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"Sometimes Bureaucracy has its Charms": The Working Conditions of Teachers in Deregulated Schools

by Susan Moore Johnson & Jonathan Landman - 2000

Various reform strategies that deregulate schooling grant different degrees of autonomy to individual school sites. In an effort to understand how these policies affect the teacher’s workplace, we studied the experiences of teachers in six deregulated schools—two state-sponsored charter schools, two in-district charter schools, and two public school-based management schools—all located in Boston and serving similar groups of students. Based on intensive interviews with teachers and principals supplemented by document analysis and informal observations, we concluded that the most autonomous schools—charter schools—are not necessarily the schools that enterprising teachers favor. All respondents agree that the most important feature of charter schools is their power to recruit and retain like-minded staff who commit themselves to a common mission. Working with others who share values and practices leads to considerable satisfaction among teachers. However, teachers in these schools also voiced concern about several important features of their workplace—the scope and definition of their responsibilities, their role in school design and governance, their right to raise complaints and resolve problems, and assurances of job security and predictable pay. We concluded that, of the three policy models, the in-district charters best combined the features that provide school autonomy while meeting the basic concerns of teachers. These findings lead to recommendations for both policy and practice.

Charter schools attract teachers with the promise of autonomy. As Jon Keller suggests, dedicated and enterprising teachers see in charter schools the chance to work unfettered by inappropriate rules, unburdened by unnecessary regulations.0 Were it not for educational bureaucracies and teacher unions, critics contend, good teachers could do good work (Loveless & Jasin, 1998; Manno, Finn, Bierlein, & Vanourek, 1998). Joe Nathan declares that charter schools create “entrepreneurial opportunity,” giving the “people who work in them daily a real incentive to care about the quality of teachers and teaching” (1996, p. xv.).

Charter schools are but one version of deregulated schooling, a general approach to educational reform that, in part, is intended to create a workplace that frees educators from constraints that unwisely bind them (Loveless & Jasin, 1998; Manno et al., 1998). Across the U.S., deregulation strategies vary in the extent of autonomy they offer, from the modest amount given school-based management schools to the more extensive freedom guaranteed state-sponsored charter schools. Are there important differences among these models that affect how teachers approach their work? Do good and committed teachers, as Keller and Nathan suggest, find that the most autonomous schools provide workplaces where they can do their best work?

In considering alternative approaches to deregulation in education, it is useful to think about schools as falling along a continuum of external regulation, with extensive regulation at one end and little or no regulation at the other. School-based management (SBM) schools, which are empowered to make certain decisions about their program, budget, and staffing, sit toward the “regulated” end of this continuum, since they are given some powers by the district and union, but continue to operate under the rules of both. By contrast, charter schools that are established and funded by the state under “strong” or “permissive” charter laws fall toward the unregulated end of the continuum.1

Typically, these charter schools are freed from oversight by local district officials and, thus, authorized to hire principals and teachers, allocate their budgets, and adopt their choice of curricula (Loveless & Jasin, 1998, p. 14; Manno et al., 1998, p. 498). Falling between the SBM and the “strong” version of charter schools is the hybrid, in-district charter school. Sponsored by the district, but freed from most bureaucratic and union constraints, in-district charter schools typically can hire their own staff and establish their own working conditions, while teachers continue to retain limited protections and rights guaranteed by the sponsoring district and union.2

A Continuum of Deregulation

Conventional SBM In-District Charter Charter Private
School School School School School
I___________ I___________ I______________ I___________ I
Regulated Unregulated

Reformers hope that deregulated schools will succeed over time and become sound models for broader school reform (RPP International, 1998; Walsh, 1995). To achieve that, these schools must not only attract committed teachers, but also retain those teachers. The best of the staff who choose to join such schools must also choose to stay, thus creating a stable—though by no means stagnant—professional core. Everyone agrees that schools need a constant supply of new blood, rich with energy and ideas. But schools also must have faculties that develop depth and possess wisdom based on tested practice, for it is the faculty who will determine a school’s quality and reputation over time (Darling-Hammond, 1997; Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Fullan, 1991). Charter schools must ensure that lessons learned one year will inform the next year’s practice, that experienced teachers will advise novices, that the faculty can draw upon one another’s strengths, and that the school can explain to others what it has learned. As one experienced teacher in this study emphasized, “It takes years for a school to establish itself.” Therefore, in assessing the long-term prospects of these deregulated schools, it is important to learn how the teachers who have chosen to be there experience them and whether they see themselves staying to build their schools over time. Even if they do stay, Seymour Sarason (1982) wisely reminds us that able teachers perform differently in different contexts. Teachers’ working conditions are part of that context and are an important factor associated with student learning (Louis, Marks, & Kruse, 1996;Talbert, McLaughlin, & Rowan, 1993). If deregulated schools are to become models of effective practice, they must attend to teachers’ working conditions.

With these considerations in mind, this study explores the effects of deregulation on teachers’ working conditions and considers how different policies at the state and district level, and different administrative practices with the schools, themselves, might enhance the success of deregulated schools.


Boston, MA is today the site of a natural experiment in school reform, for within the city there exist three types of deregulated schools—local SBM schools, charter schools established under the state’s “strong” charter school law (Walsh, 1995), and in-district charter schools, locally called “pilot schools.” The presence of these schools provides an unusual opportunity to consider in what ways they meet, or fail to meet, their teachers’ expectations for them as workplaces (Johnson, 1990; Reyes, 1990).

In seeking to understand how the various contexts of deregulated schools affect teachers, we studied 6 elementary and secondary schools (2 SBM, 2 pilot, and 2 charter), all located within Boston and serving comparable student populations.3 Between February and June, 1997, we visited each school at least three times, conducting confidential interviews of one to two hours with 49 individuals. We met first with the principals and then with six to eight teachers at each site. In selecting a sample of teachers who represented the range of teachers in the school, we first sought the principal’s advice and then supplemented that with other teachers’ suggestions about peers who might offer different perspectives. Our interviews, which focused primarily on the working conditions of teachers in these schools,4 included questions about the process by which teachers were appointed, the range of responsibilities they assumed, the nature of the school’s academic program, their approach to teaching, their roles in decisionmaking, their relationships with colleagues, their understanding of the principal’s role, their views about the school’s success, their satisfaction teaching there, and their future plans. The interview protocols, which were informed by earlier studies of the teacher’s workplace (Johnson, 1990; Little & McLaughlin, 1993) are included in the Appendix. All interviews were tape recorded and transcribed for analysis with the software, Folio Views 4.1. Where available, we also carefully reviewed documents describing the schools’ programs and practices.

The sample of schools is small, but it is far from homogeneous. These six schools (three elementary, three secondary) not only operate under three different policies of deregulation—school-based management, pilot school (in-district charter), and state charter—but they also vary in size, have different administrative structures, feature different approaches to instruction and assessment, and have different histories of experience with deregulation. The pilot schools include both a start-up and a conversion school. 5 The charter schools include one that is run locally and another that is run by a national, for-profit corporation. This variety of schools, all drawing enrollments from the same student population, enables us to consider the ways in which different approaches to educational deregulation affect teachers’ working conditions. Figure 1 sets forth some of the features of the schools included in the study.

School-Based Management Schools Charter Schools Piolot Schools
Garrison Elementart6
560 students
SBM since 1989
Prospect Hill Elementary
104 students
Start-up, 1995
Locally administered
Discovery Elementary
200 students
Start-up, 1995
O'Keffe Middle
755 students
SBM since 1984
Horizon Elementary/Middle
1068 students
Start-up in 1995
Administered by for-profit corporation
New Futures High School
250 students
Conversion, 1995
Figure 1: The School Sites of the Study Sample

In judging the relevance of these findings to other settings, readers must keep in mind the particular character and circumstances of these schools, their teachers, and administrators. Given the small size of the sample and the fact that all schools studied function under MA laws, the findings of this study are informative, but not generalizable. However, as researchers across the U.S. examine schools established under different policies of deregulation (RPP International, 1997; RPP International, 1998; SRI International, 1997; Wells, 1999), it becomes possible to identify important similarities and differences among these reforms and their effects. A brief description of each local policy context and the schools studied within that context explains the sample in more detail.

School-based management (SBM) in Boston, widely introduced through collective bargaining in 1989, 7 is distinguished from other reforms by its prescribed approach to school governance. According to the teachers’ contract, an elected school site council (SSC), composed of parents, teachers, community members, and the principal, has broad contractual authority to “manage all matters that relate to the operation of the school.”8 Most contractual and administrative regulations apply to these schools, though if two-thirds of the teachers agree, a school may waive any contract provision or school department regulation. Teachers working in such schools are all members of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU), which negotiates wages and benefits on their behalf.

We set out to study schools where deregulation policies were, in fact, shaping practice, not ones where reforms existed in name only. Since U.S. research generally concludes that SBM has little impact on how a school operates (Hill, Pierce, & Guthrie, 1997 ; Malen, Ogawa, & Kranz, 1990; Ogawa & White, 1994) , we asked Boston Public School (BPS) and BTU officials to suggest an elementary and secondary school that were truly exercising the SBM powers available to them. The two schools that we chose on their recommendation—Garrison Elementary and O’Keefe Middle—did have more control of their affairs than most other BPS schools, yet we found that they were still substantially constrained by the teachers’ contract, school department regulations, past practice, and existing school structures. Both schools have functioning site councils, although Garrison’s council is more active, deals with a broader array of issues, and exercises more authority than the council at O’Keefe. Also, Garrison exercises more discretion in hiring and assigning teachers than O’Keefe, largely because the principal there understands the intricacies of staffing rules and aggressively makes them work on behalf of his school.

Garrison Elementary and O’Keefe Middle School, are large—560 and 755 students respectively. Both schools were in the process of instituting instructional reforms when we visited them in the spring of 1997. 9 Garrison teachers had introduced a new literacy program in the primary grades and a mathematics reform in the upper grades; they had developed their own narrative report card; and 20 of the school’s 26 teachers met bi-weekly in teacher-initiated research groups. O’Keefe had taken the first steps to becoming a full-service school (Comer, 1995; Dryfoos, 1994), organized to provide a coordinated set of health and social services for each child. Teachers at O’Keefe worked on interdisciplinary teams and “looped” between grades 6 and 7, teaching the same group of students for two successive years.

