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Policy Images of Teachers: How Influential Actors Construct Images of Teachers

by Katrina E. Bulkley & Jessica J. Gottlieb - 2017

Background/Context: Prior research demonstrates that the policy images of critical target populations, which reflect the ways in which they are socially constructed in the political sphere, have important implications for policy prescriptions and design (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2001; Jansen, 2001; Schneider & Ingram, 1993). In examining the policy images of teachers that have emerged in the 10 years since the passage of No Child Left Behind, we build on Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (2006) work on the policy images of teachers and teaching explicit or implicit in NCLB.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Our goal in this paper is to use the idea of policy images to aid efforts to tease out the subtle distinctions in how people talk and write about specific constructions of teachers and the links between those distinctions and large-scale policy designs.

Population/Participants/Subjects: We conducted a survey of experts on national educational politics and policy with the intention of eliciting names of influential individuals and organizations. We then gathered qualitative data through interviews and documents for the 23 organizations and individuals identified by the survey as perceived as influential in educational policy discussions.

Research Design: Qualitative study.

Findings/Results: Our analysis showed that the various policy images presented by our respondents and organizations could be broadly classified into three archetypal policy images: “Profession of Teaching Struggling Against Difficult Circumstances” (Teachers as Professionals); “Individual Great Teachers can Overcome All Obstacles” (Great Teachers); and “Dysfunctional Structures of Teaching Trump Teacher Quality” (Systemic Dysfunction). Our analysis demonstrates the presence of three notable patterns around teacher policy images, but also the subtleties both within and across these archetypal images.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Taken together, the three archetypes identified in our analysis enable us to better understand the common ground and differences between the images presented by influential actors, as well as the accompanying policy prescriptions and problem definitions. Our work also provides a model for better understanding the role of policy images in the policy landscape and issues of policy design.


For more than a decade, public discourse has suggested a highly polarized debate between educational reformers and traditionalists around educational policy. Educational reformers are identified with policies such as charter schools, test-based accountability, the reform or elimination of teacher tenure, and challenges to university-based educator preparation, while “traditionalists” ) resist such changes and focus on improving adequacy and equity in school funding, the professionalization of teaching, and the empowerment of educators ; Strauss, 2012).

In the flurry of this debate over educational improvement, few actors are as directly implicated—as both heroes and villains—as public school teachers. Sometimes, teachers are portrayed as working tirelessly and selflessly on the behalf of children, particularly those who are disadvantaged. Other presentations suggest that teachers are largely beneficiaries of outsized union power and outdated policies ). However, despite rhetoric that suggests two distinct “camps,” little research examines how those with influence in educational policy, especially those individuals and organizations that play a leading role in both the discourse and substance of education reform efforts, view teachers, or how those views shape policy goals.

The purpose of this study is to examine how influential actors think about teachers, the teaching profession, and groups associated with teachers through implicit “policy images,” and how those images are reflected in policy prescriptions and designs (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2001; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2006; Jansen, 2001; Schneider & Ingram, 1993). This study also demonstrates how prior research on social constructions in policy can assist in analyzing and explaining policy images, as well as the implications of those images in policy design. These images of teachers and associated groupings such as unions and the overall profession are social constructions in which various traits are assigned to teachers, or subgroups of teachers, and where this assignment of traits is contested (Schneider & Ingram, 1993). The idea of social constructions emphasizes that knowledge does not exist, but rather is developed and affirmed through ongoing social interactions within social systems ). Thus, the truth about specific constructions of teachers is not a set of facts to be found, but a set of common understandings within a context, and thus subject to the potential for multiple understandings.

In this study, we expand upon and update Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (2006) work on the policy images of teachers and teaching explicit or implicit in No Child Left Behind (No Child Left Behind [NCLB], 2003). Cochran-Smith and Lytle draw on public documents to argue that NCLB conveys a narrow and reductionist image of teachers and teaching. They find that the policy image of teachers in NCLB places all responsibility for improving student learning on the shoulders of teachers, while framing the act of teaching as one of transmission rather than coconstruction of knowledge and emphasizing subject matter knowledge at the expense of pedagogical knowledge and skills.

This study shares Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (2006) focus on policy images of teachers and teaching and the social constructions embedded in policy designs. However, in the years since their work, the education policy landscape has become increasingly fragmented and characterized by a wide range of actors and organizations who are active in education policy ). We sought to capture this diversity of actors by empirically identifying influential actors and organizations before analyzing the policy images constructed by those actors. While Cochran-Smith and Lytle focused on the policy image offered by NCLB and present an alternative image, we sought to describe the set of images found among influential actors and consider the implications of those images for a wide ranges of policies such as teacher evaluation, teacher education, and teacher licensure requirements.

Research on social construction in policy arenas demonstrates that social constructions have important ties to the nature of the policies advocated ). Our goal in this paper is to use the idea of policy images to aid efforts to tease out the subtle distinctions in how people talk and write about specific constructions of teachers and the links between those distinctions and large-scale policy designs. For example, policy images might shape the design of teacher evaluation policies, particularly as these policy images incorporate ideas of teacher motivation and the role of teachers in raising student achievement. As noted by Stone ), those involved in policy debates, “fight with ideas as well as about them” (p. 36, emphasis in original).

This paper begins with an overview of literature on social construction of policy, policy images, and the use of causal narratives in policy design. Building on this framing, we draw on interview and documentary data from 23 individuals and organizations determined by a survey of experts to be “influential” in national educational policy debates. Our analysis identifies three archetypal policy images of distinct constructions of teachers: “Profession of Teaching Struggling Against Difficult Circumstances,” “Individual Great Teachers can Overcome All Obstacles,” and “Dysfunctional Structures of Teaching Trump Teacher Quality.” We also discuss the complexity within these images, demonstrating how the policy landscape incorporates greater variation than that suggested by rhetoric that conveys dichotomous perspectives on educational reform. We conclude by examining how the substance of our findings can inform discussions of teachers in policy contexts and how the explicit analysis of policy images and social constructions can contribute to the analysis of policy more broadly.


In order to examine the role of policy images of teachers in policy debates, we build on some of the conceptualizations that help us in understanding the role of ideas and beliefs in the design of policy. We start from the premise that debates in the policy sphere involving policy makers and others with influence on policy decisions require participants working in a common policy context to actively construct the problems and solutions they advocate, as well as to define, create, or highlight images of the groups that are implicated in those problems and solutions. These ongoing processes of social construction are at the foundation of issues of policy design; below, we offer a more detailed discussion of the theoretical work in this area as it provides the foundation of our analysis (Ingram & Schneider, 2005; Schneider & Ingram, 1990, 1993). Our focus on social constructions tied to teachers includes the ways in which policy problems implicating teachers are defined, how teachers themselves are constructed as target populations (individually and as groups), and the nature of the policy changes advocated, such as ideas about how policymakers can influence “good” teaching and expand the availability of “good” teachers.


