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Do Teachers Have Sway in School Decisions? Depends Who You Ask

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Almost all school leaders think that teachers are involved in making important school decisions—but just over half of teachers would agree.

That's according to a new survey from the RAND Corporation. In May 2017, researchers surveyed RAND's American Educator Panel, a nationally representative group of teachers and principals, about a variety of topics, including teacher influence. The survey was administered online, and 18,354 teachers and school leaders responded. 

Past research has found that when teachers have decision-making roles outside of the classroom, their students perform better on state tests. But the RAND study revealed a disconnect between the leadership opportunities principals think they're providing, and how teachers perceive their own influence in schools. 

The RAND study also found that almost all school leaders agree or strongly agree that teachers have a lot of informal opportunities to influence what happens at their school, but just 62 percent of teachers would say the same. And 31 percent of teachers said they are not comfortable voicing concerns about their schools—but 97 percent of school leaders said that teachers in their schools are comfortable sharing concerns. 

Researchers said the divide between teacher and principal perceptions remained after controlling for school and district demographics. 

rand study.png

Why the perception gap? The researchers posited that it could be because principals are thinking of the small subset of teachers who do have leadership roles in their school, rather than the broader teacher workforce. 

Another possibility is that teachers and principals have different philosophies about how much influence teachers should have in school governance. Teachers have long said they want meaningful leadership roles outside of the classroom, and researchers wrote that they could feel "stifled and frustrated" by what they see as a lack of opportunities—but principals might think that teachers have plenty of room for influence. Finally, the two groups could have different definitions of what constitutes an important school decision in the first place. 

Regardless, researchers wrote that the disconnect "may foster professional stagnation and frustration." 

"We encourage school leaders to critically examine the leadership opportunities they believe
they are providing for their teachers and establish systems and structures that foster regular dialogue about important school decisions," the researchers wrote.

Image via Getty; chart via RAND

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