Charter schools, which currently number about 800 nationwide and can be found in 29 states (Manno et al., 1998, p. 490), were first introduced in MA in 1994. 10 In MA, the state authorizes these schools to operate by granting the sponsoring agency a charter and funding the schools on a per pupil basis. These schools are independent of local school districts and are unaffiliated with local teacher unions, although teachers may organize under the state’s labor relations law. In 1996-97, the per pupil allocation for charter schools in Boston was approximately $7,500. Massachusetts charter schools can hire any teachers (whether certified or not), pay them any wage, evaluate them using any criteria, and offer them time-limited contracts without the presumption of re-employment. Although the organization that holds the school’s formal charter is responsible for its operation, the law prescribes no formal governance mechanism for setting policies and practices.

The charter schools included in this study—Prospect Hill (K-4) and Horizon School (K-8)—were both start-up schools. While Prospect Hill was sponsored and administered locally, the sponsoring board at Horizon contracted with a national, for-profit educational corporation to run the school. The schools differed dramatically in size, with Horizon’s enrollment (1068) being ten times that of Prospect Hill’s (104); both schools planned to grow over time. Established in response to the perceived failing of public education, both schools promised to offer urban students the best education possible. Teachers at Prospect Hill designed their own curricula, team-taught science and art in an innovative “Kid Lab,” developed individualized learning plans for each student, and assessed students’ performance regularly with monthly compositions and demonstrations of oral reading. By contrast, the private corporation contracted to run Horizon prescribed the curriculum and provided tests by which teachers assessed students’ mastery of the material. Prospect Hill was organized simply by grades, while Horizon had a complex structure consisting of three academies (primary, elementary, and junior) headed by directors, and interdisciplinary houses within those academies, each headed by a lead teacher.

Pilot schools, Boston’s version of in-district charters, were established through collective bargaining in 1994. Like charter schools, pilot schools were to be free from union rules and protections as well as from BPS regulations. They, too, can hire any teacher, certified or not. However, since these schools are allocated a certain number of teaching positions rather than a staffing budget, they do not negotiate salaries with individual teachers, who are paid according to the district’s bargained salary scale. Teachers who have achieved tenure in the BPS can join a pilot school without jeopardizing job security in the district. Novice teachers can also attain tenure in the BPS while working in a pilot school(Landman, 1996). Boston’s pilot schools, then, fall between Boston’s SBM and MA charter schools on the continuum of regulation, having more autonomy than SBM schools, but less than charter schools.

The pilot schools in the sample were small—New Futures High School, serving 250 students in grades 9-12, and Discovery Elementary School, with 200 students in grades K- 4. Each had a distinctive history and program. New Futures, originally founded as an alternative school-within-a-school in Boston, evolved into an SBM school under regular district rules. It remained an SBM school for a number of years before it converted to pilot school status in 1994. New Futures was a member of the Coalition of Essential Schools and was designed in accordance with the Coalition’s principles (Sizer, 1992). Teachers and students were assigned to one of three interdisciplinary houses, each affiliated with a local hospital, museum, or corporation. Discovery Elementary School, a start-up pilot school that opened in 1995, has a mission statement affirming its confident commitment to student learning: “Discovery School Community believes that all children are capable of great things.” Under the principal’s leadership, the faculty at Discovery were creating a “socially responsive school” that sought to work respectfully and collaboratively with parents and the community. The school featured activity-based learning, developed its own curriculum, and assessed students’ progress with long, narrative report cards.

There were notable differences between the SBM schools, which were rather conventional in structure and practice, and the experimental charter and pilot schools. Before SBM schools could institute new practices, they had to dismantle old ones, while charter and pilot schools began with few constraints and could innovate directly. (Although New Futures was a conversion school, it never had been conventional in structure or style.) Also, because charter and pilot schools could hire teachers who held compatible values and championed similar approaches (and fire teachers who did not meet the school’s expectations), they could more readily introduce coherent and consistent programs. However, as we will see from the data, charter and pilot schools’ autonomy did not necessarily translate into professional autonomy and satisfaction for their teachers.

This study was not designed to render judgments about particular schools, for they are ever-changing, but to provide insight into the policies that shape those schools and the work of their teachers. Can deregulated schools become the kinds of workplaces that will attract and retain a strong, focused and collaborative faculty who successfully build these schools over time? If so, what can those who create and manage such schools do to increase their prospects for success?


In filling vacancies at his SBM school, Garrison’s principal recruited promising candidates who were, in one teacher’s words, “open to change.” Yet, he was first obliged, as he said, to “exhaust” the transfer list of senior teachers before hiring the ones he wanted. Though progress was slow and difficult, he had managed to assemble a stronger, more unified staff. Yet, when we asked whether he would prefer to be the principal of a pilot school, he responded quickly: “Yes, very definitely.” So, too, O’Keefe’s principal said that the prospect of heading a pilot school “excites” her because it would mean that she could hire a “like-minded staff” who share “core values about working together and communicating with one another, and setting some standards and working toward those standards.”

Without exception, respondents said the primary advantage of charter and pilot schools is the right those schools have to hire excellent teachers who share common goals, values, and expectations. This view is consistent the findings of Wells in California (1999, p. 32 and 52) and with Diane Ravitch’s observation: “In the current public school system, what you typically have is people with different visions assigned there, or people there by seniority. . . .The premise of charter schools is that people who have a particular vision start a school and invite people who share it to join.”(cited in Farber, 1998, p.510). In fact, we did find far greater philosophical and pedagogical homogeneity in the staffs of charter and pilot schools—3 of which had opened their doors in the past two years—than in the SBM schools, where the faculties had grown gradually, and less purposefully, over decades, and where as one principal explained, “You inherit [your faculty]; you do not hire them.” A co-director at New Futures Pilot School, who characterized her teachers as “all faculty who want to be here,” stated the case clearly:
Wouldn’t you want to have the opportunity to select your own teachers? My God, that’s the biggest part. All these [Boston] principals talk about how difficult it is; they have no selection right. . . .They don’t have the opportunity to bring a group of teachers together around a common vision, other than bringing them kicking and screaming, other than spending a massive amount of professional development time to convince teachers who don’t choose to be in that building.

Not only could charter and pilot schools hire any applicant, but they could also decide not to renew the contract of any teacher, no matter how experienced. This power, which one principal dubbed “good-bye rights,” meant that charter and pilot schools could quickly correct for hiring errors while SBM schools had to do their best with tenured teachers who were competent but might resist change, having, as one teacher said, “dug their heels in. . . .”

From the teachers’ perspective, greater homogeneity in a staff’s educational outlook allowed for a more unified and purposeful school and, therefore, a better learning experience for students. This is consistent with Wohlstetter and Griffin’s finding that “teachers in the charter schools generally expressed a strong sense of collective responsibility for instruction at their schools. . . .”(1997, p. 3) Similarly, Hill, Foster, and Gendler (1990) studied 13 schools and found notable differences between “focus” schools, where teachers chose to work, and “zoned” schools, where they typically were 11.assigned to work. A Discovery Pilot School teacher said: “I love this school in the sense [that] everyone comes with the same philosophies.” A Prospect Hill Charter School teacher chose her school because of its focus on literacy, while her colleague said that she had wanted to work with “people who are like me. . . . who are really serious about what they’re doing and really want to make changes and go the extra mile.” A New Futures Pilot School teacher said she had joined that school both because she believed in its principles, drawn from the Coalition of Essential Schools, and because she wanted to work with others as “a full community.” Respondents in pilot and charter schools echoed such views throughout our interviews.

There are potential long-term benefits of this mutual selection process by which teachers decide to join a particular school that has selected them from a pool of applicants. There was considerable evidence in interviews that when teachers deliberately chose to work in a particular school, they made great efforts to succeed there. In SBM schools, where teachers had assembled for a variety of reasons over many years, there was less consensus about the school’s purpose, less enthusiasm about the program, and less obvious investment of time and energy after school hours. At one level, therefore, deregulation enables charter and pilot schools to improve education by assembling and focusing the efforts of teachers who share educational beliefs and instructional practices.


In their words and actions, the teachers endorsed their charter and pilot schools. Yet their enthusiasm was tempered by emerging doubts and growing concerns about four areas of their work. First, these teachers questioned the scope and definition of their job responsibilities. What were they expected to do and were those expectations fair and realistic? Second, teachers were concerned about whether they had opportunities to participate in school design and governance. Could they influence the character, policies, and practices of their schools? Third, they wondered whether there were established ways to safely raise and resolve complaints with school administrators. If they disagreed with decisions or practices could they be sure that their objections would be fairly heard? Fourth, they had concerns about job security and pay: Could they count on holding their jobs if they performed well, and would they be assured of an adequate and fair wage over time?

Each of these concerns warrants careful attention by those reformers of policy and practice who hope to improve public schools through deregulation. For if schools do not define reasonable parameters for teachers’ responsibilities, if they fail to engage teachers in making important decisions, if they have no mechanisms by which teachers can raise complaints, or if they fail to offer reasonable assurances of continued employment and steady pay in exchange for good work, then the carefully chosen faculty may gradually withdraw their early and enthusiastic commitment. Alternatively, an authoritarian or charismatic administrator, who may assume that teachers’ commitment will override any personal concerns they may have, will resort to edict or exhortation to exact teachers’ compliance. Over time, lack of attention to staff needs can have a high cost—exhaustion, distrust, disloyalty, and unexplained resignations. The disruption caused by dissension and turnover arguably make such schools less effective than they might be. Done well, however, deregulation can lead to effective schools that are professionally rewarding and stable over time.