An examination of the role of ideas in policymaking requires consideration of ways in which such ideas shape or define the problems for which policies are intended to be a solution, as well as the ways in which available solutions can play a role in shaping understanding of the problems they are designed to address ; Kingdon, 1995). Kingdon ) argues that, while there are many conditions in the world with which some might be dissatisfied, such conditions only become policy problems when policymakers believe that policy has the potential to lead to improvement in those underlying conditions. Thus, one role for ideas in the policy sphere involves debate over whether a condition is a problem, while another involves defining the core elements of the problem that are amenable to policy solutions; the definition of a problem is both frequently contested and socially constructed. Conflict over the source of problems and their accompanying solutions is an ongoing, central part of policy development ; Rochefort & Cobb, 1994).

Examinations of problem-definitions are of particular importance, argues Stone ), because policy debate is often dominated by the notion that to solve a problem, one must find its root cause or causes. Implicit in such an argument is the idea that treating symptoms of policy problems is not enough. In order to make an argument for a particular explanation of a problem’s root causes, those involved in policy debates construct causal stories ). Such stories explain the causes of policy problems, through which both blame and responsibility are assigned to sets of people ).

Scholars have argued that these stories, or narratives about the reasons change is needed, form a foundation on which policy rests ; Stone, 2012). Causal stories or narratives not only explicate proposed causes or blame, they also reveal the sets of beliefs, assumptions and ideas that provide the basis for particular design decisions, which are an important aspect of understanding policy design. These stories rest on particular understandings of what is desired and explanations for why the desired state has not been achieved.

Stone (1989) describes different types of causal stories, including simple stories that may be more easily tied to a clear policy solution, as well as more complex stories that involve multiple institutions and actors. More complex stories are sometimes used by actors seeking to shift blame for problematic conditions towards multiple explanations and away from themselves ).

Of particular importance to our analysis is the idea that stories can cast core actors in positive, negative, or neutral language, and that the way in which actors are cast has implications for the nature of the policy response to the policy problem under consideration ). Indeed, problem-definitions and causal narratives connected with those definitions often include assumptions about those most directly connected to a problem (Fischer, 2003; Rochefort & Cobb, 1994; Stone, 2012). Our analysis of the social constructions around teachers aims to better understand the role teachers play in these broader causal stories about the problems in public education.


Critical to the narrative that surrounds a particular policy issue is how those whose behavior is targeted for change through a policy—the policy’s target population—are themselves socially constructed ). Such target populations are generally central actors in the causal narratives described above. As Schneider and Ingram ), drawing on Edelman ), describe in their seminal work on the topic:

The social construction of target populations refers to the cultural characterizations or popular images of the persons or groups whose behavior and well-being are affected by public policy. These characterizations are normative and evaluative, portraying groups in positive or negative terms through symbolic language, metaphors, and stories. (p. 334)

Research that builds on this work highlights the influence that social constructions have on policy makers, the policy agenda, and policy design and emphasizes the independent role of social constructions (as opposed to traditional ideas of power) in shaping policy ). Schneider and Ingram (1993) defined social construction of target populations as “cultural characterizations” or “popular images” (p. 334), which means actors inside and outside of formal policymaking channels can affect how social constructions of target populations develop and change. This is particularly important to consider in light of the fragmentation in education policy in the 10 years since NCLB and the increasing ways in which education policies are designed and promoted by those who are not elected officials or in traditional policymaker roles ).

The importance of understanding social constructions of target populations is multifaceted, but at its core, social constructions point to ways in which the political process is reproducing or challenging existing values and understandings ). For our work, examining how teachers, the focus of many recent education policies, are socially constructed as a target population plays a critical role in both understanding the causal stories that are used to define and explain problems in public education and the implications of these stories for proposed policy changes. Is the target population individual teachers, specific subgroups of teachers (i.e., union members, teachers in traditional public schools, teachers in urban schools), teachers operating within specific structures (such as unions, tenure and pay rules, etc.), or the profession as a whole?

Specific constructions of target populations, according to Schneider and Ingram ), vary along two core dimensions: the normative evaluation (positive or negative) of that target population among the public, broadly speaking, and the level of power that the population wields within the public sphere. This yields four categories of target populations: Advantaged, those populations that have power and are perceived positively; Contenders, who “have substantial political resources but are negatively regarded as relatively selfish, untrustworthy, and morally suspect” (Ingram et al. 2007, p. 102); Dependents, who are constructed positively yet have little power; and Deviants, who have neither power nor a sympathetic viewing in the policy realm.

Expanding on the broad premise of a relationship between the construction of a target population and policy design, Schneider and Ingram (1993) focus specifically on the idea that where a target populations falls within this typology has implications for the types of policy instruments used in seeking to change the behavior of the target population. Policy instruments are defined as the “mechanisms that translate substantive policy goals . . . into concrete actions” ). Policymakers will seek to influence the behavior of target populations with more desirable constructions, Schneider and Ingram contend, through benefits (such as inducements and capacity-building), while those less favored may experience more burdensome policies such as punitive mandates. This link with policy instruments ties to the inherently contentious nature of the social constructions of target populations. Thus, target populations that are powerful can still be negatively constructed and thus have policy designed to influence their behavior that is more punitive, while less powerful but positively constructed target populations may be treated more favorably in policy design. Are the policy instruments being used to alter teachers’ behavior tied to positive constructions (i.e., incentives or opportunities to learn through capacity building) or negative constructions (i.e., mandates)?1


For our analysis, we think about the kinds of social constructions described above, such as problem definitions, root causes, and target populations, as reflected in competing policy images of varied constructions of target populations that involve teachers. According to Jansen ), “Every education policy document contains powerful images of the idealised teacher. Whether explicit or implied, whether conscious or unconscious, policymakers hold preferred and cherished images about the end-user of an education policy i.e., about the teacher” (p. 242). In their article examining policy images of teachers in the context of NCLB, Cochran-Smith and Lytle ) define images as “central common conceptions that are symbolic of basic attitudes and orientations to teaching and learning” (p. 670).

