The definition of teacher quality: what state policymakers say in three states
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This multi-site case study examined education policymaking in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and North Carolina in order to discover the ways in which policymakers define teacher quality. Forty policymakers were asked questions about five broad topics -- the political culture in the state, the role of research in policymaking, the policies devised to address the issue of teacher quality, descriptions of a good teacher, and the definition of teacher quality. These policymakers represented four sectors-- state department of education officials, politicians, educators, and business leaders. What emerged were descriptions of the distinct political and educational cultures of each state and the ways in which these differences and the values and beliefs of these policymakers affected the policy problem definition, the choice of policy instruments, and the relationship of research to policy development. The frameworks used to provide assessments of the complexities involved in defining teacher quality include: McDonnell and Fuhrman's (1985) descriptions of the factors that impel policymakers to act; Marshall, Mitchell, and Wirt's (1989) conceptualization of assumptive worlds and the four domains they identified to understand the principles under which policymakers operate; and Murphy and Adams' (1998) depiction of the dynamics of educational reform. The conclusions of this study are: (1) state political culture does affect policymaking and accounts for the differences among states; (2) policymakers do not institute policies based on values alone, but also based on the contexts of their assumptive worlds; (3) the inability to accomplish all aspects of good teaching with current policy instruments, coupled with cultural differences, results in variances of definitions among the states in this study; (4) there is a gap between personal definitions of good teaching and the descriptions of what can be accomplished in policy; and (5) teacher quality is defined by state policymakers (a) in similar terms across states as a whole, but with different emphases by the four sectors; (b) by the specific policy instruments used to address the problem of teacher quality; and (c) in the current national climate of accountability and political expediency. A number of recommendations for policy and research are presented in the last chapter.
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