In most urban, public schools, union contracts define both the days and hours that teachers can be expected to work at the school. The SBM teachers, working under the BTU rules, were obligated to a 185-day work year and a 6-hour work day, though many remained after school grading papers, setting up for the next day, talking with parents, or attending meetings about school governance or professional development. By contrast, a deregulated school is free to experiment with its schedule. According to Wohlstetter and Griffin(1997), the most deregulated of charter schools are the most likely to experiment with changes in the school year and weekly schedule (p. 6). Such flexibility can permit creativity and innovation, but it also can foster unrealistic work expectations that lead to burnout.

The length of the required work year varied considerably among the other schools. Discovery Pilot School teachers were required to be at school a minimum of 187 days, while Horizon Charter School teachers were obliged to report to work 210 days, 5 weeks more than their SBM counterparts.

Rather than defining the length of the teachers’ work day, charter and pilot schools generally expected teachers to work “until the job is done.” Since many of the teachers in these schools had little or no prior teaching experience, they often found this unspecified work day hard to deal with, particularly when they faced the challenges of establishing a start-up school. For despite working long hours, teachers found they could never finish the job, since students always needed more. For example, at Prospect Hill Charter School, teachers’ afternoons were filled with 1 _- to 2-hour faculty meetings, grade cluster meetings, school-site council meetings, and professional development sessions. Unscheduled afternoons, evenings, and weekends were devoted to developing original curricula in all disciplines except math, periodically completing 12-page Individualized Learning Plans for each child, selecting and ordering supplies, and collaborating with science and arts specialists. All teachers reported that they routinely worked 9 to10 hour days and 6-day weeks.

At Horizon Charter School, most faculty members arrived by 7:30 a.m. and put in 10 or 11 hours at the school, often taking work home with them after that. As one Horizon teacher said, “One looks odd walking out at 4:15. It’s not done.” Another observed, “I often work days where I try to count the minutes that I have to myself. Not many. And sometimes I say, ‘That’s just not healthy.’”

Discovery Pilot School was similar. Teachers there attended lengthy staff meetings, participated on various other decision-making committees, engaged in an intense parent-outreach program, wrote extensive quarterly, narrative reports on each student, collaborated with teaching partners, attended professional development workshops in the evenings and on weekends, and developed original curricula in most subject areas.

One teacher joked, “We basically live here. I think we should set up cots and showers. This should be our second home or our first, if that’s what it takes to get a new school started.” Another Discovery teacher who had young children estimated that she spent “all hours except the sleeping ones” in school or preparing to teach: “Many of us get here between 7:00 and 7:30 and then stay—the formal school day is over at 2:30. I usually stay until about 4:30, but then go home. I have small children, so I pick up my kids, take them home, do supper and bedtimes, and then work for a number of hours in the evening.”

In part, expectations that teachers would work these long hours stemmed from strong norms among the staff. A Prospect Hill Charter School teacher said, “Everybody really feels that your job is not [only] to be here when the kids are here. Your job is to be here when the kids are here, and to do everything you possibly can to make that an incredible time in terms of learning.” In their intense and shared dedication to the school and students’ needs, teachers may ignore or discount their own immediate personal needs and long-term professional interests. Another Prospect Hill teacher lamented, “Nobody will tell you not to work, because nobody will know [how hard you’re working]. Everybody’s in a whirlwind. You will work and work and work, then one day you’ll be like, [gasp].” A Discovery Pilot School teacher who called the expectations at her school “troubled,” reflected that “the norm is to always feel guilty about it. . . .”

The principals of these schools also promoted this ethic of hard work. A Prospect Hill Charter School teacher observed: “Our principal will say, ‘Oh, I want you guys to take some time off. . . .But at the same time he says, ‘I want those ILPs [Individualized Learning Plans] done.’ The bottom line is everybody in this building is here from 7:30 to 5:30.” Staff at the corporate-run Horizon Charter School were required to sign in if they worked on weekends, and one respondent said there was “a pretty good list on Saturday and/or Sunday of teachers coming in. . . . There’s a little bit of that subtle sort of pressure.”

At Discovery Pilot School, the principal described her expectations regarding staff meetings: “We’d work for an hour and a half, but sometimes we went for two hours or two and a half hours. It depended on what we needed to talk about . .. . .I don’t want to drag things out or be unfair or unkind to people, but I just . . . feel that it’s important to let what needs to be done for kids and families guide the work, and not so much are we following rules and not violating anybody’s rights?” In most instances, the young faculty at Discovery followed their principal’s lead out of respect and admiration, for she asked nothing of them that she would not do herself. However, their dedication was tinged with ambivalence and some were uncertain whether excessively long hours were an unspoken requirement of the job. As one teacher said, “Ms. _____ has a family and she inspires us, in the sense that she is here until 6:00 or 5:30 and has set the stage and model for educators. [She says] ‘Prioritize your time. I’m not making a mandate that you’re here.’ But the fact that we see her here after hours is very telling.”

Whatever the source of these expectations, many teachers found the unbounded claims on their time and energy to be very stressful. A young teacher at Prospect Hill Charter School remarked: “As much as I say that it’s a growing experience—and I’ve grown so much professionally, and I’m loving it—at the same time, I feel completely and entirely stressed and strained.” At Horizon Charter School, absenteeism became common in the middle school as teachers started to take “mental health days.” In response, the administration required teachers to submit doctors’ notes to justify their absences. One teacher there warned, “The longer school year, the longer school day—that is very dangerous in that you are burning out very good teachers. You are making folks just tired.”

The relentless, sometimes frenetic, pace of these three start-up schools sometimes prevented teachers from doing their best work. One Discovery Pilot School teacher, highly regarded by her peers and unequivocal about her support for Discovery—“I love this school”—criticized the schedule, which included no time for holding parent conferences or writing long, narrative reports. An Horizon teacher rued having no “space for reflection and becoming a better teacher.” And a Prospect Hill teacher said the workload led to isolation: “We’re busting our tails from 7:30 in the morning until 6:30 at night, and that’s not even with saying a word to anybody, you know. I feel like we could be much more interactive as a team.” Although the teachers in these schools had similar values and practices, this lack of time for reflection and absence of collegial exchange likely carried a price for the school and its students. (Fullan & Hargreaves, 1996; Johnson, 1990; Little, 1982; Little, 1987; Rosenholtz, 1989).

The teachers at these three start-up schools were very young, and only a few were married or had children. Although they were willing and able to commit long hours to their jobs now, most respondents could not imagine staying at their schools once they had families. A Prospect Hill Charter School teacher who said that she “couldn’t possibly think of doing this job if I were married and I had children” noted that “nobody on the staff has any children except for the assistant to the headmaster.” Similarly, a Discovery Pilot School teacher, who said that she would leave the school if she had children, predicted that Discovery would either have to continue to hire younger, inexperienced teachers or begin hiring “people that have families that have grown.”

Some respondents said that the demands of the job were forcing them to leave their schools even before they assumed family obligations. A Prospect Hill teacher who spoke positively about the school’s plans to improve the quality of the teacher’s workplace said, “I can’t imagine spending another year [here]. . . .Having done it for the past two years, I don’t have the reserves left to really gear up for another one. So, I’m really optimistic about some of the changes that I hear are in the air. But I think they’re kind of too late for me. I’m glad I was here to do these two years, and to really pour myself into it. But I can't really imagine doing it again.” A highly regarded teacher at Discovery also confided that she was thinking about leaving. “It’s just expected that you’re going twenty-four/seven, if that’s what you need to do. . . . I can’t keep this pace up, being human. And for those teachers who can, that’s fabulous. But the turnover rate is going to start getting high, because there are other staff who feel as I do.” In fact, two Discovery teachers had decided to leave during the second year of the school, and respondents said that others planned to announce their resignations that spring. One who was leaving complained that the principal had reprimanded her when she chose to travel home for Mother’s Day rather than attend a weekend workshop. When we asked Discovery’s principal whether she thought turnover was a problem, she predicted that discontent among the teachers would subside when the right staff were on board: “Maybe [high staff turnover] doesn’t mean that people are running away because it’s a bad school. . . .I think maybe high staff turnover means that we’re going to only get the teachers that really want to be here and who support the work that’s going on here.” Given the fact that the current staff had been carefully selected from a very large pool of eager applicants, it seems unlikely that many candidates would meet this principal’s expectations, or that there are sufficient numbers of such selfless individuals to staff the start-up charter schools, let alone the many more public schools for which charter schools are expected to serve as models.

Teachers at New Futures Pilot School, some of whom knew the school both before and after it converted to pilot school status, told stories that differed in subtle, but important, ways from the stories told by teachers in the three start-up schools. At New Futures, the required work day was defined—7 hours. The teachers, many of whom were older and had family responsibilities, had devised ways both to do their work and live their lives. One co-director said that she did not judge people by whether they stayed late in the building: “I think they work until they finish the job. And sometimes, what we need to help them with is to let go.” A teacher confirmed this co-director’s report: “I don’t think that I get a message from my administration that, if I don’t stay, I’m a bad person.” Another teacher, who contended that no school gives teachers the support they really need to do their jobs well, explained, “The only thing that makes it bearable here is that when you say [that you need help], people are listening to you [and saying’] ‘How can I support you?’ You might get an aide—share an aide with somebody—or you might get some comp time to grade papers, or something might be worked out where you can get a rest if you’re really, really tired. People realize the work and the hours that you put in and you’re valued.”

There were various explanations for this more balanced approach to work at New Futures—the presence of a more experienced staff who set realistic norms and paced themselves; family demands that forced people to limit their work; the fact that the school’s curriculum and routines had been in place for more than two years; a schedule that defined in-school obligations and guaranteed preparation time; and a more restrained administration who had high standards, but recognized individuals’ limits. Whatever the reasons, no teachers at New Futures talked of leaving the school in response to overwhelming demands, even though most held broad responsibilities and worked far beyond minimal public school hours. As one teacher said, “This is my fifth year. People have stayed on. I haven’t seen anyone that left really unhappy, felt like they were used.”