The relationship between policy images, social constructions of target populations, and policy design are complex and interactive, as reflected in Figure 1, and there is not a clear beginning or end for analysis. In our conceptualization, the social constructions of socially defined target populations, interacting with broader policy discourses, are at the heart of competing policy images of teachers and sub-groups of teachers. These images are then used in developing/advocating for distinct policy designs, which ultimately may shape changes in social constructions of target populations. Our analysis looks most closely at how social constructions of target populations are related to policy design, and how influence in this relationship is bidirectional

Figure 1. Connecting Social Construction of Teachers, Policy Images, and Policy Design


Just as social constructions of target populations are often contested, policy images reflect debates in the public sphere around the definition of policy problems and the causal stories linked to those problem-definitions (Rochefort & Cobb, 1994; Stone, 2012). Furthermore, as described in Schneider and Ingram’s early work, and elaborated upon in later pieces, the target populations are not objective groups, but are socially constructed themselves. Thus, broad categories are sometimes divided in the policy sphere into distinct populations with varying normative beliefs and assumptions tied to each.

Building on this conceptual framing, we ask three central research questions:

How are target populations involving teachers socially constructed by those with influence in educational policy?

What are the policy images of teachers and subgroups of teachers expressed by those with influence?

How do the policy prescriptions offered by those with influence reflect these target populations, policy images, and the positive/negative social constructions implicit within them?


In this paper, we seek to both ground our analysis of teacher policy images within the data as well as to examine them in the context of some broad components. In particular, we build on the aspects of policy images discussed by Cochran-Smith and Lytle in their 2006 analysis of images in the context of No Child Left Behind. Through combining their categories with a preliminary review of our own data, we identified two core components of teacher policy images: What makes a quality teacher? How do we get quality teachers?

Our analysis of policy discourse around what makes a quality teacher includes the ways in which these discussions focus on what teachers produce (outputs) as well as what they do in and out of the classroom. For discussions of quality teachers, questions arise as to whether policy discussions, if they make reference to the qualities of good teaching at all, focus on specific pedagogical approaches such as a transmission or constructivist-oriented approach ). Finally, policy images of quality teachers may vary in terms of the role that teachers are viewed as playing in overall improvements in student learning. For example, does a policy image suggest that quality teachers are the answer to low student learning, or a piece of a broader set of solutions? Inclusion of this component of teacher policy image ties in with Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s ) analysis of NCLB, which found that the law created the expectation that teachers were capable of “fixing everything that’s wrong with public schools” (p. 688).

Considerable attention has been paid to the question of how to get good teachers, and subcomponents of this include beliefs among those involved in policy discussions about: the characteristics of those who go into the teaching profession; the kinds of teacher preparation that lead to strong teachers; the nature of ongoing learning opportunities for practicing teachers seen as important for improved teaching; as well as the factors that motivate quality teaching (including the importance of intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivators) (Darling-Hammond, 1996; Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001; Guarino, Santibanez, & Daley, 2006).


This qualitative analysis focuses on the descriptions of teachers, teaching, and efforts to improve teaching by those identified as having influence in the public sphere ). Research examining social constructions can be done at multiple levels of analysis, including policy makers, the media, those involved in the implementation of policy, or the general public ). We chose to focus on those perceived as influential within the national education policy conversation so that we could both broadly consider the range of constructions while still highlighting those that appear most likely to shape actual decision-making at the national level.

We used distinct data collection and analysis strategies for first identifying those perceived as having influence within educational policy discussions, and then for better understanding the beliefs and perspectives of those identified.


In order to identify those with influence, we sought a more empirical method than traditional strategies such as snowball sampling. Specifically, we conducted a survey of experts on national educational politics and policy designed to elicit a list of names of influential individuals and organizations. Identifying experts is an inherently inexact science, and developing the database for the survey involved multiple sources of data. Building on the work of Swanson and Barlage ), we developed a database of experts in educational policy and politics across multiple sectors including media, think-tanks, advocacy organizations, professional organizations, academia, foundations, and policymaking. We added an additional sector to this list—educational service providers—which we defined as representatives of private organizations (nonprofit or for-profit) that provide educational services or materials for pay.

Our primary source of expert identification was through individuals’ inclusion in the Education Writers Association database of experts on topics with broad implications for national policy discussions, including accountability, federal policy, race and diversity, school reform, and teacher quality. This database yielded substantial numbers of individuals in some of the sectors noted above, but not in others; in particular, there were few names from those working in foundations and within the federal government. Thus, to supplement this list, we reached out to Grantmakers in Education, which forwarded the survey request to its members. We also contacted leading scholars of the politics of education to help identify appropriate respondents from within the federal government.

The survey, conducted online, was sent to the 728 individuals thus identified in May 2011; 135 people provided usable responses. This response rate of 18.5% is consistent with the low response rates often found when conducting expert surveys, as experts are generally less likely to respond to surveys ). Of the respondents, 98 self-identified based on sector; for the most part, the percentage of participants by sector between those surveyed and those who responded were similar. The most notable difference was among members of the media—26% of the sample were journalists, while only 11% of respondents identified as members of the media.

Following Swanson and Barlage ), respondents were asked to provide open-ended responses listing five individuals and five organizations that had “been the most influential in shaping K-12 educational policy during the past 10 years,” as well as five individuals and five organizations that “have become increasingly influential in shaping K-12 educational policy during the past 10 years.” For example, the first survey question was:

In the spaces below, list the five (5) PEOPLE that you believe have been the most influential in shaping K–12 education policy during the past ten years. For each nominee, please provide that person's full name, organizational affiliation, and other identifying information as applicable.2

The use of open-ended responses, rather than a list from which respondents could choose, was designed to elicit the broadest range of influential individuals and organizations. Individuals and organizations that were identified by 10 or more survey respondents in either category were used to generate a list for the second phase of this study. Table 1 lists the 23 individuals and organizations that were named by 10 or more respondents. The list created through this process includes a substantial number of individual and organizations tied to advocacy organizations, and a relatively small number of formal policy makers (such as legislators and governmental actors). While our empirical strategy led us to this set of actors, the nature of the sample is a limitation of the study in terms of addressing the perspectives of those most closely tied to policy making.

Table 1. Organizations and Individuals Identified in Survey as Having High or Increasing Influence

Linked Organization and Individuals*

**American Enterprise Institute (AEI)

Rick Hess

**American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

Randi Weingarten

**The Education Trust

Kati Haycock

**Thomas B. Fordham Institute

Chester Finn

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Bill Gates

**US Department of Education (USDOE)

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Unlinked Organizations and Individuals


President Barack Obama

**Broad Foundation

Governor Jeb Bush

**Center for American Progress (CAP)

Linda Darling-Hammond

**Center on Education Policy (CEP)

Joel Klein

**Council of Chief State School Officers

Representative George Miller


Diane Ravitch

National Education Association (NEA)

Michelle Rhee

**National Governors Association (NGA)


The New Teacher Project (TNTP)


**Teach for America (TFA)


* An organization and affiliated individual are both included only when each independently received 10 or more nominations as highly and/or increasingly influential.

