Research on Policy Environments & the Quality of Teaching
- Michael Knapp, University of Washington
- Milbrey McLaughlin, Stanford University
- Joan Talbert, Stanford University
- Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University
- Jon Snyder, Bank Street College of Education
Focusing on four states (California, New York, North Carolina, and Washington) and a large urban school district within each, CTP's "core study" examined connections between policy environments and teaching practice through fully nested state, district, school, and teacher samples. The research carried out from 1998-02 combined case studies with survey research and document analyses. Analytic work integrated what was learned from each level within and across states into a combined set of insights about the way teachers' work and student learning opportunities reflect and are shaped by various policy environments and contexts in which they work.Core Substudies
- State Policy Environments & the Quality of Teaching
- District Policy Environments & the Quality of Teaching
- School Policy Environments & the Quality of Teaching
- Analysis of Resource Allocation in Contrasting Teaching Policy Environments
- The Union Role in the Teaching Policy Environment
- District Investment in the Improvement of Teaching: A Comparative Survey
- Analysis of Long-Term State Investments in Teacher Quality
- Analysis of State Initiatives to Improve the Quality of Teaching
- Analysis of Literacy Standards in Core Study States
Publications on Policy Environments and the Quality of Teaching
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The Relation Between State and District Literacy Standards: Issues of Alignment, Influence, and Utility
A Research Report by Elizabeth Dutro and Sheila W. Valencia, January 2004.Description:
This Research Report explores how state content standards in reading affect local content standards. The study, undertaken in four states, shows that under the guise of "alignment" between state and local standards, there is considerable variability, and that the usefulness of the state's efforts to promote local standards-based reform in this areas of the curriculum depends on various attributes of the state policy, the characteristic relationship between state and local level, and local engagement in professional development.Abstract:PDFAbstractOriginal Study
At the core of standards-based reform are content standards—statements about what students should know and be able to do. Although it is state standards that are the focus of much public attention and consume substantial resources, many local school districts have developed their own content standards in the major subject areas. However, we know very little about the role state standards have played in local standards efforts. In this article we report on a study of the relationship between state and local content standards in reading in four states and districts. Through interviews with key personnel in each state and district and analyses of state and local content standards in reading, we explored the alignment between state and district content standards, the path of influence between the two, and the role of high-stakes tests in state and districts reform efforts. Our findings suggest that alignment had multiple meanings and that state standards had differential utility to districts, ranging from helpful to benign to nuisance. This wide variability was influenced by the nature of the standards themselves, the state vision of alignment and local control, districts' own engagement and commitment to professional development, and student performance on high-stakes tests. We explore implications for the future of content standards as the cornerstone of standards-based reform and argue that states must promote district ownership and expand accountability if state content standards are to have any relevance for local efforts to reform teaching and learning.
Building Instructional Quality and Coherence in San Diego City Schools: System Struggle, Professional Change
Policy Brief 9, September 2003.
