Policy Environments & the Quality of Teaching

Principal Investigators

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 State) and a large urban school district within each, this study examined connections between policy environments and teaching practice through folly nested state, district, school, and teacher samples. 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 the way student learning opportunities reflect and are shaped by various policy environments and contexts in which they work.

Main Research Questions

  • In what ways are policies from governmental and non-governmental sources orchestrated or managed to promote high quality teaching and greater student learning? How is the coordination among strands achieved?
  • How did the policies and policy strategies (if any) come into being? What forces, conditions, and actions sustain them, and what will it take to keep them in place over time?
  • How do teaching policies interact with policies not targeted specifically to teachers or teaching and with the key features or conditions of state and local context to form a policy environment within which teachers work?
  • In what ways, if at all, do teaching policy strategies affect: (a) recruitment and retention of capable people in the teaching profession; (b) improvement in teachers' knowledge, skills, and norms; (c) productive workplace environments for teaching; (d) teaching on a broad scale; and (e) student learning? What trade-offs or relationships are there between progress made in one challenge area and progress made in another?
  • How are resources aimed at teacher improvement conceived, (re)allocated, or "invested" throughout the system? And, with what consequences for teachers' work and student learning?


Case study research, survey research, document analysis


Research Completed

Publications to Date

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  1. Building Instructional Quality and Coherence in San Diego City Schools: System Struggle, Professional Change
    Policy Brief 9, September 2003.
  2. 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.

    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.

    PDFAbstractOriginal StudyOriginal StudyOriginal Study
  3. Reforming Districts: How Districts Support School Reform
    A Research Report by Milbrey McLaughlin and Joan Talbert, September 2003.

    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.

    PDFAbstractOriginal StudyOriginal Study
  4. Related Article: Killeen, K. M.; Monk, D. H.; Plecki, Margaret (2002). School District Spending on Professional Development: Insights Available from National Data (1992-1998) Journal of Education Finance, 28 (1), 25-49. (This article is available on the CTP web site with permission from The Association of School Business Officials International. Any variation in appearance from the printed document is due to technical limitations.) [PDF]
  5. Related Article: Killeen, K. M.; Monk, D. H.; Plecki, Margaret (2000). Spending on instructional staff support in big school districts: Why are urban districts spending at such high levels? Educational Considerations, 28, 8-25
  6. Standards-Based Reform and Small Schools of Choice: How Reform Theories Converge in Three Urban Middle Schools
    A Research Report by Chrysan Gallucci, Michael S. Knapp, Anneke Markholt, and Suzy Ort, July 2003.

    This report examines the ways two seemingly opposite theories of educational reform converge in three New York City middle schools. Using in-depth case studies, the authors look at what happened when a theory of centralized, standards-based instructional improvement was introduced into these schools on top of an existing theory that emphasized small schools, distinctive programs, and close relationships among students and adults. The result, a surprise to some, is that the two theories can coexist, even complement each other, but not without some tension.

    PDFAbstractOriginal Study
  7. Triage or Tapestry? Teacher Unions' Work Toward Improving Teacher Quality in an Era of Systemic Reform
    A Research Report by Nina Bascia, June 2003.

    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.

    PDFAbstractOriginal StudyOriginal Study
  8. What School Districts Spend on Professional Development
    Policy Brief 6, November 2002.