** Indicates that an interview was conducted with a representative of this organization; if an individual affiliated with that organization is also identified, that individual may or may not have been the person interviewed.

Note: Another version of this table is found in .

While the low response rate is common for surveys of experts, we have still chosen to use the data cautiously; thus, we do not report the number of respondents who name specific individuals or organizations or “rank” individuals or organizations based on the number of times each was named. However, we are confident that the survey served its primary purpose, which was to empirically identify a range of actors that are broadly viewed as having influence in national education policy conversations.


Data Collection

Based on the 23 entities identified through the survey of experts, we contacted and invited each individual and a representative of each organization to participate in an interview. Organizational representatives were included who were sufficiently highly placed in the organizations as to reasonably represent the perspectives of their organizations. In total, 12 interviews tied to 14 individuals and organizations were conducted using a single semistructured interview protocol ). Table 1 provides details on the organizations of those interviewed; for purposes of protecting confidentiality, individuals interviewed are not identified.

The interview protocol examined: broad ideas about policy problems, goals, and design; the meaning of core values in education including equity and quality; as well as more specific discussions about the reauthorization of NCLB. The inclusion of questions about NCLB was used as a means to focus the conversation on a major and salient policy issue that touched on the overall purpose of the study. While Race to the Top (RttT) could have also been used to focus the interviews, we believed that NCLB provided the richest specific policy context for discussions of teachers in policy. Interviews ranged from 45 to 75 minutes, and all interviews were recorded and transcribed.

Additionally, we collected documents for each organization and individual, including Congressional testimony, materials from relevant websites, blogs, articles, and policy statements. For individuals, we sought documents that could be directly tied to them (i.e., pieces they had written and congressional testimony or speeches they had given). For organizations, we sought to identify documents that reflected policy positions (as opposed to more general policy reports); websites, in particular, proved valuable for this purpose. In total, 55 documents were included in the data. While we incorporated documents for all identified influentials, we particularly focused on gathering and analyzing multiple documents and types of documents for those individuals and organizations with whom we did not conduct interviews. The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) proved a challenging organization, given the breadth of its work. For this case, we relied on an extensive interview with a very high level USDOE employee and analysis of speeches given by Secretary Arne Duncan (who was also identified independently as an influential actor through the survey).

Data Analysis

Our approach to data analysis began with coding, profile development, and matrix construction, and then shifted to an analysis tied to the three archetypal policy images identified through the initial phases of analysis. The interview data and documents were initially coded based on core categories from the literature review, including how influentials defined the core target population tied to teachers, how they described problem-definitions that connected to teachers, components of teacher images, and policy prescriptions. Based on these data, we created detailed profiles for how each organization and/or individual constructed their images of teachers as well as the causal narratives built around these images.

Following profile development, we constructed matrices that enabled us to compare the problem definitions, policy images and causal narratives across the organizations and individual actors, looking for patterns of commonalities and key differences ). We had originally anticipated a continuum, with archetypal policy images at each end. However, our analysis pointed to a more complex set of images, and our data ultimately led us to three distinct archetypal images of teachers (see below). We conceived of these archetypal images, which incorporated both how the core target population involving teachers was defined and critical ideas about the role of teachers in educational change, as the vertices of a triangle. In this triangle, the sides of the triangle show commonalities between the different archetypes (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Teacher Policy Image Archetypes


Each of the authors individually used the organizational and individual profiles to locate each organization or individual on the triangle, in order to graphically represent the differences between the policy images of teachers conveyed by each organization or individual. We then compared and discussed our placements, returning to the data as needed in order to reconcile differences. We found a high level of agreement between our triangles, with differing placements a matter of small shifts within a general location; there were no cases in which the two authors had placed individuals or organizations in clearly distinct parts of the triangle. As shown in Figure 2, two influential actors were not placed on the triangle: The National Governors’ Association was not placed because both authors concluded that it did not have a clear and distinct perspective on the set of issues of concern to this study, while Florida Governor Jeb Bush was not placed because the data we were able to gather related to his positions were insufficient to give us confidence in locating him on the figure.


Our analysis showed that the various policy images presented by our respondents and organizations could be broadly classified into three archetypal policy images: “Profession of Teaching Struggling Against Difficult Circumstances” (Teachers as Professionals); “Individual Great Teachers can Overcome All Obstacles” (Great Teachers); and “Dysfunctional Structures of Teaching Trump Teacher Quality” (Systemic Dysfunction). Together, these three archetypes enable us to better understand the common ground and differences between the images presented by our respondents. After describing each archetype, we discuss two actors—the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Education Trust—that do not clearly align with a single archetype in order to demonstrate the subtleties found within our data.


Profession of Teaching Struggling Against Difficult Circumstances

The most positive of the images focused on the profession of teaching in public schools as a whole as the critical target population for policy. This archetype portrays teaching as profession of committed educators who work hard to educate children in the context of difficult circumstances both within public education as well as in the broader context, such as poverty and unequal resources. In this archetypal image, critical problems in public education include a lack of support for teaching as a profession, limited engagement of teachers in decision-making, and a failure to understand challenges facing the education system as nested within broader social problems. Among those whose data aligned them most clearly with this image were the teachers unions (both AFT and NEA), Linda Darling-Hammond, and Diane Ravitch.

Respondents whose ideas fell more closely to this archetype, in focusing on the teaching profession as a whole, emphasized the kinds of supports and changes needing to support quality teaching throughout all public schools, including traditional neighborhood public schools, charter schools, and other forms of public schooling. However, some raised particular concerns about the needs of teachers and schools that educate traditionally underserved populations.

In this image, quality teachers are those who have received substantial training, with a stronger focus on teacher knowledge, strong pedagogy, and experience than found in the other two archetypes. For example, the National Education Association (NEA) critiques NCLB’s teacher quality mandate for being, “overly focused on "content" knowledge . . . and overlook[ing] the importance of knowing how to teach, of presenting information effectively and connecting with an increasingly diverse student population. Effective teachers have both content knowledge and instructional skills" ). This image also emphasizes the long-term commitment to teaching as a profession and continuous learning ).