At the Garrison SBM School, teachers’ work also was less intense and seldom frenetic. Teachers’ responsibilities and schedules were more predictable, and the school was never full of people working long after school ended or on weekends. One teacher, who had been nationally recognized for excellent teaching, thinks that the order and calm of Garrison supports teachers’ professional growth: “I really like the school and I feel like it was a place where I could get national certification because I had peace, stability to be able to do what I needed to do. I think it’s a good school. It’s a school that’s worth my putting my efforts into making a better school.”

It may be that exhaustion and turnover will diminish or disappear when the new charter and pilot schools have established their innovative structures. The fact that these are start-up schools cannot be ignored. Principals spoke often about how difficult it was to achieve early and visible success while coping with limited resources and outside support. There can be no doubt that the demands on start-up schools are daunting. One national study concludes “that newly created schools typically confront all of the start-up problems faced by those starting a new business”(RPP International, 1998, p. 95). Another notes that principals of start-up schools must exercise both “business acumen and educational expertise” (Koppich et al., 1998, p. 14). As a result, principals often must rely on teachers to assume unusual school-wide responsibilities. However, the sobering words of their teachers suggest that the repeated loss of strong individuals on account of excessive work demands might not only disrupt the lives of staff each year, but also jeopardize the future of the schools, themselves. Schools can not be staffed anew each year like summer camps, importing batches of young recruits. Rather, they must avoid “burnout and turnover among key players” (Finn, 1997, p. 8), enabling them to develop a faculty that will provide strength and stability over time. Teachers repeatedly said the staff’s needs had to be considered, for as one New Futures teacher observed, “No one’s stepping back and saying, ‘Where is the staff coming from?’”


Many reformers who promote charter schools expect that the teachers who are attracted to work there will play key roles in their design. They believe that current regulation, particularly that imposed by collective bargaining agreements, discourages or prohibits such contributions by teachers in conventional, public schools. For example, Joe Nathan contends that the adversarial relationship between teacher unions and school boards “assumes that teachers have relatively little power beyond what happens in the individual classroom. The charter school breaks apart this notion. Suddenly teachers can, and often are, running schools”(1996, p. 95).

Throughout the study, teachers confirmed that one reason they had joined the faculties of charter and pilot schools was to contribute to these new or reforming enterprises. One teacher was attracted to Prospect Hill Charter School by the promise of having a say in “how it was going to run, how the curriculum was going to look, and how parents would be involved.” A lead teacher at Horizon Charter School who had worked in a large urban district “was attracted by the charter school for a couple of reasons. Number one, it’s its own district. It’s its own school. It makes its own decisions within the building . . . .Also, the empowerment of teachers is a big plus.” How, then, have these schools responded to teachers’ interests in designing and developing them, and what decision-making practices have the schools adopted to promote and ensure teachers’ constructive participation? Three different approaches were apparent in the schools of this study.

At the SBM schools, decision-making processes had evolved and become regularized over time. Principals at both Garrison and O’Keefe purposefully and deliberately pressed to expand their schools’ scope of authority over curriculum, budget, and staffing. Garrison’s principal said his efforts were an ongoing “struggle” with both the school department and the union, a “process of going back and forth and trying to get more and more of the power at this level.” Garrison had two formal decision-making groups. The SSC, which had been in existence for ten years, decided how to spend the school’s discretionary share of the budget, how to allocate teaching positions, and how to improve the climate of the school. In a “hotly contested” decision, the Garrison SSC had decided not to substitute a bilingual special education teacher for a Title I position, a decision that all agreed was an important one. Meanwhile, a newly formed Leadership Team of cluster leaders complemented the work of the SSC by making decisions about curriculum, the selection of curriculum coordinators, and student assignments. A Garrison teacher contrasted her experience there with what she had known in her former Boston school: “Here, something could be presented and then there’s always a slew of questions, of concerns, and people voice their opinions and it’s worked through. So, there’s a process.” At her other school, she reported, the principal said, “’Here’s the form. Here’s the package. You do it.’” The O’Keefe SSC, which conducted much of its business through sub-committees, also made some important schoolwide decisions about budget, personnel, schedule, curriculum and school climate, often after polling teachers about their views. A teacher there concluded: “The SSC has provided the most consistent venue for teachers and administrators and parents to work together.” There were other respondents, however, who discounted the influence that teachers had through the SSC at O’Keefe, suggesting that it was of little consequence.

Various factors limited the extent to which these SBM schools could control their own futures through school-based governance—the large size of the schools, persistent skepticism about whether the SSC had any true power, some teachers’ reluctance to participate in school governance, and the very real constraints placed by the central office and union contract on what the schools might decide. Mohrman and Wohlstetter (1994) argue that for school-based management to be effective, four key resources—information, knowledge, power, and rewards—must be moved from the district office to the schools. Only partial transfers of these resources had been made in Boston. Yet, at both SBM schools an established process for governance was in place and a number of teachers said that they could use that process to influence the direction their schools would take.

From the start, Discovery, Prospect Hill, and New Futures engaged teachers in making policy and establishing practice. In this second group of schools, strong norms of inclusion and consensus, rather than a formal process, led to meetings where everyone had a say about a wide range of issues. Teachers at Discovery Pilot School met with their principal weekly to discuss the curriculum, services to parents, and the relationship between the regular and after-school programs. A veteran teacher who eventually left the school because of the demands on her time, was satisfied with the influence teachers had there: “We had input at Discovery, real input to decide things.” In addition to staff 22.meetings, ad hoc teams of teachers, parents, and planning team members formed to interview prospective staff members. At Prospect Hill, the whole faculty addressed the recess policy, the curriculum, and the schedule, while an ad hoc “action team” worked to revise the system of Individual Learning Plans and devise ways to improve the quality of teachers’ work lives. One teacher emphasized, “We have such an impact on what goes on here. We’re not silent workers.”

However, as they designed and governed their new school, there was little division of labor, a fact that presented problems at Discovery Pilot School:
If we’re going to change the recess schedule, we sit down and have this big conversation about the recess schedule. If we want to have a new social studies curriculum, we sit down and talk about the current one. So, everything that’s done, we do as a team. It’s hard. We’re finding out, the bigger the staff gets, the harder it is. It’s really easy when you have eight people to sit down and talk about something, and then come to conclusion and then solve it. But when you have twenty people, it’s hard because everybody has different views and it just gets harder and harder for us to all be in sync. We’re still in sync, but not exactly so.

New Futures Pilot School, too, had once engaged the whole faculty in long, intense discussions about the direction and practices of the school, but recent growth made “talking together until we agree” unwieldy; decisions were increasingly left to the co-directors, and the respondents who said they could influence important decisions were the same ones who reported interacting often with those co-directors. Many of those interviewed at New Futures mentioned that the voice of the teacher was less audible than in the past. One teacher said, “Our faculty no longer sits around a little round table and can discuss things. . . now that we’re so much bigger. We must be at least 30, if not 35 23.staff people. I think [the co-directors] are struggling.” Another said that the teachers’ role in decision-making is “muddy right now.” A third spoke of the school’s “struggling a bit” to define a more appropriate approach to governance. Decisions no longer were made by informal consensus; nor were votes taken in faculty meetings. New Futures’ experience may suggest the difficulties that similar schools will face as they grow and their programs become more complex.

Teachers’ eagerness to participate, coupled with the small size of most charter and charter-like schools, 11 make it possible for teachers to be active designers and decision-makers in their schools. But as interviews from Horizon Charter School illustrate, the teacher’s role in governance is not guaranteed. For there, where a for-profit corporation ran the school, the large size and top-down corporate-style hierarchy of the school discouraged, even precluded, teachers’ active involvement in setting policy and shaping practice. The headmaster held weekly meetings with the academy directors and lead teachers; other teachers could attend these meetings, but not speak. One lead teacher defended this arrangement: “In the first year or two, you know, we don’t have time to sit around and say, “How do you feel about that?”. . . .It’s a big operation. It’s a huge school. . . .” Yet, a regular teacher was annoyed and dismayed when the headmaster suddenly reorganized the school’s administrative structure at mid-year, a change that would never have happened without faculty consultation at the other schools: “We got a note in our box. It was like, ‘Oh! Well! So now we’re supposed to go to a completely different person for a completely different set of issues.’ And it was just shazzam! Maybe that’s appropriate, I don’t know. But I felt like, ‘This is crazy’.” At Horizon, regular classroom teachers had no role in schoolwide govenance, a fact that perplexed and troubled several of our respondents who had expected to be active in shaping this new charter school.

One Garrison SBM teacher explained how having a role in decision-making increases individuals’ efforts to improve their schools:
If you have the power to have input in decision-making, major decision-making—hiring, spending money and scheduling— then right away, that sets the tone for working every day. And you’re more apt to say, ‘Let’s talk about this. Can’t we do this better? How do you feel about it?’ If you’re in a school where you have no power to make a decision, then you don’t tend to try to make decisions. You go to your room and do your job and wait to be told what to do next or what’s going to happen next.

School deregulation is no guarantee of teacher empowerment. To the contrary, in the absence of policies that set forth a role for teachers in decision-making, school officials may wrongly assume that they know the minds of their faculty. Alternatively, administrators may ignore teachers’ potential contribution completely. There is no assurance that the rigidity once imposed by the district or union will be replaced by open and responsive structures; in fact corporate sponsors may introduce an equally inflexible set of rules and procedures that exclude teachers entirely. When teachers are not asked to participate in the school’s development, not only are their good ideas lost, but their investment in building the school diminishes and they are more likely to see themselves as hired labor (Sizer, 1984) than as professionals intent on improving their work and their schools.12


One factor distinguishing SBM schools from the charter and pilot schools of this study was the grievance process by which SBM teachers could raise complaints about violations of their contract. Though teachers in these SBM schools very rarely filed grievances, having access to this process ensured that administrators complied with the contract and listened to teachers’ concerns, whether those concerns were expressed personally and informally or through some formal body, such as the faculty senate or the 25.school site council.13 This administrative approach contrasts markedly with what one Discovery Pilot School teacher called the “love it or leave it” stance of her principal. A teacher at Horizon Charter School described encountering a similar sentiment at her school: “You need to make a choice. Can you live with this, or is this going to make you crazy and you can’t live with it?”

