Sarah Tully, EdSource
Teacher Estela Guzman, center, points to math problems as teachers My Lu and Tricia Cummings look on during a professional development session in Santa Ana Unified School District on June 25, 2015.

California teachers, more than peers in other states,  feel empowered to voice their opinions and say they have influence over decisions and policies in their schools. In increasing numbers, they say they are satisfied with the instructional materials they are using and the school based, peer-led training they are receiving.

The latest survey results coincide with data collected from 16 states for the Santa Cruz-based New Teacher Center that found appreciably higher test results in schools where their teachers have a leadership role in decision-making. Lead author Richard Ingersoll, a professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, called it the first large-scale study that found a correlation between teacher leadership and student achievement. The findings validate  teacher empowerment that authorities like Stanford University emeritus education professor Linda Darling-Hammond have long advocated.

The state comparison of teachers’ job perceptions comes from the annual American Teacher Panel Survey by the RAND Corporation of teachers in a dozen states, including California. In the May 2017 survey, in which 60 percent of 800 California teachers responded, between two-thirds and three-quarters said that they “feel comfortable voicing my concerns in this school,” that teachers “have a lot of informal opportunities to influence what happens in this school” and that teachers “are involved in making the important decisions in this school.”

The difference in every area was 5 to 8 percentage points higher than combined responses from the other states ­— beyond the 4.5 percent the margin of error.

The latest survey results are “really bright signs of positive conditions on the ground” that, if accelerated, should lead to improved student achievement, said Robert Sheffield, director of the California Initiatives at the Center for the Future of Teaching & Learning at WestEd, a San Francisco-based education research and training nonprofit.

The RAND survey is included in a WestEd summary that Sheffield and his WestEd colleague Reino Makkonen will present to the State Board of Education next week on the progress districts and particularly teachers have had in implementing the Common Core-based academic standards the state has adopted over the past half-dozen years.

The upswing in California teachers’ perceptions partly reflects a shift in professional development to the form that teachers prefer: school-based, teacher-led collaboration. District administrators and principals have come to recognize that centralized, off-site, top-down training is less effective, Makkonen said. The Local Control Funding Formula is pushing professional development in that direction anyway. There is no longer state-directed and state-funded teacher training; each district decides how much and how to spend money on training.

In the RAND survey, California teachers said they had the most influence determining books and other instructional materials used in classrooms, setting standards for student behavior and determining how to measure students’ progress.

About two-thirds of California teachers agreed that their school “cultivates a cadre of teacher leaders” — those who influence instructional practice — and that those teacher leaders provided effective support. And 54 percent of California teachers reported they observed another teacher’s classroom in 2016-17 to get ideas or give feedback, up from 45 percent the year before.

Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association, attributed the creation of CTA’s Instructional Leadership Corps as one factor behind the encouraging data. The corps consists of 300 leading teachers, identified for their teaching skills and subject knowledge, who are selected to lead districts’ trainings in the new standards. He praised labor-management collaborations in districts like San Juan Unified, San Jose Unified and a network of small districts. The efforts are “uneven” among the state’s 1,100 districts but “are in the right direction,” he said.

Heins said he is not surprised by California teachers’ higher perceptions given that California avoided fights, as occurred in New York, over tying teacher evaluations to standardized tests.  New York was also surveyed by RAND.

Three-quarters of California teachers in the latest RAND survey agreed that the curriculum, instruction, and materials were well-coordinated across the different grade levels at their school and were consistent among teachers in their grade. That compared with only 49 percent who a year earlier said had access to sufficient resources to successfully implement state standards.

Yet at the same time, asked what they most need to effectively implement the standards, teachers ranked higher quality texts and instructional materials at the top (64 percent), followed by digital tools (online textbooks, webinars and online communities (52 percent). Asked the same question in a parallel RAND survey, principals ranked time to observe teachers teaching at the top (61 percent) followed by more opportunities for teacher collaboration (46 percent). Three out of five teachers told RAND they had sufficient opportunities for collaboration.

Makkonen said that many districts in California have adopted textbooks and materials over the past two years, but teachers continue to look on the Internet for supplementary materials to differentiate how to teach students with varying skills and knowledge. “That search is still happening.”

While praising a decentralized approach to training, he and Sheffield said there remains a need for “quality control” at the school level. County offices should develop tools for districts to evaluate lesson materials and identify what best practices look like, and districts, in turn, should pass these down to schools.

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  1. David B. Cohen 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    In organizational management and business, you can find any number of studies and articles that talk about the importance of employees feeling trusted and empowered, having positive workplace relationships, etc., and yet, when it comes up in the context of teachers, the naysayers challenge the idea. There are many reasons that test scores are what they are, and we don't even know exactly what they mean, especially at transitional time in assessments, in a year … Read More

    In organizational management and business, you can find any number of studies and articles that talk about the importance of employees feeling trusted and empowered, having positive workplace relationships, etc., and yet, when it comes up in the context of teachers, the naysayers challenge the idea. There are many reasons that test scores are what they are, and we don’t even know exactly what they mean, especially at transitional time in assessments, in a year when every Smarter Balanced Assessment Consoritum state saw scores flat or lower (suggesting that there’s something needing some attention in the assessments themselves).