Sustained support and resources for teacher learning and salaries, in addition to robust preparation, is also included in this image. Darling-Hammond captured this perspective in her comparisons between the Unites States and other countries with strong educational systems, arguing that “high-achieving nations intensively support a better-prepared teaching force—funding competitive salaries and high-quality teacher education, mentoring, and ongoing professional development for all teachers, at government expense” ). Given the focus on experience as one characteristic of quality teachers, attention is also given to efforts to improve teacher retention.

What is clearly resisted by those who fall most closely to this image is the idea that student test-scores are an appropriate or accurate measure of teacher quality. For example, testifying at a congressional hearing in 2007, Reg Weaver, then-President of the National Education Association, argued that, “If the only measures we really value are test scores, rather than some of the other indicators of a rich and challenging educational experience and set of supports provided to students, then we will have missed the mark again” (Weaver, 2007).

Accordingly, teacher motivation is tied to professional treatment, not test scores and evaluations. In an interview with a representative of the AFT, she argued that motivation grows:

When teachers have meaningful voice and participate in decision-making—that models a true profession. You can look at other typical professions—medicine, law—and when there is active participation in decision-making and collaborative work to find solutions, then the blame game stops and there is a willingness, that's a natural outcome, a willingness of teachers to assume responsibility for outcomes and to be accountable for outcomes, because then there's shared decision-making, shared responsibility, and shared accountability. (Weaver, 2007)

One of the clearest distinctions between this position and the Great Teachers archetype (see below) centers on the role of teachers in student learning. Those closest to the Teachers as Professionals corner placed considerable emphasis on the value of quality teachers. However, they tended to combine that focus with discussions of broader conditions both within and outside of schools, particularly in terms of student context. For example, in critiquing the perspective of those who align with the Great Teachers archetype, Diane Ravitch ) argued that there was little evidence to support what she calls the “effective teacher” strategy, which suggests that the achievement gap could be closed, “with little or no attention to poverty, housing, unemployment, health needs, or other social and economic problems” (p. 182). Similarly, in describing places with “strong and equitable education systems,” Linda Darling-Hammond argues that such contexts provide “Secure housing, food, and health care, so that children come to school ready to learn each day” ). Overall, those arguing from this perspective do not suggest that the current system and teacher workforce are ideal, but rather that addressing the broader context is critical for improvements. An AFT representative argued in an interview that, “the focus [in policy debates] has been far too excessive on teachers being the focal point of accountability, rather than looking at the system within which the education is occurring" (Interviewee #2, personal communication, November 29, 2011).

In this archetype, unions are not seen as a generally problematic component of the system, and for some are seen as critical for supporting teaching as a skilled profession. For example, Diane Ravitch ) contends that:

No one, to my knowledge, has demonstrated a clear, indisputable correlation between teacher unionism and academic achievement, either negative or positive. The Southern states, where teachers’ unions have historically been weak or nonexistent, have always had the poorest student performance on national examinations. Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance, has long had strong teacher unions. The difference in performance is probably due to economics, not to unionization. (p. 175)

The policy prescriptions implicated by this archetype include funding for retention and mentoring programs, greater teacher voice, improved salaries, and broader policies to address issues such as poverty. Changes in teacher evaluations that use student test scores as a measure of teacher quality are seen as punitive policies that will not lead to improved schooling and that question the professionalism of teachers. Instead, AFT President Randi Weingarten ) discussed her desire for, “fair, transparent and expedient process to evaluate teachers so that those who need help receive it, and those who don’t improve after being provided with help can be counseled out of the profession.” The webpage for the Network for Public Education’s Agenda (a group whose founders include Diane Ravitch), echoes this perspective and states that, “We support assessments that are used to support children and teachers, not to punish or stigmatize them or to hand out monetary rewards” ). Overall, the Teachers as Professionals archetype paints a positive policy image of the existing teaching profession while presenting areas for continued improvement.

Individual Great Teachers Can Overcome All Obstacles

A second archetypal image that emerged from our data focused largely on the potential impact of individual teachers, constructing a target population that is largely divorced from core teachers’ organizations such as unions. In this archetype, excellent teachers can overcome all challenges, both within and outside of the educational system (including issues of poverty, segregation, etc.), to raise student achievement. Teachers are positioned as the most important in-school factor contributing to student success. In this image, the quality of the teacher workforce is presented as the primary lever for raising student achievement, but is also presented as falling short of what is needed to provide an excellent education to all students. Respondents who were most clearly linked with this image included The New Teacher Project, Teach for America, and Joel Klein.

This archetypal image argues that teachers have tremendous power to influence student achievement. This reliance on teachers distinguishes this archetype from either of the other two, which each, in distinct ways, place more emphasis on systemic issues. Because teacher quality is seen as so critical, respondents whose ideas aligned with this image emphasized three interconnected problem-definitions: Great people are not going into teaching, great teachers are not being recognized and rewarded, and great teachers are not equitably distributed across schools. For example, an interviewee from Teach for America argued that, “It’s not that we don’t have good people there, but we don’t have a lot of good people there. Our smartest and most successful citizen young people do not go into teaching or are the ones that stay” (Interviewee #12, personal communication, November 18, 2011). For this and several other influentials, “great” often meant high-achievers from elite colleges.

In this image, quality is almost exclusively defined in terms of student performance, especially standardized test scores and value-added metrics, which are portrayed as valuable and reliable ways to assess teacher quality. Timothy Daly, the president of The New Teacher Project, argued:

Above all, success in the teaching profession must be defined largely in terms of student performance. Student achievement data, though imperfect, can provide strong objective evidence of teachers’ abilities to help their students learn. Great teaching means more than a test score, yet even the most inspiring teacher cannot be deemed effective if his or her students show no measurable evidence of growth. )

This archetype’s focus on outputs rather than educational process also informs how respondents believe high-quality teachers enter and remain in the teacher workforce, with the role of traditional teacher preparation programs and certification deemphasized. One interviewee from Teach for America stated, “I don’t think qualifications are unimportant,” but downplayed the role of traditional qualifications such as graduate degrees (Interviewee #12, personal communication, November 18, 2011).

Alternative pathways to teaching were portrayed as ways to bring in more talented individuals by reducing the logistical obstacles to becoming a teacher. The policy agenda of Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst, in particular, argues that current regulations create “legal barriers to entry in the teaching profession, including complicated credentialing or certification schemes that rely upon factors that do not clearly correlate with teacher effectiveness” ).

Finally, this image portrays compensation as means to motivate teachers to enter and remain in the profession by recognizing and rewarding excellence. For example, Rhee, drawing on her experience as Chancellor of Washington DC Public Schools, argues that teacher and principal compensation must be dramatically changed in order “to attract and retain highly effective staff” ).