Many teachers in the charter and pilot schools believed that there should be some way, short of leaving, to address their dissatisfaction. In the language of Albert Hirschman’s 1970 analysis of participation in organizations, these teachers sought to exercise “voice” over “exit.” Hirschman notes that “the decision whether to exit will often be taken in the light of the prospects for the effective use of voice” (italics in original, p.37). Often for these teachers, concern about not having a process for addressing complaints emerged in response to a particular incident that smacked of arbitrary or high-handed treatment. One serious problem at Discovery Pilot School developed when teachers learned that, contrary to prior promises, they would not be paid for a full month of summer work they had completed. They wanted to complain, but as a pilot school they could no longer count on the BTU to support them. Moreover, the close relationships and intense work ethic of teachers made them reluctant to speak out. When a veteran BPS teacher at Discovery filed a grievance anyway on behalf of the staff, district officials first said that teachers would be paid and then said that they would not. Finally, the principal phoned each teacher to say that money was available, but that it would have to be taken from funds designated for a new literacy center. Who, the principal asked, wanted to be paid? From inside this organization, with no structures for addressing concerns, it was hard for individuals to express their needs or assert their rights. Even though one teacher had a large college debt and was counting on the additional income, she said that she wouldn’t accept the money: “I thought, ‘How can I say yes or no?’ It was so hard.” Finally, when a district administrator urged teachers to accept the pay, all but one did. Some teachers were troubled by not having access to a means for resolving disputes or a union to monitor the process. One said, “I think that we have to be careful because sometimes you could feel really taken advantage of here, and it’s so fuzzy. You don’t know what your rights are and what they’re not. Last year we met with the union and they basically said, ‘You don’t have any right to grieve.’”

Other respondents said that having a process for dealing with complaints would make the school run better. A Prospect Hill Charter School teacher said, “ I don’t think there’s a process in place. . . .There is not a sense of who we go to when there’s a problem. . . .” 14 She went on to note that, once a dispute occurs, “there’s almost always a piece that gets put into place afterward where the problem is addressed.” Yet she also said, “There are a lot of times when the [principal’s] response is, ‘That’s just the way I am; that’s just the way this place is going to be, and that’s just the way it is to be a teacher.“

If intense relationships, shared commitments, and the lack of an established process made it difficult to voice complaints at Discovery and Prospect Hill, the barrier at the large, corporate-sponsored Horizon Charter School was, ironically, the school’s internal bureaucracy. If they wanted to complain, teachers were expected to follow a chain of command rivaling that of the most rigid public agency. When we asked a lead teacher how a staff member might raise a concern at Horizon, he responded:
“Theoretically, one should raise the issue with the lead teacher. And then if you can’t work it out with the lead teacher, you should raise it with the director. If you can’t raise it with the director, raise it with the headmaster. If the headmaster and you can’t work it out, theoretically, one can take it to the Board of Trustees.” In practice, few teachers formally registered any concerns, though many complained in private. One teacher said that the school’s structure discouraged communication: “Sometimes I feel like the house and lead teacher model maybe gives it too many layers so that there’s no direct communication.” Another teacher criticized this structure for being impersonal: “It lacks a sense of humanness to me, in that if I need to discuss an issue, I need to write it down. They respond on paper and it will be given back to me. . . .” The headmaster confirmed this account, saying that she would not discuss her decisions about salary with teachers. Rather, they could submit questions or complaints in writing and she would respond in kind.

Some teachers at New Futures Pilot School had been there when it was still a regular district high school and, therefore, they had experienced what it meant to have access to a union-monitored grievance process. Notably, no New Futures teacher had ever filed a grievance about the school’s practices before or after it became a pilot school; however, some staff were concerned these days about not having access to such a process under their new pilot school status. One teacher said, “To some teachers, it almost seemed like, ‘If I complain, I might lose my job. That’s the fear that hangs over people’s heads here.’” Another said, “Teachers do need to have some type of vehicle. If [those who conceived of pilot schools] think that you’re living in an ideal world where people don’t have issues that need to be resolved . . . that’s a problem. [Policymakers] set up a system where there’s no vehicle for people to address issues, serious issues. . .. . Even though it doesn’t have to be [the Boston Teachers Union], you still have to have something in place.” A co-director at New Futures acknowledged these concerns and said that they were “searching to put a committee or a policy or a process in place for our teacher grievances, around working conditions, around performance.. . .” He explained that one year when he and his co-director were both on leave,
[the school was headed by] a very, very questionable leader. So, the staff got a taste of it. They just want to know that there is some institutionalized procedure through which they can seek justice and that there is some structure to it, so it isn’t whimsical. Because I think you could say right now we have a crackerjack teaching staff and that everyone there would feel safe and secure with us. But that’s not enough. That’s not enough. It’s people’s 28.livelihood. Even teachers at New Futures, who I think are very well treated and would probably say the same, feel a little bereft and a little without a structure to cling to. Right now, what we cling to is each other; it’s the relationship.

These responses strongly suggest that teachers—even enterprising, risk-taking teachers—prefer to work in schools where they can raise a complaint and be assured of a fair hearing and timely response. However, the teachers’ commitment to the new pilot and charter schools—what in Hirschman’s model is called “loyalty”—meant that they were patient and flexible.15 They were not seeking the formal grievance procedures leading to arbitration that their SBM counterparts had, but rather some assurance that they were not obliged to be silent and compliant if they had a legitimate concern. As more than one respondent suggested, the resentment that accompanies such silence festers and undermines a school faculty’s sense of security and ability to work together. A veteran teacher at Discovery Pilot School said that her younger colleagues were afraid; four of the school’s ten staff members had left during the first year. Citing the fears of these teachers, she said, “In order to keep and attract good people to a place like our school, we have to treat people right, or else people will leave your school and you will have no stability. . . .If you want them to stay, you take care of them, not by fear.”


Although some teachers approach their work as a short-term commitment to children or public education, many others regard teaching as a vocation and intend to build a career working in schools. They seek assurances of continued employment and adequate, if not lavish, compensation. These concerns of career educators are reflected in the salary scales and evaluation procedures negotiated by teacher unions with school districts nationwide (Johnson, 1990). Teachers entering state-sponsored charter schools, such as Horizon and Prospect Hill, have no such assurances. When job security and pay are at issue, an individual teacher’s interests and the collective interests of the school community may be at odds. The absence of rules governing salary or evaluation means that charter school policies favor the school over the teacher. At the core of many proposals to deregulate schools are twin convictions: first, that teachers’ continued employment should not be automatic, but rather, depend on their demonstrated, effective performance; second, that teachers’ pay should be merit-based (Nathan, 1996). These practices, some proponents argue, will infuse healthy competition into the work of teachers and guarantee results for the public that pays them. The ideal teachers in such a system are both fearless and selfless. However, we found teachers in the charter and pilot schools to be concerned simultaneously about their own future and the future of their school. They expected to be held accountable for their work, but also wanted to be confident that steady, commendable performance would lead to continued employment and pay increases over time. While a system for holding faculty accountable and linking pay to performance need not pit teachers against their evaluators or undermine a staff’s sense of security, it certainly can. To what extent do these deregulated schools practice the new credo of accountability? How do their principals and teachers assess these efforts? And are current practices consistent with the long-term interests of the schools?

Job security

The principals and teachers interviewed for this study supported the idea that all teachers should be expected to do consistently good work. No school, they agreed, should tolerate teachers who “retired on the job.” Those in SBM schools generally said that teachers should work hard and do their best, while pilot and charter schools pushed accountability further, saying that only the best teachers should be retained. Horizon, the school managed by a for-profit corporation, took accountability yet another step by awarding merit pay bonuses (one to four percent) to selected teachers.

Many teachers took pride in having to continue to prove themselves. A Horizon Charter School teacher said, “I like the fact that I have to be invited back every year.” A lead teacher at the same school contrasted the charter-school reality with that of SBM schools where school leaders avoid responsibility and say, “‘Hey, what can I do? I got the union. I got the parents. I got the kids. I got the teachers, you know. You know, I’m doing the best I can.’” By contrast, at the Horizon, he said, “it’s very much on your head, you know? I’ll lose my job if it’s not great. We don’t have the union issues; we don’t have the tenure issues. We offer everyone a one-year contract with a 30-day buyout.” Further, he noted that the school does not automatically renew contracts and, in fact, does buy out contracts mid-year: “We do that; we do that a lot.”16

The principal at Horizon was in the midst of making re-employment and salary decisions when we interviewed her. She believed that the school’s expectations were clear: “We are all here and we have to take responsibility for ourselves, work well with the team, just decide to try to please everybody as much as possible, work as hard as you can. And if you do, you will be invited back. If you do, we will all be successful and we’ll be here in five years. If you don’t, then you’ll have a year’s contract, and you will be looking for something else.” She said that her “ability [as principal] to either move people around or not renew them is pretty powerful stuff,” and she contended that a teacher who failed to meet her standards “either was not entirely cooperative, or didn’t take directions.” She offered the following illustration: For example, it can be as simple as getting [the teacher’s] ear and saying, “It is real important for the kids to come in and take their coats off and hang them up. You could say, ‘Everybody go and take off your backpacks and now get out your books.” Kids can’t sleep in the class. They can’t be eating throughout the class. . . . So I think to myself after the year is a third gone and I am still walking into the class and people are sitting with their coats over their 31.heads, I am thinking to myself, “Well, this is the easy part, sweetheart. I’m going to get to instruction next. Do you have a plan? Can we see the plans? We expect you to plan. Can I see your plans?” And you say, “Plans?”

