Teaching's Status Still Cloudy Despite Reform, Study Finds

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Although policymakers in nearly every state have taken wide-ranging actions over the past several years to improve the teaching force, their efforts to date have not been driven by--or produced--a clear consensus on what teachers ought to know or be able to do, a new analysis concludes.

Also left unanswered, says the report released last week by the RAND Corporation, is the important question of whether teachers are semi-skilled workers who need to be closely monitored and regulated, or professionals deserving greater self-governance.

The regulatory nature of reform efforts in recent years, it says, reflects an early acceptance among policymakers of the first view of teaching.

The study notes, however, that a number of recent reform reports--most notably those by the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, the Holmes Group, and the National Governors Association--reflect the second view.

These "second-wave reformers,'' the RAND analysts say, view teachers as skilled professionals, and insist that enhancing their power and the status offers the best strategy for improving education as a whole.

"Clearly the first-wave policy reforms stimulated significant changes in the training, licensure, and remuneration of teachers,'' the report states. "However, most of these reforms, developed by politicians and business leaders, mandated tighter controls over both teachers and teaching.''

"The second-wave reformers,'' it adds, "call for teachers themselves to be 'empowered' to control the standards of teaching.''

According to the analysis, it is too early to tell whether the proposals of the second-wave reformers will be implemented.

"What emerges most prominently in a review of teacher policy over the last several years is that governance of the teaching enterprise is up for grabs,'' the report says. "And there are a lot of people grabbing.''

The 80-page study, "The Evolution of Teacher Policy,'' was written by Linda Darling-Hammond, director of RAND's education and human-resources program, and Barnett Berry, associate director of the South Carolina Educational Policy Center. It was funded in part with a grant from the U.S. Education Department's research arm.

The findings and analysis are based on interviews with state education officials and an examination of policy documents and reports of state actions compiled by a variety of education organizations.

'Acute Ambivalence'

"By sheer volume of legislation, it is clear that teaching has been 'reformed,''' the report says.

Since the beginning of the decade, it notes, more than 1,000 pieces of state legislation on teacher policy have been developed, and a "substantial fraction'' have been approved and implemented.

These changes, however, "do not reflect a consensual view either within the profession or across states of what a prospective teacher ought to know or be able to do,'' the report states.

"When one peers inside the statutes and regulations,'' it asserts, "what is most evident is the acute ambivalence that many policymakers feel about the nature of teaching and the roles of teachers.''

The various initiatives, the authors say, "embody the long-standing tension between the view of teachers as semi-skilled workers who simply implement standards hierarchially imposed, and the vision of them as skilled professionals who apply specialized knowledge to meet the unique needs of each student.''

Generally, they note, "the reforms to date reflect the first vision.''

The authors compiled data on many of the changes in state policy enacted between 1978 and 1986. Among other findings, they note that:

  • Twenty-seven states adopted stiffer entrance requirements for teacher-preparation programs, including tests of academic ability and minimum grade-point averages.
  • Forty-one states mandated competency tests in basic skills, subject matter, or professional knowledge as a requirement for licensure. Basic-skills testing is the most common.

Some of the states that have mandated testing have delayed implementation because of lack of funding for test development or validation, or because of concerns about the reliability and validity of tests available.

  • Twenty-five states created programs for the supervision of beginning teachers. Some of these states have provided resources so that new teachers can be supervised and supported by mentors, while others have simply mandated an evaluation process for licensure.
  • Thirty states mandated minimum compensation levels, and 19 established statewide salary schedules.

Although most states considered or enacted some kind of performance-based compensation system to reward good teachers during the period studied, the focus of these programs has shifted since the beginning of the decade. Policymakers have moved away from the merit-pay idea and state-mandated programs, and are instead encouraging local districts to design and test incentive and career-ladder programs.

The rapid pace of change and "the continual re-engagement of competing interests in the legislative arena'' have produced a number of "paradoxes,'' according to the report.

'At a Crossroads'

It notes, for example, that although state standards for teacher education and licensure have become more specific, 23 states have created alternative routes to certification that allow teacher candidates to bypass such requirements.

And while many state reforms have been enacted in the name of teacher professionalization, the report notes, teacher organizations, in many instances, have not been included in the deliberations.

"Policymakers find themselves at a crossroads with respect to teacher policy,'' it says. "The current challenge is to determine which matters should be further refined through legislation and which should be left to local districts, schools, teachers, and professional bodies, and to find mechanisms for delegating them responsibly.''

"The next generation of teacher policy reform,'' it concludes, "will need to focus on the content and nature of effective teaching, its assessment, and its deployment within schools to ensure that the longstanding range of goals of the reformers are met.''

Copies of the report can be ordered for $7.50 each from RAND's publication department, 1700 Main St., P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, Calif. 90406-2138.

Vol. 07, Issue 30

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