Overall, the identification of individual teachers as incredibly valuable appears on the surface to fit with Ingram and Schneider’s ) depiction of a positive construction of a target group. However, this depiction is contrasted with an overall negative construction of the existing profession of teachers. The policy prescriptions advocated by adherents to this image, including compensation as an incentive and less regulation, are consistent with a positive social construction of individual “great” teachers. However, evaluation based on student test scores can be construed as a more negative policy prescription in which the profession of teaching is not trusted to act in the best interests of children absent external accountability mandates.

While some influentials, such as Michelle Rhee and the New Teacher Project, suggested the need to remove poor teachers, this emphasis was not shared across all actors. Rather, the image presented was one in which teachers have immense potential to improve student achievement, and therefore multiple policy levers must be used, from recruitment to retention and distribution, to improve the quality of the teacher workforce. Quality, in this image, requires support and training, but doesn’t require the timeframe of traditional teacher education programs, and can be measured using standardized test scores.

Dysfunctional Structures of Teaching Trump Teacher Quality

The Systemic Dysfunction archetype posits that, while teachers play an important role in student learning, attention to quality teaching is limited in its ability to address the most deep-rooted problems in the overall system in public education. Unlike the Great Teachers archetype, influentials aligned with this archetype do not believe great teaching can overcome the obstacles created by a dysfunctional system. The three organizations whose perspectives most clearly link to this archetype—the Broad Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute—all depict an image of an educational system that is facing issues that extend far beyond the teacher workforce.

One reflection of this distinction is the relative lack of focus on changes in teaching itself as compared to the focus on broader changes in governance structures and structures surrounding tenure, dismissal, and evaluation. For example, Rick Hess, a scholar at AEI, contends that, “existing tenure and compensation policies stultify and deprofessionalize teaching . . . [and] expansive employment protections now guard all public workers from capricious treatment, rendering the added costs imposed by tenure unnecessary” ). At the core of these critiques is the argument that unions, in particular, focus on protecting adult (teacher) interests at the expense of children. For example, Chester Finn of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute made the case that, “Many of these adult interest groups derive enormous benefit from the status quo, and are thus extremely hostile to changes that disrupt it. Teachers’ unions head the list of such organizations, but by no means complete it” ).

The policy image of teachers that emerges in this archetype suggests that there may not be a clear or single description of a “quality teacher.” For example, a scholar at AEI argued in an interview that teachers who are good in one context might not necessarily be good in another. What is clear however, consistent with the Great Teachers archetype, is a skepticism that traditional input means of assessing quality teaching—such as teacher certification and graduate degrees—are not good strategies for determining effective teaching.

In this archetype, policies are highlighted that seek to either alter or circumvent traditional structures, such as schools of education and teachers unions, in an effort to rapidly improve the quality of education. For example, the Fordham Foundation lauds the efforts of groups like Democrats for Education Reform and Stand for Children to “challenge the hegemony of the unions” ). One interviewee from the Broad Foundation referred to traditional schools of education as “cash cow[s] for most universities” and argued that teacher training needs to be both more selective. The Broad Foundation also supports “radically different models that demonstrate it is possible to build high-performing organizations that produce gains for students” ), and cites Teach for America, Broad Prize districts, and high-quality charter schools of examples of this.

Shared with the Great Teachers archetype is a focus on policy prescriptions that highlight raising expectations for quality, compensating teachers who demonstrate quality, and assessing quality based on outcome measures such as student test scores. In this assessment, teachers are motivated extrinsically, and policies need to shift to acknowledge these motivations; for example, the Broad Foundation ) argues that, “Top teachers are not properly recognized, rewarded or compensated, so they leave the profession." However, the systemic nature of this archetype means that influentials linked with it are less optimistic about major improvements in student learning resulting from policies that only address issues related to teacher quality.


The three policy images discussed above are simply archetypes—an attempt at a relatively clear distillation of policy images in order to highlight key distinctions within the policy discourse. As such, they do not highlight some of the important subtleties, and ways in which many of those with influence may track more closely to a particular archetype than others, but still draw on a less “clean” set of ideas and policy prescriptions. In order to highlight some of this gray area, we discuss two influential actors, the Gates Foundation and the Education Trust, that sit in between the archetypes laid out here.

Gates Foundation

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation represents the ways in which these archetypes intersect when looking at the perspectives and policy images of specific influentials. Consistent with the Great Teachers archetype, Gates Foundation actors place considerable emphasis on the value and importance of strong individual teachers. For example, in a 2010 speech, Gates Foundation Director of Education Vicki Phillips argued that “there’s also one indisputable fact: teachers matter more to student learning than anything else inside a school” ). She went on to ask the audience to “imagine you took every student who currently has a bottom-quartile teacher and gave them a top-quartile teacher instead. You would close the entire achievement gap in America in just three years.”

For the Gates Foundation, the problem-definition tied to weak teacher quality includes a system that focuses on inputs such as certification, master’s degrees, and years of teacher experience rather than on teacher impact on student learning. However, while this problem-definition tracks closely to the Great Teachers archetype, we moved it slightly towards the Teachers as Professionals archetype in the diagram based on the continual emphasis on teaching as a long-term profession; this long-term emphasis is rarely found in those most closely aligned to the Great Teachers archetype. Furthermore, the Gates’ Foundation representatives have been less publicly critical of teacher unions or used the language of “adult interests,” as is true in the Systemic Dysfunction archetype, as well as the Great Teachers archetype to a certain extent. In addition, we also shift the Gates Foundation slightly towards the Systemic Dysfunction archetype based on their support for structural changes to school organizations, including charter schools, charter-school district collaborations, and small schools ).

The Education Trust

Out of all the organizations and individuals analyzed for this study, the Education Trust comes closest to sitting at the center of the three archetypes, creating a complex image of teachers that draws on problem-definitions and policy prescriptions related to each of the archetypes. In particular, the organization’s emphasis on issues of equity ties it to distinct ideas about equity that connect with each of the three archetypes ).

One of the critiques offered by the Education Trust is that schools offer inadequate supports for teachers, consistent with the Teachers as Professionals archetype. For example, in an interview, a representative discussed how the United States is one of the only countries that does not give teachers any kind of curriculum or materials from the national level; she argued that, “If teachers don’t have a curriculum to teach and if they’re not expected to teach it and if they don’t have tools to teach it, they’re going to teach to the test. It’s that simple" (Interviewee #12, personal communication, November 18, 2011). Consistent with the Teachers as Professionals archetype, the interviewee also suggested that increased external accountability has limits in terms of motivating change, saying, “What I want to be clear about is that I’m not among those who think that accountability is what makes teaching change.” This emphasis on improved supports for teachers, broadly speaking, was more emphasized than removing “bad” teachers.