Some of those interviewed at Horizon agreed with their principal’s contention that teachers whose contracts had been bought out at mid-year, or who weren’t asked back in the spring, should have been let go. Others argued that those teachers lacked experience and should never have been hired. As one teacher said, “They did not have a foundation. They did not have a basis from which to work. I think they were ill-equipped.” Yet others blamed the school and its sponsoring corporation for not providing enough supervision and professional development for beginning teachers. In some cases, lead teachers could offer these novices the support they needed, but in others the lead teachers were not up to the task. One respondent who came to the school with prior teaching experience had the good fortune of being assigned to work with a skillful lead teacher. She said, “I would say first and foremost that, had those people [who were let go] been given the support that I have, I think they would have been just fine.”

In practice, charter and pilot school administrators relied on informal and subjective assessments of teachers’ practice in deciding who would stay and, in the case of charter schools, how much teachers would earn. When we tried to learn what standards would be used to judge the teachers’ performance in charter and pilot schools, respondents offered widely different answers. They often talked about effort, attitudes toward parents and children, and the ability to work as a team with colleagues. These schools had not defined evaluative standards for teaching and it was not clear—even at Horizon, where a corporation had pre-planned the school design, prescribed the curriculum, and required that students be tested regularly—how teachers were to be held responsible for instructional practices or student performance. Within the pilot schools, principals recognized that they might have to evaluate staff formally in order to award tenure, but repeatedly teachers said that they had not been evaluated. 17

Since SBM principals were required contractually to observe and assess non-tenured teachers each year and tenured teachers every three years, evaluation was more systematic and widely implemented in SBM schools than in the less regulated schools. Some teachers found the process valuable, while others said it was perfunctory and inconsequential.

Teachers in the pilot and charter schools expressed concern about the informality and subjectivity of assessments. Being rehired was not a foregone conclusion as it would have been for most teachers in SBM schools, and some worried about how they would be judged and who would make important employment decisions. Teachers’ responses often depended on how much they trusted their principal to hold realistic expectations and become well-informed about their work. At Horizon, where teachers had seen some of their peers fired, one lead teacher said, “Oh, yes, sure people are scared—every April. And this is the time the letters come out. . . . People [say] ‘What do people think of me?’ I mean, you don’t really know.”18

Tenured BPS teachers working in the pilot schools had not surrendered job security by choosing to teach in these in-district charter schools and, in fact, one experienced teacher who was dissatisfied with the demands at Discovery left after two years to return to a regular BPS school. Older, experienced teachers in the pilot schools valued their right to retain tenure. For, although they believed in accountability, they were wary of capricious administrative judgments. One pilot school veteran said that she had considered applying to work in a charter school, but chose not to: “For me it was the whole notion of job security. That was the big thing for me. I didn’t want to wake up tomorrow and find out that I didn’t have a job, and I’ve got this kid in college, and then I can’t pay the tuition, never mind paying the mortgage.”


Linked to teachers’ concerns about contract renewal and job security were their worries about wages. Many teachers believed that charter schools hire younger teachers not only because they bring energy and optimism, but also because they cost less. Yet with youth comes inexperience. As one seasoned teacher from a pilot school explained, “You get what you pay for. You can hire me or you can hire two new teachers. . . .It’s either you put money in training and you train them so that they can do it—and that might take two or three years—or you hire somebody who knows what they’re doing, and that’s going to cost more money.” A co-director at New Futures Pilot School said, “The charter schools are probably being done on the backs of teachers, and on the backs of interns. . . . We have senior teachers. We couldn’t have made that budget work [if we were a charter school].” This particular feature of the pilot schools—having a staffing budget that is funded with a number of positions rather than a dollar amount—probably does more than any other factor to assure the presence of experienced teachers and the continuity of staffing over time in these experimental schools. It is a fine example of how schools benefit from having less than full autonomy from local district structures (Wells, 1999 pp. 28-32).

Across the schools, younger teachers were less apprehensive than their more experienced peers about whether their pay was competitive and would grow steadily over time.19 Yet in the two charter schools, where most staff were under thirty years old, teachers still questioned how salaries had been determined and doubted that subjective approaches to setting wages were any fairer than a standardized salary scale. At Prospect Hill Charter School, where some teachers had bargained for their initial salaries, the principal said the pay range was “between $28,000 and $38,000,” a range that was competitive with the pay scale of a suburban district that he considered “a good, solid system near the top, but not the top. We’re not paying as well as [that district], but we’re close.” Several of his teachers were less than sanguine about their pay. One, who said she was making $8,000 to $10,000 less than in the public school job she had turned down, noted, “I try not to look. It’s a little depressing.” Most teachers thought that their prior experience was the primary factor in determining their salary, though they weren’t sure. One said, “If someone had less experience but made more money, yes, I would be upset.”

Pay at the corporate-run Horizon Charter School was linked to steps on the teachers’ job ladder. The principal explained:
The salary schedule is a very small one. The beginning range for a resident teacher is $32 K. The beginning line for a regular teacher is $33.5 K. The beginning for the senior teacher is $37 K. The beginning for the lead teacher is $43 K. But, you know, a lot of [the scales] go up to $60K. [Teachers] get to $60 K by either being promoted to a new level or by getting [merit] increases . . . . Then there is also a system of stipends [for special activities] that we just kind of make up as we go.
Although the system made no special allowance for advanced degrees—“it’s not in there yet”—the principal acknowledged, “I think it has to be.”

In practice, merit raises and promotions to higher steps on the career ladder at Horizon depended primarily on prior experience, but subjective judgments about the teacher’s performance influenced these decisions. The principal was said to consult with lead teachers about these decisions, but when asked how observation and assessment fed into the salary decisions, one lead teacher said, “I think it’s fundamental to it, although there’s no sort of equation. It still comes down to the gut reaction of the administrator making that final decision.” The principal offered a similar description: “You also get, of course, to decide whether they move from a resident position to the teacher position, where they will get a zero, one, two, or three percent raise. That is very heavy. It is much heavier than you would think. . . . You try to talk with lead teachers and others and try to figure out what is fair and reasonable. It’s all in the eyes of the beholder. I can give someone a three percent raise and have them talk about how demeaning that is. You know, ‘It should have been four.’”

One Horizon teacher, confident that performance would figure into salary decisions, explained that “experience and education” were also relevant factors, but acknowledged that he and his colleagues were not sure “exactly how that works.” Another teacher, interviewed after the raises had been announced, was very angry about hers and said that many of her colleagues were as well: “I think I am a damn good teacher, and I am so very disgusted with the salary increase that I got. I understand that the master’s degree is not necessarily what the charter school requires, not even certification. But I think having those should put me a little higher than those that don’t [have them].” She also questioned the judgments that she presumed had been made about her teaching: “The only person I’ve been observed by is my lead teacher. He, of course, said that he was not consulted when it came to this whole salary increase, raise thing. I find that just odd.” Finally, she wanted the school to state explicitly what it took to be promoted: “There is no clear-cut path that says, ‘Okay, this is what you are doing. This is where you are. This is where you should be. This is where you need to go, if you are interested in a lead teacher position. This is the track.’”

The Horizon principal also said that she was uncomfortable with the merit pay system that the corporation expected her to administer: “If a lead teacher doesn’t lead well, he or she doesn’t have to stay a lead teacher. They can go back to [being a] teacher. But inherent in that is that they go back to the teacher’s salary. That is what [the corporation] would say, I’m sure. I would have difficulty reducing somebody’s salary. I would prefer to say to them. . .‘You won’t be a lead teacher; you will be a senior teacher. I am going to keep the salary the same, but I am going to ask you to do some other things.’” This reluctance to penalize teachers financially for unsatisfactory performance was not surprising, given the well-documented difficulty of administering merit pay in schools (Johnson, 1986; Murnane & Cohen, 1986). Similarly, in studying charter 36.schools, researchers at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education found only one school where “teachers received significant monetary rewards based on performance” (Wohlstetter & Griffin, 1997, p.3).

Teachers in all settings expressed misgivings about the lack of rules regulating salaries at non-unionized charter schools. Those in SBM and pilot schools viewed charter schools warily because pay there was unpredictable and sometimes too low to attract experienced teachers. Prospect Hill Charter School teachers said that they didn’t know how starting salaries were set. Horizon Charter School teachers’ discontent about how merit increase decisions were made, coupled with their principal’s acknowledgement that these judgments were subjective, all suggested that merit pay was more rhetoric than reality.

Although many teachers we interviewed were ready to be held accountable for their work, they wanted to be sure that the standards for such judgments were explicit and equitably applied. Charter schools may be permitted to pay for performance and fire those who under-perform, but unless they deliver on that opportunity in a fair way— explaining and documenting how judgments about merit are made, making even-handed decisions, and giving teachers recourse to object when they think these judgments are unreasonable—teachers’ support for these schools and their administrators will likely flag.


The schools of this study have grown and changed since the spring of 1997. There are new principals at Discovery Pilot School and Horizon Charter School. Prospect Hill Charter School teachers have begun to address concerns about their work lives and instituted a peer review program. New Futures Pilot School has adopted new approaches to governance and dispute resolution. Garrison and O’Keefe SBM teachers now work under new contract provisions that make their schools less vulnerable to seniority-based transfers and require more extensive teacher evaluations. All these schools are assessing and adapting their practices as they develop. This study was undertaken not to judge the schools, but to understand the various policies and practices that shape them.20 Such understanding can inform future ventures and make it more likely that they will succeed. What, then, have we learned?

Although many teachers in this study sought to work in charter and pilot schools because those schools were autonomous and not rulebound, teachers’ experiences often led them to conclude that unbounded schools were not the answer, for schools that are free from the external regulation of school districts and unions do not necessarily extend that autonomy to their teachers. Charter school policy in MA has moved external control from the local district office and the union to the board and principal of the school. This arrangement provides teachers no guarantee about the character of their workplace, which, depending on how it is managed, might be fair and supportive or arbitrary and unresponsive.