Building Instructional Quality: "Inside-Out" and "Outside-In" Perspectives on San Diego's School Reform
A Research Report by Linda Darling-Hammond, Amy M. Hightower, Jennifer L. Husbands, Jeannette R. LaFors, Viki M. Young, and Carl Christopher, September 2003.Description:
This research report looks at the aggressive set of policies San Diego City School District used to improve instruction. It reveals how San Diego consolidated and redirected resources, redesigned the district office as well as work in schools, and mediated and leveraged state policy to further its reform agenda. The report also documents the difficulties of managing the politics and implementation of a coherent approach to change in a large district with an established culture of decentralization located in a state with a piecemeal, sometimes conflicting, menu of reforms.Abstract:PDFAbstractOriginal StudyOriginal StudyOriginal Study
During the 1990s, a new policy hypothesis—that focusing on the quality of teaching would provide a high-leverage means for improving student achievement—began to gain currency. This study of San Diego, California's highly focused reform initiative to improve the quality of teaching examines an effort to act on this hypothesis. Based on interview, observation, survey, and record data collected at the state, district, and school levels over a five-year time period, the study offers a look at how one large, urban district developed an aggressive set of policies to improve instruction. The research examines how the district consolidated and redirected resources, redesigned the district office as well as work in schools, and mediated and leveraged state policy to further its reform agenda. Among key reform strategies were:
- An overhaul of recruitment, hiring, placement, and evaluation to recruit and retain high-quality teachers and principals in the district, while weeding out weak staff members;
- A massive investment in intensive professional development, including institutes, workshops and on-site coaching in every school, focused initially on developing teachers' and principals' expertise in literacy instruction, and later branching out into mathematics, science, and other subjects;
- A redesign of administration, replacing area superintendents with Instructional Leaders working closely with principals on improving the quality of teaching in each building and charging principals with focused evaluation and support of instruction;
- A major reallocation of resources to downsize the central office, consolidate fragmented programs and pots of money, and focus resources on classroom work;
- A much more centralized approach to providing curriculum and teaching guidance based on research on learning and teaching, including the development of special courses and district-wide strategies for literacy development as well as aspects of mathematics and science instruction;
- An effort to develop a culture and shared expertise to enable professional accountability and to redefine the state's accountability processes to support instruction without punishing students.
The study documents substantial gains in student achievement and transformations of teaching practices, especially in San Diego's elementary and middle schools, over a five year period, in association with these policies. Schools and students that benefited most from the changes were often those that were previously lowest-achieving. However, schools that were most bureaucratically organized with the fewest opportunities for collaboration among faculty had more difficulty using new resources to transform instruction. The study also documents the difficulties of managing the politics and implementation of a coherent approach to change in a large district with an established culture of decentralization located in a state with a piecemeal, sometimes conflicting, menu of reforms. Looking at the process of school change from both the 'outside in' and the 'inside out,' the study details how the district and individual schools initiated, coped with, and transformed the many competing policies in the school environment. Finally, we document the district's more difficult process of seeking to improve high schools and its new round of reforms, just launched as the research was ending, to rethink the organization and design of the urban high school as a means of transforming the quality of teaching and learning within.
The research ends with evidence of substantial transformation in the culture, organization, instruction, and outcomes of San Diego's schools but also with the changing of many members of the leadership team. The future will reveal whether the reforms with be sustained in the long run and whether San Diego's bet on professional learning—enforced from the top down as a key lever for change—will ultimately strengthen the teaching and learning capacities of local schools from the inside out.
Reforming Districts: How Districts Support School Reform
A Research Report by Milbrey McLaughlin and Joan Talbert, September 2003.Description:
By detailing the experiences of three reforming California districts, this research report offers new evidence of district effects on school reform progress and improved student outcomes. The case studies offer instructive exception to conventional wisdom-or myths-about district reform. Among the refuted myths: teachers and principals resist a strong district role; turnover derails efforts to establish and sustain a consistent reform agenda; and local politics will defeat any serious reform agenda.Abstract:PDFAbstractOriginal StudyOriginal Study
School districts have participated in multiple rounds of education reform activity in the past few decades, yet few have made headway on system-wide school improvement. This paper addresses the questions of whether districts matter for school reform progress and what successful "reforming" districts do to achieve system change and to navigate the pitfalls associated with system change efforts. Using multi-level survey data and four-year case studies of three reforming California districts, the paper offers new evidence of district effects on school reform progress and improved student outcomes and develops a picture of a reforming district.
The reforming districts featured in this analysis offer instructive exception to conventional wisdom—or myths—about district reform. One myth predicts that teachers and principals will resist a strong district role. Yet, our research provides evidence that a weak central office in fact limits schools' reform progress, while a strong district role is effective and welcomed when it uses a strategic conception of responsibilities and leadership between system levels. A second myth about district reform holds that turnover or personnel "churn" will derail efforts to establish and sustain a consistent reform agenda. While this statement is true in many instances, in two districts studied, turnover in top leadership positions did not trigger significant change in district priorities or norms because planning processes and inclusive communication strategies over time had embedded them in district culture. A third myth asserts that local politics will defeat a serious reform agenda; yet, leaders in each reforming district articulated unambiguous goals and priorities and, with strong board support developed over many years, were able to navigate local political waters and protect a strong district role.
