A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

[Education Research Report]

Who's in Charge? Teachers Views on Control Over School Policy and Classroom Practices

August 1994

Many recent school reform efforts have called for increasing the decision-making power at the local school level. How much control do teachers have over school policy and classroom decisions? Recent calls for increases in school-based management would suggest that teachers currently may not play a key role in many school decisions. School-based management varies from school to school, but generally it gives increased budgeting, curriculum, and staffing responsibilities to principals and teachers or to parents and community members in conjunction with school staff. The influence each group has varies from school to school, but the goal is the same: to improve children's schooling.

Implicit in this call for greater school-level influence is the belief that those closest to the children--principals, teachers parents and community members--know best what is needed to improve their schools. The purpose of this report is to examine how much control teachers believe they have over various aspects of school policy and over their classrooms.

In this report, teachers' views on control over school policy and classroom practices are analyzed based on data from the Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS) of 1990-9l. SASS, a nationally representative survey of teachers, in addition to school districts, schools, and principals, is conducted by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. The 1990-91 teacher survey collected information from more than 53,000 public and private school teachers. The data here reflect teachers' reports of conditions and not independent observations of actual decision making---but they're the views of those closest to the educational process and who are perhaps in the best position to know what the school conditions actually are.

School Policy vs. Classroom Practice

Teachers were much less likely to report in the survey that they can influence certain areas of school policy than they can influence their classroom practices (Table 1). Overall, teachers did not believe they had much influence over determining discipline policy or the content of inservice programs, setting policy on grouping students in classes by ability, or establishing curriculum. No more than 39 percent believed they had a great deal of control over these school policy areas:


Table 1

Teachers' Perceptions of Control Over School Policies and Classroom Practices, 1990-91

-------------------------------------------------------------------------                                              All       Public     Private                                            teachers    school     school -------------------------------------------------------------------------         Percentage of teachers agreeing (5 or 6 on a 6 point scale)                              with each question -------------------------------------------------------------------------       "At this school, how much actual influence do you think teachers          have over school policy in each of the following areas?"
 Determining discipline policy                39          37          54 Determining the content of      inservice programs                      33          33          36 Setting policy on grouping students      in classes by ability                   29          27          45 Establishing curriculum                      37          35          54  "At this school, how much control do you feel you have in your classroom     over each of the following areas of your planning and teaching?"
 Selecting textbooks and other      instructional materials                 56          55          68 Selecting topics, contents, and      skills to be taught                     62          60          75 Selecting teaching techniques                88          87          93 Evaluating and grading students              87          86          91 Disciplining students                        73          72          84 Determining the amount of homework      to be assigned                          87          87          87 

In all of these school policy areas, private school teachers were more likely than public school teachers to believe they had control, but even in private school teachers did not feel they had much control. About half of the private school teachers said they had considerable influence over discipline policy and curriculum, and a minority believed they had much control over inservice programs or ability grouping (Figure 1).


Figure 1

Percentage of Public and Private School Teachers Believing They Had Considerable Influence Over Selected School Policies

       School Policy
       -------------        Discipline policy ===============> 37%                         ------------------------> 54%       Inservice programs ==============> 33%                         ---------------> 36%         Ability grouping ============> 27%                         ---------------------> 45%  Establishing curriculum ===============> 35%                         ------------------------> 54%                          |--------|--------|--------|--------|--------|                         0       20       40       60       80      100                                             Percent
                        ====> Public School      -----> Private School 

Questions about control over classroom activities, however, evoked a different response. Most teachers--in both public and private schools-said they had considerable influence over classroom decisions:

Once again, however, private school teachers were more likely than public school teachers to believe they had control in their classrooms. Only in the area of determining the amount of homework to be assigned did the two groups respond the same (Figure 2), with a clear majority of both groups reporting a great deal of control.


Figure 2

Percentage of Public and Private School Teachers Believing They Had Considerable Influence Over Selected Classroom Activities

    Classroom Practices
    -------------------                Textbooks =======================> 55%                         ------------------------------> 68%       Topics and content ===========================> 60%                         ---------------------------------> 75%      Teaching techniques =======================================> 87%                         ------------------------------------------> 93%      Evaluating students =======================================> 86%                         -----------------------------------------> 91%    Disciplining students ================================> 72%                         --------------------------------------> 84%       Amount of homework ======================================> 87%                         ---------------------------------------> 87%                          |--------|--------|--------|--------|--------|                         0       20       40       60       80      100                                             Percent
                        ====> Public School      -----> Private School 

Community Type

Past studies of public school principals and teachers found that the type of community in which schools are located influenced the perception of who made school decisions. Big city schools are more often part of large school districts that exercise central control over decisions. In small town or rural schools, principals and teachers play a larger role in decision making.