However, the Education Trust is more closely aligned with the Great Teachers and Systemic Dysfunction archetypes in its critiques of existing teacher preparation and evaluation practices. For example, the interviewee argued that a major reason for low quality teachers is that:

We have handed [teacher education] over to higher ed without expecting much in return. For most of higher education, these are revenue producing programs with no real demand for quality on either side. We’ve not demanded more of higher ed and higher ed certainly has not demanded more of itself. (Interviewee #3, personal communication, November 10, 2011)

Similarly, she argued that the traditional evaluation process is flawed, and that there needs to be “some requirements on moving forward on more honest evaluations for teachers.” In keeping with the Great Teachers archetype, Kati Haycock, the President of the Education Trust, argued in Congressional testimony that, while teachers aren’t the only important factor in quality education, “Overwhelming evidence makes it abundantly clear that teachers matter more than anything else” ).

Finally, the Education Trust has raised questions about the overall structures in public education, consistent with the Systemic Dysfunction archetype, such as the means by which quality teachers are distributed to schools in ways that, they argue, limit access to such teachers for low-income students and students of color. In discussing the overall question of structural change, for example, the Education Trust representative we interviewed made the case that “it’s hard to argue that the current structures are either producing good results or on their way to producing ever better results.” What holds together the disparate archetypes for the Education Trust is the clear and consistent focus on changing education for low-income students, especially students of color; our analysis suggests a disinterest in a particular ideological perspective in pursuing this goal.


The archetypes discussed above, as well as the nuanced ways in which different organizations and individuals connect with these archetypes, aid in understanding important facets of current policy debates, as well as the ways that policy images tied to teachers and teaching are influencing those debates. Policy images are closely linked with eventual policy designs, which in turn continue to influence the social constructions of targeted populations (Ingram & Schneider, 2005; Schneider & Ingram, 1990, 1993). Looking back, we can see how the policy images of teachers and teaching conveyed and implied by NCLB, as identified by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006), evolved into the three archetypes we identified in this study alongside an increasingly varied group of influential actors. The set of archetypical policy images presented here can provide a basis for research that tests the links between policy images and policy design.

Here, we first compare our archetypical policy images with the policy image offered by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) as an alternative to the images in NCLB. Second, we offer our thoughts on the overall identification of target populations and problem-definitions discussed by those studied, the causal stories implicated, and the alignment between the interests of specific organizations and the image to which they are most clearly linked. Finally, we examine the social constructions and images described above, and how they intersect with one of the two core issues described by Schneider and Ingram )—the valence (positive or negative) attached to particular target populations—and the policy instruments tied to those positive or negative associations. We do not focus on the question of the power of the target populations since, while the constructions can vary depending on who is doing the constructing, we see the power of teachers broadly speaking as consistent across these distinct images.

In response to the narrow policy images of teachers and teaching conveyed and implied by NCLB, Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) offer a policy image of teaching that allows for multiple forms of knowledge and practice, and embraces the complexities and ambiguities of teaching practice. This policy image is one of teaching in which teachers and students work together to construct knowledge and where the myriad life experiences of students and teachers are incorporate into all aspects of teaching and learning. Quality teachers are those individuals who are willing and able to continually interrogate their practice and adapt to student needs, in order to provide this kind of learning experience for their students. Absent from this policy image is any discussion of licensure, standardized test scores, or evaluation.

In general, the policy image presented by Cochran-Smith and Lytle, while lacking the details as to the nature of good teaching, is most closely aligned to the Teachers as Professionals archetype found in our analysis. Both images share an emphasis on teachers as professionals and commitment to their growth and development, though the idea of professionalism is only implied and not directly stated in the Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) policy image.

There is also some alignment between the Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006) ideal archetype and the Great Teachers archetype in their shared focus on the essential role of teachers in student learning. However, the Great Teachers archetype places far greater emphasis on the role of the teacher relative to other factors related to student achievement. The Systemic Dysfunction archetype has little alignment with idealized policy image presented by Cochran-Smith and Lytle, largely due to the fact that this policy image is entirely focused on teaching, while the Systemic Dysfunction archetype focuses on the educational system more broadly.

As is clear above, problem-definitions and causal stories connected with teachers encompass a range of critiques, with the specific target population defined differently depending on the critique. The Great Teachers archetype presents a relatively simple causal story that focuses almost exclusively on changing individual teachers and drawing additional teachers into the profession. Here, the problem at hand is described as an inadequate teaching profession that cannot deliver high quality instruction for all students because of a failure to recruit, develop, and retain effective teachers. In this story, effectiveness equates to improvements in student standardized test scores. Accordingly, the policy solutions in this story are to recruit more qualified individuals, provide better training, evaluate using test scores, and then either reward or punish teachers on the basis of those evaluations.

While it is true that the implementation of these policies would be a significant and complicated undertaking, the story presented here is relatively simple, especially in comparison with the two other archetypes. Consistent with Stone ), this simple causal story which narrowly focuses on teachers for its problem-definition does not require policymakers to consider the broader system within which teachers operate. Rather, both blame for poor student achievement and the responsibility for addressing that problem emphasize a relatively narrow set of actors. Not surprisingly, some of the most closely aligned organizations to this image are those whose own strategies align with policies that emphasize recruiting more qualified people into the field (such as TFA and TNTP). Interestingly, the policy solutions implicated by this story are the closest to the set of policies, particularly around teacher evaluation, that are currently being implemented throughout the nation.

The noble image of the teaching profession drawn in the Teachers as Professionals image tells a more complex story. Such complex stories may adhere more closely to reality but also enable certain actors to deflect blame and make designing clear policies more challenging ; Stone, 2012). Some of those actors, such as the teacher unions, are most clearly linked with this image. While the organizations and individuals aligned with the Teachers as Professionals archetype may not explicitly be attempting to deflect blame for perceived problems in the education system, it is worth noting that the causal story that most absolves teachers of responsibility for perceived failures is a complex story that implicates a wide range of actors and social conditions.

