examples you gave, it made it relevant and very applicable.

    Great Job!!


  3. Hi Matt,

    I particularly appreciated the tables that illustrate the intent and the steps of a case study.  Your graphics and cartoons were great!

    Nice job,


  4. Hi Matt,

    I particularly appreciated the tables that illustrate the intent and the steps of a case study.  Your graphics and cartoons were great!

    Nice job,