In the 1990-91 SASS, several differences across community types were evident in public school teachers' perceptions of who made school decisions (Table 2).


Table 2

Public School Teachers' Perceptions of Control Over School Policies and Classroom Practices, 1990-91

-------------------------------------------------------------------------                        Large  Medium  Suburb  Suburb  Large  Small  Rural                       central central   of      of    town   town                        city    city   large   medium                                        city    city -------------------------------------------------------------------------        Percentage of teachers agreeing (5 or 6 on a 6 point scale)                           with each question -------------------------------------------------------------------------     "At this school, how much actual influence do you think teachers        have over school policy in each of the following areas?"
 Determine discipline   policy                33      38      40      36     37     36      39 Determine content of   inservice programs    29      34      35      34     31     33      32 Set policy on grouping   students in classes   by ability            25      27      29      30     27     24      28 Establish curriculum    24      30      36      35     34     40      40  "At this school, how much control do you feel you have in your classroom       over each of the following areas of your planning and teaching?"
 Select textbooks and   other instructional   materials             42      46      53      51     55     62      64 Select topics, contents   and skills taught     50      55      59      57     59     64      67 Select teaching   techniques            83      86      87      86     88     88      90 Evaluate and grade   students              84      85      87      86     87     87      89 Discipline students     63      70      75      71     69     73      74 Determine the amount of   homework assigned     85      87      85      88     89     88      90 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 
NOTE: For a description of community types, see page 147 of the 1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey: Data File User's Manual, Volume I: Survey Documentation.

Public school teachers in big cities were considerably less likely than their colleagues in small towns and rural areas to report control over several aspects of schooling:

However, in some areas relating to school-level control, public school teachers did not differ in their perceptions by community type.

Private school teachers showed few differences in perception by community type, which is not unexpected if the reason for the public school differences is central district control over policies. (See Note.)

Summary

Despite movements such as school-based management to give teachers more control over schools, teachers do not believe they have much control over policies on discipline, inservice programs, ability grouping, or curriculum. They are more likely to feel in control of classroom practices such as selecting teaching techniques, evaluating and grading students, and determining the amount of homework.

Private school teachers report more control than public school teachers in most areas. But even among private school teachers two-thirds feel they have little say in determining inservice training, less than half feel they have much influence over the school policy on ability grouping, and just over half feel teachers have much influence over determining discipline policy or establishing curriculum.

For public school teachers, the type of community in which the school is located affects their feeling of control. In general, teachers in rural areas and small towns believe they have more control over establishing curriculum, selecting instructional materials, selecting topics and content, and disciplining students than do their peers in big cities.


This Research Report, prepared by Judith Anderson, is part of a series published by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement for teachers and parents. If you would like to suggest topics for future Research Reports, please write to: Office of Research, U.S. Department of Education, 555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Room 61 Oe, Washington, DC 20208-5648. To be added to the Research Report mailing list, send your name and address to OERI Research Reports, Outreach Office, 555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20208-5570. This report is a public document and may be reproduced in part or in its entirety without permission. Please credit OERI.

References

U.S. Department of Education (1993).
Who Runs the Schools? The Principal's View. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Education (1993).
Who Runs the Schools? The Teacher's View. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (July 1993).
Schools and Staffing in the United States: A Statistical Profile, 1990-91. Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Edu- cation Statistics (January 1994).
1990-91 Schools and Staffing Survey: Data File User's Manual, Volume 1: Survey Documentation. Washington, D.C.

NOTE: An appendix with sample sizes, standard errors, and data for private school teachers by community type is available upon request. Write to Research Reports, OERI/Office of Research,555 New Jersey Avenue NW, Room 61 lb, Washington, DC 20208.


This Research Report is produced by the Office of Research, Office Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) of the U.S. Department of Education.

Richard W. Riley, Secretary of Education
Sharon P. Robinson, Assistant Secretary, OERI
Joseph C. Conaty, Acting Director, OR

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