Each of the reforming districts studied was a self-conscious "learning organization," investing in system-wide learning—in the central office, in schools, in cross-school teacher networks, and in units such as the business office that typically are excluded from professional development focused on instruction. This research suggests that taking the district system as the "unit of change" is essential to advancing equitable and sustainable reform.
Triage or Tapestry? Teacher Unions' Work Toward Improving Teacher Quality in an Era of Systemic Reform
A Research Report by Nina Bascia, June 2003.Description:
By examining the work of six teacher unions, this report considers the contributions that teacher unions make toward improving the quality of teaching in today's context of systemic reform.Abstract:PDFAbstractOriginal StudyOriginal Study
his report looks at and identifies emerging trends in the roles that teacher unions play in educational reform and improving the quality of teaching. A description of the efforts of six teacher unions to improve teacher quality within the context of the current systemic reform movement shows a range and depth of union initiatives beyond what is commonly known in policy research. The report highlights organizational strengths of teacher unions, the unique contributions they make to teacher quality, and some of the challenges they face. Two broad conceptions of systemic reform in support of improving teaching quality—triage and tapestry—are presented and contrasted. When educational improvement is understood as a "tapestry" of efforts that requires multiple initiatives in many arenas by many reform players, unions appear to perform several important and unique functions toward improving teacher quality.
What School Districts Spend on Professional Development
Policy Brief 6, November 2002.
San Diego City Schools: Comprehensive Reform Strategies at Work
Policy Brief 5, February 2002.
San Diego's Big Boom: District Bureaucracy Supports Culture of Learning
A Research Report by Amy M. Hightower, January 2002.Description:
This research report chronicles three years of reform by San Diego City Schools and explores what it means to radically refocus a large urban district on instructional improvement.Abstract:PDFAbstract
This paper contributes to an emerging body of literature on school districts as active partners in education reform. Using qualitative methods, it details the first three years of a major districtwide initiative in San Diego City Schools as reformers sought to orient central office bureaucracy around an instructional agenda. This paper both describes the major thrusts of the reform, including reactions of participants, and wrestles with the notion that large-scale, systemic change in an entrenched urban district may require strong, even bureaucratic, methods to transition the system into supporting a culture focused on instruction.
Connecticut's Story: A Model of State Teaching Policy
Policy Brief 4, June 2001.
A Case of Successful Teaching Policy: Connecticut's Long-Term Efforts to Improve Teaching and Learning
A Research Report by Suzanne M. Wilson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Barnett Berry, February 2001.Description:
This Research Report describes 15-years' worth of successful effort by Connecticut to implement a comprehensive set of teaching quality policies to support improved student learning. The authors hypothesize that the power of Connecticut's teaching policy reform lies not simply in their comprehensiveness and in the state's political stability over the last decade but also in the power of policies to build capacity in teachers, students, administrators, teacher educators and state department staff. A Policy Brief based on this report is also available.Abstract:PDFBriefAbstractOriginal Study
In this monograph, the authors describe Connecticut's long-term efforts to implement a comprehensive set of teaching quality policies to support improved student learning. The authors begin by describing the 15-year evolution of policies designed to recruit, prepare, and support teachers, while also creating greater accountability for the acquisition of knowledge and skills on the part of both students and teachers. That description is followed by a summary of the large concomitant gains in student achievement in both mathematics and literacy and an evaluation of competing explanations for these gains. The authors conclude by hypothesizing that the power of Connecticut's teaching policy reforms lies not simply in their comprehensiveness and in the state's political stability over the last decade but also in the power of the policies to build capacity in all participants: teachers, students, administrators, teacher educators, and state department staff alike.