    But setting the test scores aside for now, this article points to positive developments and some people only want to see the negatives. As Paul suggested in another comment, if we’re doing right by teachers, and test scores still don’t go up, that shouldn’t imply that the solution is to make things harder for teachers. Obviously there are other factors involved.

  2. Edward Soria 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    I am retired from teaching some 20 and some years ago. Our school provided us teachers with enough materials to do our job. We wrote up our master plans for teaching according to our subjects, and the school district would look at them and hardly ever rejected our teaching plans. We had some excellent teachers in our district and the community appreciated us and respected us. What really stood out in our school district was … Read More

    I am retired from teaching some 20 and some years ago. Our school provided us teachers with enough materials to do our job. We wrote up our master plans for teaching according to our subjects, and the school district would look at them and hardly ever rejected our teaching plans. We had some excellent teachers in our district and the community appreciated us and respected us. What really stood out in our school district was the power we teachers had in our classrooms. No one was looking over our shoulders – it was a great environment.

  3. Glen Price 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Thanks John for a great article. The recently published “National Study on Union-Management Partnerships and Educator Collaboration in US Public Schools,” which includes data from several California districts, further corroborates this research. See: https://collaborationincommon.org/content/vY1MnyOMQE2ZN6M9GDpk

    For more information on California’s Labor Management Initiative, see: http://cdefoundation.org/lmi/

  4. Lloyd Parkerson 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    Of course they do. The teachers union backed by Jerry Brown is as powerful as ever before. Of course there happy with what there teaching it requires no thought and failure is not an option due to California being 47th or something in quality of education. Powerful people victimize others because they can. They use money as a weapon and manipulate situations to allow for major gain at the loss of … Read More

    Of course they do. The teachers union backed by Jerry Brown is as powerful as ever before. Of course there happy with what there teaching it requires no thought and failure is not an option due to California being 47th or something in quality of education.

    Powerful people victimize others because they can. They use money as a weapon and manipulate situations to allow for major gain at the loss of those less than them, in this case that would be your student or our children.

    Replies

    • Paul 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      Ask teachers who got 1 percent raises last year, ones whose starting salaries are $45,500, and ones who would have to spend two thirds of their pay on rent to live in the cities where they work, just how powerful they feel! This story is about reclaiming professional authority, not about money, anyway. It's novel, in U.S. public schools, for teachers to receive recurring blocks of time when they can work together on problems that affect them. … Read More

      Ask teachers who got 1 percent raises last year, ones whose starting salaries are $45,500, and ones who would have to spend two thirds of their pay on rent to live in the cities where they work, just how powerful they feel!

      This story is about reclaiming professional authority, not about money, anyway.

      It’s novel, in U.S. public schools, for teachers to receive recurring blocks of time when they can work together on problems that affect them. This is no different than medical rounds in a hospital, or scrum meetings in a software company. It is part of being, and being treated like, intelligent professionals.

      Professional development workshops chosen by administrators and led by outsiders reflect the old way of doing things.

      I taught in a high school where this issue came to the fore. Administrators were so intent on keeping control of the agenda for the weekly 1 hour, 22 minutes of “collaboration” time (not collaboration, when everyone is made to listen passively to presentations by a vice principal or an outside “expert”), and teachers were so intent on having a say in how the time would be used each week, that teachers preferred to revert to the original bell schedule and spend the time on regular instruction. Wonder why more than half the staff has turned over in the five years since …

  5. Eric Premack 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Thanks, John, for another interesting piece. While encouraging, there is an even more encouraging and growing national network of so-called “teacher powered” schools that are breaking some very interesting ground that has the potential to turn teaching into a genuine profession wherein teachers actually control the key decisions at the school and agree to be held to account for the results – like real professionals. FFI: https://www.teacherpowered.org/about

  6. Roger Grotewold 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    It appears in this article that labor-management collaboration is more evident and effective in California than many of the other states in the survey. The fact that California teachers have tenure as a result of positive negotiations is one of the strong contributing factors. Our state and local associations have negotiated and created a strong positive relationship with local school boards as a result of this. To those of us in the classroom every … Read More

    It appears in this article that labor-management collaboration is more evident and effective in California than many of the other states in the survey. The fact that California teachers have tenure as a result of positive negotiations is one of the strong contributing factors.

    Our state and local associations have negotiated and created a strong positive relationship with local school boards as a result of this. To those of us in the classroom every day, having the opportunity to make a real contribution towards what is being taught is so important. Having a positive influence on this aspect of educating our young people encourages positivity in teachers far beyond the daily teaching experience.

  7. Cecile L. Nunley 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    I’m a bit confused. I do see that teachers feel empowered which is good but I do not see where this equates to higher test scores especially for low income and minority students.

    Replies

    • Paul 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

      Are you asserting that disempowering teachers would lead to higher student test scores?

      • Don 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

        The title of the article refers to how teachers “feel” compared to those in other states. In the meantime, California as a whole is doing quite poorly in K12 education. It is fair to question the difference between feelings and actual results, though I understand soft indicators such as feelings and climate are the new measures of success. That will work out just fine if students become teachers, but most will have to cut it in the real world.