The charter and pilot school teachers interviewed for this study had chosen their schools and were committed to doing their best there. However, for more than a few of them, stress and exhaustion, brushes with arbitrary treatment, doubts about administrators’ judgment, and worries about becoming expendable workers in an oppressive environment tempered their enthusiasm for school autonomy. These teachers 38.were not seeking iron-clad work rules, but sensible guidelines and reasonable parameters that would free them to work as professionals. As one teacher at Prospect Hill said of charter schools, “There wasn’t any bureaucracy set up at the beginning and, you know, sometimes bureaucracy has its charms.”21

Modest work rules are not only advantageous for teachers; they introduce structure into an otherwise unbounded organization by providing clarity about roles and responsibilities, channels for communication, and guides for orderly practices. Joseph Shedd and Samuel Bacharach (199l) argue that public education requires “more discretion and more control, more flexibility and more direction, more room for professional judgment and more ways of ensuring accountability” (p. xii). School reform is a both-and, not an either-or, enterprise. Realistic work expectations protect teachers from burnout, thus ensuring that they will stay with the school and invest in its future. When a faculty includes a mix of highly skilled veterans working closely with novices who, as one Prospect Hill Charter School teacher said, are “really motivated and give it their all,” a school has a rich reservoir of wisdom and enthusiasm on which to draw. Explicit governance procedures encourage teachers to invest in the school’s development and ensure that good ideas get regular attention and do not depend on “who you know.” Established processes by which teachers can raise complaints permit the school to identify and solve problems before those problems distract the staff and undermine instruction. Reasonable job protections that provide basic due process in re-employment decisions guard against arbitrary treatment and establish a calm order within the school. While it is clear that such structures do not necessarily lead to better instruction (Elmore, Peterson, & McCarthey, 1996), they can enable teachers and administrators to attend to matters of teaching and learning more fully.

Implications for policy: From the teacher’s viewpoint, each policy model represented here had both advantages and disadvantages. The SBM schools had reasonable work expectations, established procedures for decision-making, means for raising and resolving complaints, as well as guarantees of continued employment and predictable pay for those whose work was satisfactory. However, SBM schools in Boston were still significantly constrained by district and union restrictions about a wide range of matters from selecting textbooks to allocating funds. Most importantly, they could not deliberately assemble a like-minded staff or quickly dismiss teachers who failed to perform well and, as a result, could not sufficiently respond to the needs of students and their communities.

By contrast, MA charter schools had the advantage of readily achieving focus and commitment among staff by hiring teachers without constraint and firing those who did not perform well. But teachers working in these charter schools could not be assured that the expectations for their work would be reasonable, that they would have a channel for voicing complaints, or that the criteria for assessing their performance or awarding pay would be explicit or fair. In some cases, the uncertainty distracted teachers, fueled suspicion, and undermined loyalty

Boston’s pilot schools, the hybrid model of in-district charters, offered teachers the advantages of joining a deliberately assembled staff who worked unencumbered by excessive district regulations. These teachers also enjoyed job security in the district as well as predictable pay and benefits. But pilot schools did not necessarily set boundaries on work expectations, provide opportunities for participating in the school’s governance, or establish means for raising and resolving


These findings suggest that, of the school types studied, pilot schools (and comparable in-district charters elsewhere) have the most promise for attracting and retaining strong teaching faculties. Because the pilot school’s staffing budget is allocated in positions rather than dollars, there is no incentive for these schools to seize upon the cheap labor of inexperienced teachers. Rather, they can choose, develop, and selectively maintain an able staff that is committed to achieving the school’s mission, while also providing the employment assurances that experienced professionals seek. Creating these in-district charters is one approach to ensuring that schools are flexible and responsive to their clients while remaining attractive work sites for committed teachers.

An alternative strategy would be to further de-regulate all of Boston’s public schools so that the principles of SBM finally can be realized. In Boston, as in most urban districts, it is difficult to assess the potential of SBM since it has never been fully implemented.22 While recent changes in Boston’s contract language increase the schools’ power in the techer-selection process, the task of assembling a like-minded faculty is still slow and taxing. However, if schools were given far more authority, they would have the discretion they need from the start to staff and manage their schools well. This approach would require severely pruning both the regulations imposed by the district and the protections guaranteed by the union so that schools eventually could manage most of their affairs while the district would provide support services, report on schools’ success, and ensure equity.

In United Mind Workers, Charles Kerchner, Julia Koppich, and Joseph Weeres (1997) propose one approach to streamlining collective bargaining agreements and, thus, deregulating schools. They suggest combining detailed school-based compacts, which “include statements of principles, an annual plan of operation, guidelines for school operations, and procedures for making decisions about matters such as time, staff, and resource allocation” (p. 130) with a “slender central [collective bargaining] agreement” (p.. 104), which sets forth broad policies about such things as wages and due process, and would be subject to modification by the school site. This proposal has promise for districts such as Boston that might, over time, extend the in-district charter option to many or all schools.

One of the biggest challenges in widely expanding either the in-district charter or fully-implemented SBM model is the issue of job security. Although teachers may want assurances of continued employment, they cannot expect lifelong guarantees in a system that empowers schools to hire, evaluate, and dismiss staff. One approach would be to replace tenure with renewable term contracts.23 In making decisions for such term contracts, the process for performance review would necessarily be explicit, thorough, and fair; possibly teachers would assume the professional responsibility of peer review. A teacher seeking to transfer, either out of choice or necessity, would be informed of, and assured consideration for, openings in other schools. Presumably, however, teachers would encounter a careful selection process at any prospective school. Perhaps those teachers who failed to find new placements immediately would serve for a year as substitutes or aides, although the district could not be expected to employ unselected teachers over time.

Though limited in some ways by its small sample size and single-state focus, this study suggests that differences in policy do matter, and that, in order for deregulated schools to develop as healthy organizations with strong faculties, the relevant state and district policies must offer both autonomy to the schools and reasonable assurances of fair treatment and job security to the teachers.

Implications for Practice: The study also reveals that policy, alone, cannot adequately address all the factors that determine whether deregulated schools attract and retain high quality staff. Policy can set the context, but not the details of practice. Teachers at Garrison SBM School were more likely to work with colleagues who shared their philosophy about teaching than were their SBM counterparts at O’Keefe SBM School. Teachers at Prospect Hill Charter School were far more satisfied with their workplace than were their counterparts at Horizon Charter School. Similarly, teachers at New Futures Pilot School seemed more likely to stay with their school over time than did the teachers at Discovery Pilot School. In each case, the important difference in these teachers’ responses rested not in the policy, but in the principal’s leadership and the particular practices that these schools had adopted under that policy. The principal at Garrison SBM School approached recruitment and hiring more strategically and aggressively than did the SBM principal at O’Keefe. The principal at the small Prospect Hill Charter School welcomed teachers in designing the school while the principal at the large Horizon Charter School (and the corporation that stood behind that principal) essentially shut teachers out of that process. Teachers at New Futures Pilot School could leave the building after the school day ended, while teachers at Discovery Pilot School experienced pressure to stay longer and return on the weekends. Therefore, this study has lessons not only for policy makers, but for practitioners who decide how a school, functioning under a particular policy, will work day to day.

Three of the issues that emerged as being important to teachers—reasonable work expectations, opportunities for participation in school design and governance, and means for raising complaints and resolving disputes—all appear to be ones that are best addressed in response to the particular circumstances and needs of individual schools. The lesson from this study is not how these issues should be addressed, but that they must be addressed. School sponsors and administrators must provide sufficient structure without compromising a school’s ability to be light on its feet in responding to students’ needs.

Those who promote charter schools make a strong case about the hazards of excessive regulation, but this study suggests that unregulated schools also may have their costs. One teacher spoke of the need to “strike a balance” so that a school can “keep the flame going” while also providing teachers with a productive and supportive workplace. Responsibility for achieving this balance rests both with the policymakers, whose frameworks and regulations make such schools possible, and with the schools’ teachers and administrators who must collaborate in making those schools work for children day to day.


Principal’s Interview Guide 1. Briefly review your background in education.
2. What led you to become principal of this school? Was there a process of application and selection? If so, how was the decision made?
3. Were there particular elements of the model (SBM/pilot/charter) that interested you?
4. How is your school funded? Do you also rely on extra grants or volunteer services?
5. Please summarize the characteristics of this schools (number of students, faculty, specialists, aides, and non-teaching employees; number of classrooms, length of school day and school year; presence of special education students; racial/ethnic makeup of student body).
6. Does this school have a particular theme or philosophy?
7. How would you characterize the teachers in your school, in terms of experience, educational philosophy, and classroom practices? What are their norms and expectations for each other? What are your expectations for them?
8. How are teachers hired and assigned in your school?
9. Is there a process of teacher supervision? If so, please describe it. What do you do if a teacher’s work is unsatisfactory? Do you or others in the school recognize or reward effective teaching?
10. Do the teachers participate in professional development activities? If so, please describe them.
11. Does the school have a curriculum? Where does it come from or how is it developed? Is the curriculum tied to performance standards for students? Do the teachers use textbooks?
12. How is student performance assessed? What individuals or groups hold teachers or the school accountable for students’ performance? What happens if a teacher’s students or a teacher falls short of performance standards?
13. How are decisions made in this school about such matters as budget, hiring, assignments, or schedule? What role, if any, do teachers play in these decisions? 14. What meetings are held that involve teachers? Who plans them? Who runs them? What kinds of decisions are made at these meetings?
15. How do you go about getting supplies and equipment for your school? What role, if any, do teachers play in this process?
16. What role does the union or local teachers contract play in your school?
17. If teachers have a complaint about some decision or practice, how is it dealt with?Teacher’s Interview Guide
1. Briefly review your background in education (schools attended, degrees earned, licenses earned, years and places taught).
2. What led you to become a teacher in this school? Was there a process of application and selection? If so, how was the decision made? Were there particular elements of the model (SBM/pilot/charter) that interested you?
3. What is your salary? What benefits do you receive? How are these determined?
4. What is it like to work here as a teacher?
5. Does this school have a particular theme or philosophy? How is the theme or philosophy realized in practice?
6. Describe your current teaching assignment (grade, subject) and the teaching structure you work in (self-contained, open classroom, team, cluster, department).
7. Can you characterize the teachers in your school, in terms of experience, educational philosophy, and classroom practices? How would you describe the school’s norms and expectations about what a teacher should or should not do? Do you share those norms?
8. Do you have a role in hiring or assigning new colleagues?
9. Briefly describe the role of the principal in your school. Is it the principal who provides leadership in your school?
10. Is there a process of formal or informal teacher supervision here? If so, please describe it. What happens if a teacher’s work is unsatisfactory? Is effective teaching recognized or rewarded, formally or informally?
11. Do the teachers participate in other professional development activities? If so, please describe them.
12. Does the school have a curriculum? Where does it come from or how is it developed? Is the curriculum tied to performance standards for students? Does the curriculum determine what you teach? What kinds of books and materials do you use in your teaching?
13. How is student performance assessed? What individuals or groups hold you accountable for your students’ performance? What happens if a teacher’s students or all the teachers in a school fall short of performance standards?
14. How are decisions made in this school about such matters as budget, hiring, assignments, or schedule? What role, if any do teachers play in these decisions?
15. What meetings do you attend? Who plans them? Who runs them? What kinds of decisions are made at such meetings?
16. Beyond what you have described, are there activities in which you work regularly with other teachers?
17. Do you have a say or a role in getting supplies or equipment for your class?
18. What role does the local teachers union or contract ply in your school? (SBM and pilot schools only) If you or other teachers have a complain about some decision or practice, how is it dealt with?
19. Overall, do you think your work as a teacher is different in this school than it would be in a “regular” public school? Is this a good school for you to teach in? Do you intend to continue teaching here?

