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NCLB Interventions and Teacher Practices

I had a bunch of stories due last week and neglected my blogging duties. So I owe my co-blogger Vaishali a big-shout out and thank you for holding down the fort in my absence!

Not long ago, I wrote a story about a volume on state and federal accountability policies edited by Bruce Fuller at the University of California. The study I focused on found, using survey data from three state samples, that in the wake of standards-based reform, teachers are changing how they are instructing. But they are doing so autonomously and not always in uniform, aligned ways.

Of course, on the ground, it's more complicated than that. Among the chapters I didn't get to feature was an interesting one that suggested that elements of the NCLB school-improvement cascade do, in fact, lead to more collaborative and cooperative work by teachers in school buildings.

The study's author, Kristin Gordon, a graduate student in sociology at Emory University in Atlanta, analyzed data from a Georgia teacher survey. Her analysis sought associations between factors such as a school's failure to make AYP and the number of years in school improvement, and teachers' perceptions of time and empowerment.

The findings were surprising. The length of stay in "improvement" status under NCLB was positively correlated to time: that is, the longer teachers worked under sanctions, the more postively they evaluated the adequacy of their time for teaching, completing administrative duties, and collaborating with their peers.

Additionally, teachers' feelings of empowerment were positively linked to the number of years in improvement status: They felt more empowered the longer they worked under sanctions.

After performing qualitiative, case-study interviews, Ms. Gordon postulated that in response to the accountability pressure, teachers developed common strategies to improve student achievement, and that this led to the sense that time was used more effectively and that teachers were taking shared responsbility for student progress.

A teacher may have quite a bit of autonomy behind a closed classroom door. But the NCLB school-improvement cascade, Ms. Gordon told me, "does seem to have penetrated through that door."

The study also found a possible downside to the accountability pressure. Ms. Gordon's study found that AYP failure was linked to a reduction in teachers' empowerment. In other words, after teachers came together to work collaboratively, it was demoralizing for them if the school didn't make AYP the subsequent year.

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