Revisiting What States Are Doing to Improve the Quality of Teaching: An Update on Patterns and Trends
A Working Paper by Eric Hirsch, Julia E. Koppich, and Michael S. Knapp, February 2001.Description:
This updated version of an earlier CTP Working Paper takes a fresh look at recent developments in the realms of state policy related to teacher and teaching quality. The broad-brush, descriptive analysis covers state-level policy action pertaining to (1) development and promotion of high standards for student learning and for teaching; (2) attempts to attract, reward, and retain capable people in the teaching profession; (3) support for high-quality initial preparation and induction of new teachers; (4) attempts to motivate and support teachers' ongoing professional learning; and (5) enhancements to the school workplace environment.Abstract:PDFAbstractOriginal Study
This updated version of the 1998 CTP Working Paper What States Are Doing to Improve the Quality of Teaching takes a fresh look at recent developments in realms of state policy related to teacher and teaching quality. Paying closest attention to recent legislative activity, the analysis describes state-level policy action pertaining to: (1) development and promotion of high standards for student learning and for teaching; (2) attempts to attract, reward, and retain capable people in the teaching profession; (3) support for high-quality initial preparation and induction of new teachers; (4) attempts to motivate and support teachers' ongoing professional learning; and (5) enhancements to the school workplace environment. The results indicate that states have been particularly active with respect to the development of teacher standards and assessments, approaches to a growing recruitment challenge, more proactive ways to improve teacher preparation (and hold teacher education institutions accountable), and some targeted efforts to strengthen professional development. While the paper is descriptive, not evaluative, the authors call in their concluding remarks for more coherent, data-informed policy related to the quality of teachers and teaching, yet acknowledge the difficulty of bringing this about at the state level.
Connecting Districts to the Policy Dialogue: A Review of Literature on the Relationship of Districts with States, Schools, and Communities
A Working Paper by Julie A. Marsh, September 2000.Description:
This Working Paper reviews literature about the key roles that districts play in supporting improvements in teaching and learning, including the district role in implementing state policies and enacting school-level change and what the key factors are that enable districts to effectively support improvements. It also considers how community involvement and collaboration contribute to districts' improvement efforts. The paper suggests directions for future research to advance the state of knowledge on school districts.Abstract:PDFAbstractOriginal Study
The current wave of education reform pays little attention to school districts. State and federal policies have increasingly identified schools as the most important units of change-rendering local districts virtual non-actors in the process of educational improvement (Elmore, 1993, 1997a; Elmore and Burney, 1999; Fullan, forthcoming; Massell and Goertz, 1999; Spillane, 1996). The focus on state-level education standards, curriculum frameworks, assessment, and accountability systems, along with state and federal efforts to serve specific populations through categorical programs, restructure schools, increase site-based decision-making, and introduce greater parental choice exemplify this trend in education policy. To some reformers, school districts are the problem. Critics claim that they have no empirically significant role to play, are inconsistent with sound policy, and are inefficient bureaucratic institutions (Chubb and Moe, 1990; Elmore, 1993, citing Finn, 1991). To other observers, school districts have become overly politicized and unresponsive to public, teacher, and student needs (Hill, 1999). Other policymakers simply view districts as relatively insignificant go-betweens through which policies and funding must pass to reach the more important school-level actors. Finally, some reformers have invented new organizational forms and networks (e.g., New American Schools Development Corporation) that bypass districts in order to directly target resources and support to schools.
Despite this trend in policy, an increasing number of studies in the past decade or so have documented the key roles that districts play in supporting improvements in teaching and learning-building a strong case that school districts matter (Spillane, 1996). The following paper examines this emerging body of literature and attempts to answer the following questions:
- What roles do school districts play in efforts to improve teaching and learning? How do they affect the implementation of state policies and the enactment of school-level changes?
- What are the key factors that enable districts to effectively support improvements in teaching and learning?
- How does community involvement or collaboration contribute to districts' improvement efforts?
In conclusion, this paper will examine several unanswered questions and suggest directions for future research to advance the state of knowledge on school districts.
State Action to Improve Teaching
Policy Brief 1, December 1999.