0 In her national survey of teachers’ working conditions in charter schools, Julia Koppich (1998) asked respondents why they chose to teach in a charter school. “More than three-fifths (61%) cite ‘the freedom to teach the way I want’ and another third (34%) point to freedom from school district rules and regulations” (p. 23).

1 Researchers and advocates often place states’ charter laws on a continuum ranging from “strong” to “weak.” The “strongest” laws are those that hold schools accountable for results while placing the fewest restrictions on who may apply for a school charter and how the school may operate (Bierlein & Mulholland, 1994; Finn, Vanourek, & Bierlein, 1997; Kolderie, 1995; Wohlstetter, Wenning, & Briggs, 1995). Bob Chase, President of the National Education Association, strongly criticizes the same laws that others call “strong,” labeling them “permissive” and “loosely drawn” (1996, p. 52). A National Study of Charter Schools: Second Year Report (RPP International, 1998) provides detailed comparisons of the states’ laws. The charter schools considered in this study were established under one of the “strongest” (or, in Chase’s terms, the most “permissive”) laws. By fall 1998, there were 32 charter schools in MA, established with state approval and run as independent entities.

2 In-district charter schools are generally more regulated than are charter schools created by “strong” charter laws (see note #2). Many of the states criticized for enacting “weak” charter laws authorize in-district charters. As with the laws governing charter schools, the regulatory framework for these hybrid schools varies. In addition to the pilot schools created in Boston and included in this study, the Massachusetts Department of Education has begun to sponsor Horace Mann Schools which must be approved by both the local union and school board, but afterwards are governed by their own independent boards.(Hendrie, 1998, p. 19) The district school board assumes responsibility for any debts incurred by a Horace Mann School. Teachers will be union members, but the charter may exempt the schools from contract provisions or school board regulations. Teachers may transfer from Horace Mann Schools to other schools in the district, if space is available. Horace Mann Schools are similar to Boston’s pilot schools.

4 The student population of the Boston Public Schools is 48.1% black, 24.6%Hispanic,17.5% white, 9.3% Asian, and 0.4% Native American. All schools included in this study are multi-racial. No more than 22% of the student body of any school is white.

4 In our interviews with principals, we briefly discussed topics such as budget, facilities, maintenance, support services, or oversight by the state. However, they were not the focus of this investigation. To have explored them fully would have required a different research design.

5 RPP International(1998) reports that 64.2% of charter schools nationally are start-up or “newly-created” schools (p. 78).

6 All schools have been given


7 SBM was piloted with seven schools in 1982 and opened to all schools in 1990, when 33 of 117 schools chose to become SBM schools. In 1993, all BPS schools were expected to adopt SBM and establish SSCs. Implementation of the policy varies from site to site (Landman, 1996).

8 According to the contract, these include: “priority and objective setting, development of an Annual Education Plan, design and scheduling of the instructional program and curriculum, budgeting and fundraising, purchasing and disbursement of funds, space utilization, hiring of new staff and in-transfer of staff from other schools in the system, staff assignments including teaching and nonteaching duties, selection and guidance of mentor teachers, parent-teacher relations and functions, solicitation and use of outside professionals and social service resources, setting reasonable dress codes for staff and students, and so on”(School Committee of the City of Boston & Boston Teachers Union, 1994-1997, 17-18) .

9 All information reported here depicts the schools as they were in the spring of 1997, when we collected data for this study.

10 The first charter schools opened in the fall of 1995. In 1996-97, when this study was conducted, there were 24 charter schools operating in MA, 5 of them in Boston.

11 The U.S. Department of Education reports that “more than 60% [of charter schools] enroll fewer than 200 students, and more than 15% enroll fewer than 50 students” (1997, chapter 3, p.1). Researchers at SRI International(1997) found that California charter schools had an average of 434 students, while non-charter schools had an average of 767 students. Notably, start-up schools were smaller on average (244 students) than conversion schools (620 students).

12 While the effects of teachers’ participation in decision-making on school quality are not fully understood, several studies conclude that such participation has indirect, positive effects on teaching and learning (Marks & Louis, 1997; White, 1992). Others conclude that reformers might better invest in direct efforts to increase students’ learning (Weiss, Cambone, & Wyeth, 1994) Judith Chapman’s research in Australia led her to conclude that teachers’ participation in decision-making provided them with “an increasing sense of mastery over the destiny of the school and of themselves in that school. Associated with the sense of mastery and control is the increasing sense of ‘one’s place’—one’s identification and affinity with the school and with fellow teachers and parents.”(Chapman, 1988; 1990, p. 231) Jean Madsen(1996) makes a similar argument.

13 This is consistent with findings from an earlier study of the effects of collective bargaining (Johnson, 1983)

14 The MA law on charter schools gives “individuals or groups” the right to bring some categories of complaints first to their school’s board of trustees and, lacking resolution at that level, to the state board of education (Massachusetts General Laws, Ch. 71, Section 2, paragraph jj.

) However, none of the respondents indicated that they knew of this provision.

15 “Loyalty is a key concept in the battle between exit and voice not only because, as a result of it, members may be locked into their organizations a little longer and thus use the voice option with greater determination and resourcefulness than would otherwise be the case.” (Hirschman, 1970, p. 83)

16 Wells(1999) found that start-up charter schools had “more autonomy to fire educators because none of the taechers in those schools had tenure or were members of the union” (p. 32).

17 There are notable differences in the teachers’ responses of this study and those from Koppich’s 1998 national survey of teachers in charter schools, where 76% of respondents said that principals evaluated them (p. 28). However, a close look at the relevant question in Koppich’s survey reveals that teachers were not asked whether, in fact, they were evaluated, but rather who evaluated them. The response choices included the principal, peers, or others. It seems likely that respondents were reporting about who was responsible for evaluating them. Prior research (Johnson, 1990) reveals that administrators’ obligations to evaluate teachers are often left unfulfilled.

18 In her survey of teachers in charter schools, Koppich (1998) found that 83% of the teachers working in for-profit schools said that they “no not feel secure in their jobs” (p. 29). Koppich alo found that the highest proportion of respondents reporting low morale (67%) worked in for-profit schools (p. 34).

19 Koppich (1998) found that responding teachers were generally not concerned about their levels of salary and benefits, although notably, a majority (54%) work under their local districts’ collective bargaining agreements (p. 35).

20 Ultimately, assessments of these schools must be based on their success in educating students. Unlike the California charter schools reviewed by Wells(1999), students in all Massachusetts schools are tested in English, math, and science at grades 4, 8, and 10. The first year of scores on this Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) reveal that the state’s charter schools did not fare better overall than regular public schools on these tests(Cohen, 1999). In this sample of six schools, one charter school (Prospect Hill) had the highest score, and the other charter school (Horizon, grade 8) had the lowest. These formal assessments come only three years after charter and pilot schools were established. Each charter school has committed itself to demonstrate success on a particular set of outcomes during the term of its charter. In most, test scores were to be only one criterion of success, although analysts and the public will likely focus closely on these scores since they make comparisons across schools possible.

21 Loveless and Jasin (1998) discuss the need for charter schools “to evolve from informal collections of close friends and fellow visionaries to formal educational institutions,” (p.17). Internally, the authors suggest, these schools must assume some bureaucratic features, while remaining independent of external regulations.

22 Wohlstetter, Smyer, and Morhman (1994) note: “Past research has shown that SBM is everywhere and nowhere (Wohlstetter & Odden, 1992):everywhere because school systems all over the country are involved in SBM(Clune & White, 1988; Malen et al., 1990) and nowhere because the extent of decision-making responsibility devolved to the school is limited(Clune & White, 1988; Malen & Ogawa, 1988; Wohlstetter & Buffett, 1992)”, p. 271.

23 In fact, recent education reform in Massachusetts has eliminated tenure for teachers, though the change in the law has done little to affect practice.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 102 Number 1, 2000, p. 85-124
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10353, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 10:28:32 AM

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About the Author
  • Susan Moore Johnson
    Harvard University Graduate School of Education
    Susan Moore Johnson, a former high school teacher and administrator, is the Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. Professor of Teaching and Learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The author of Teachers at Work (Basic Books, 1990) and Leading to Change: The Challenge of the New Superintendency (Jossey-Bass, 1996), she is currently studying the work and careers of the next generation of teachers.
  • Jonathan Landman
    Harvard University Graduate School of Education
    E-mail Author
    Jonathan Landman, a former history teacher, is an advanced doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His current research explores the impact of standards-led reforms on the practices of history departments and their teachers.
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