School Policy Environments & the Quality of Teaching

Principal Investigators

Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University
Jon Snyder, Bank Street College of Education


This investigation, subsumed within the Core Study, generated case-based analyses comparing the implementation of teaching-related policies and the development of high-quality teaching in traditionally organized schools and schools that have restructured to create more opportunities for teachers to learn with and from each other and for teachers and students to do the same. Following on-site study of local school contexts in four districts, the study focused on elementary schools (in one district), middle schools (in two districts), and high schools (in the fourth district) that differed in the way they allocated resources to support teacher and student learning. By examining the case study schools within their local and state contexts, the impact of external policy environments on schools and classrooms can be documented and interpreted, particularly as they influence opportunities for teacher and student learning. The study also analyzed how schools that are differently organized construct opportunities for teaching and teacher learning. Within each school, case studies of particular teachers were constructed to better understand the nature of teachers' responses to their school environments and the surrounding policy environments.

Main Research Questions

  • How do school-level choices regarding allocation of resources influence the capacity of teachers to teach and students to learn? These choices include the following:
    • Allocation of professional expertise (e.g., number of teachers vs. non-teachers and aides; allocation of teacher time and expertise; organization of staff including extent of teaming/shared responsibility for students, extent of specialization and departmentalization, and the extent of cross-role work of staff).
    • Allocation of time (e.g., amount of extended time for teachers and students per day, week, year, and years; extent of fragmentation across subjects, teachers, and other staff; amount of non-student contact time for teachers for preparation, regular collaborative planning and learning by field, by function, by shared students).
    • Allocation of access to content (e.g., curriculum conceptions and resources; assessment conceptions, uses, and implications; materials for teaching and learning; professional development time, money, and opportunities).
  • How do school-level choices regarding the allocation of resources influence the enactment of district and state policy strategies?
  • How do district and state policy strategies support and/or constrain schools' (re)allocation of resources to support teacher and student learning?


Case study research, document analysis


Research Completed


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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. Related Article: Darling-Hammond, Linda; Sunder, J. (2003). Organizing schools for student and teacher learning: An examination of resource allocation choices in reforming schools In Plecki, M.L. & Monk, D.H. (Eds.) School Finance and Teacher Quality: Exploring the Connections. The 2003 Yearbook of the American Education Finance Association. Larchmont, NJ: Eye on Education