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Teachers Say They Have Less Autonomy, Fed. Data Show

By guest blogger Sarah Sparks

Teachers can still close the classroom door, but after more than a decade of federal and state accountability systems, teachers feel they have less independence in what they do inside, federal data show. 

In everything from instructional and discipline strategies they use each day to how much homework students receive each night, teachers reported in the federal Schools and Staffing Survey that they feel they had less professional autonomy in 2012 than in 2003.


The survey included a nationally representative sample of more than 37,000 American public school elementary and secondary teachers.

Teachers felt they had a "minor" amount of control over curriculum and materials, while they reported a "moderate" degree of control over more day-to-day decisions like their own instructional techniques. In an era in which state and the federal governments are scrutinizing disciplinary practices that could disproportionately target poor or minority students, teachers reported the sharpest drop in their discretion in class discipline. 

Veteran teachers of 10 years or more showed the biggest sense of loss of control, and white and black teachers were more likely than other teachers to feel they had less autonomy than they had before. Hispanic teachers, interestingly, reported feeling slightly more in control in 2011-12 than in 2007-08.

NCES analysts found music educators were the most independent bunch of all teachers. Thirty-four percent reported being "highly autonomous" in 2012, down only 2 percentage points from in 2003. By comparison, 25 percent of special education teachers felt autonomous in 2003, but only 16 percent did nearly a decade later.

Chart: Across many aspects of instruction, teachers feel they have less autonomy now than a decade ago, according to data from the federal Schools and Staffing Survey. Source: National Center on Education Statistics


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