Similarly, the problem-definition for the Systemic Dysfunction archetype shifts the primary target population away from the teaching profession towards the broad set of actors that comprise the public education system—educators, educational leaders, policymakers, institutions of higher education, and unions—and the construction of teachers emphasizes structures such as unions and tenure practices. This causal story is also complex, given the wide range of actors encompassed in it. What the Teachers as Professionals and the Systemic Dysfunction archetypes share is that they both call for policy solutions that are wide-ranging and require radical changes to a large range of institutions and societal arrangements. Stone ) suggests that complex causal stories can be used to minimize calls for change because the means to address such stories are so multi-faceted and the “villains” at times unclear. However, this complex story is tied to broad, system-changing policy instruments such as those tied to major structural reforms, such as the expansion of charter schools, rapid adoption of laws tying teacher evaluation to student achievement, and portfolio management models of school governance are also occurring ; Superfine, Gottlieb, & Smylie, 2012). Here, the villains that are most clearly identified are teacher unions, and the influentials presenting this causal story are generally tied to broader critiques of teacher unions (the Fordham Institute) and unions more generally (the American Enterprise Institute).

As described by Schneider and Ingram ), the valence attached to target populations connects to the types of policy instruments used to change the behavior of those populations. The most positive image of teachers is found in the Teachers as Professional archetype, and the policy instruments advocated by those adhering most closely to this archetype fit well within Schneider and Ingram’s ) typology. Schneider and Ingram argue that when target groups are constructed as “deserving, intelligent, and public spirited” (p. 338), the likely policy instruments will be capacity-building and inducements. Those who adhere to the Teachers as Professionals archetype argue for polices that use some combination of training, professional development, increased supports for teachers, and higher salaries to achieve the desired ends. To the extent that structural change is advocated, it is largely in terms of providing teachers with additional power in different levels of the system in order to both motivate them and enable the system to benefit from teacher expertise.

The Systemic Dysfunction archetype presents a relatively negative image of teachers but also shifts the focus of policy away from direct changes for teachers and the teaching profession; while critiques of both are certainly present here, it is large-scale systemic change that is promoted as the only really viable path to change. While the teacher workforce is constructively negatively, the most direct focus on teachers is specifically on teachers’ unions. They are presented as classic contenders—powerful and negatively constructed—and portrayed as obstructing progress in education. Accordingly, the policy instruments advocated by actors in this group that most directly address teachers focus on circumventing traditional structures, such as increasing alternative certification programs or charter schools that are not required to have a union presence. McDonnell and Elmore (1987) describe these policy instruments as system-changing, which are instruments designed to address the failure or unresponsiveness of existing actors and institutions. Indeed, given the causal story of systemic failure and dysfunction in this archetype, the use of a system-changing policy instruments seems the logical selection. However, the use of this approach is likely to provoke defensiveness on the part of the targeted group, as well as draw attention to the political debate about the use of market mechanisms in school policy ; McDonnell & Elmore, 1987), both of which may increase either the actual or perceived intransigence of the teachers unions, and perpetuate a policy feedback loop.

While it is relatively easy to discern from the descriptions above the positive or negative associations attached to teachers in the Teachers as Professionals and Systemic Dysfunction archetypes, the Great Teachers archetype presents a greater challenge. On the one hand, it paints teachers as an incredibly important and potentially positive force in the lives of students. On the other hand, it offers sometimes-stinging critiques of the profession (and those who prepare and represent teachers). Overall, we find that this archetype treats teachers in general and effective teachers as distinct target populations. Teachers who are effective at raising student test scores are constructed in a positive way, and policy prescriptions tied to them include incentives such as merit pay. On the other hand, the teacher workforce as a whole is constructed more negatively. Accordingly, policy prescriptions include mandates around evaluations tied to test scores that are, at least in part, targeted at removal of bad teachers and encouraging remaining teachers to work harder are seen here. While there are elements that resonate with that offered by Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2006), none of the archetypes described here are in perfect alignment.


Research on policy adoption and policy design plays an important role in the research and policy communities in helping a range of actors to better understand how and why policies have certain designs, as well as likely implementation issues. Our research contributes to this literature by demonstrating the connections between the assumptions made about teachers and teaching, and how those assumptions play a role in eventual policy designs. In this article we have articulated three archetypal policy images of teachers. We began our project seeking to better understand the complexities within a policy context that is sometimes portrayed as relatively simple, with two distinct groupings of actors with considerable differences between the groups but similarities within them. Our analysis demonstrates the presence of three notable patterns around teacher policy images, but also the subtleties both within and across the archetypal images described above. The richness of these variations points to an array of policy designs and instruments tied, in large measure, to the images to which they are linked ).

Our analysis of archetypal policy images and their relationship to policy design, alongside the limitations of our approach, suggest at least three related areas that merit further research. First, our study considers policy images and policy design at a fixed point in time, which limits our ability to consider the influences of images and designs on each other. Future research may explore how policy images of teachers and teaching change over time, including through the emergence of new archetypal images. The iterative relationship between social construction of target populations, policy images, and policy design suggests that these policy images will change over time, just as work on cycles of policy feedback explores how existing policies and politics may affect future policy designs ; McDonnell, 2013). However, an understanding of how and why these images change, especially as a result of the policy implementation process, would provide new insight into the relationship between policy images and policy design.

Second, our focus is on the national context for reform. Given the critical role of state actors in shaping educational policy, this is a limitation in terms of applying insights about the national conversation to state contexts. Thus, future work could look more closely at variations in policy images across states, and the connections between national and state social constructions of target populations, policy images, and policy design.

Third, our analysis focused only on the policy images of teachers held by one set of influential actors in national discussions of educational policy. As noted earlier, closer focus on the images of policy makers may offer a different view of specific images and their links with policy design. Also, these policy images may not be shared by teachers themselves, and may in fact clash with teachers’ own self-images. This interaction between the image of teaching held by policymakers and the image of teaching held by implementers is likely to shape the implementation of that policy ; Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002), and influence the eventual success or failure of that policy. Further research should explore this process, especially as the archetypal images identified in our analysis become more embedded in teacher workforce policies. By identifying the policy images held by influential actors and organizations, as well as the relationship of those policy images to the archetypal images identified in this article, we can better understand the distinctions in how people and organizations think about teachers, as well as the policy designs they are likely to favor.


1. Research following Schneider and Ingram’s original articles on this topic (1990, 1993) has demonstrated (and complexified) this theory in practice ).

2. Nominees may include (but need not be limited to): policymakers, elected officials, researchers and analysts, commentators, and practitioners. Influential persons may be affiliated with any type of organization or may be independent or unaffiliated experts.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 4, 2017, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21674, Date Accessed: 1/20/2022 3:25:51 PM

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About the Author
  • Katrina Bulkley
    Montclair State University
    E-mail Author
    KATRINA BULKLEY is Professor of Educational Leadership at Montclair State University. Her research examines the intersection of policy and leadership in educational reform efforts to increase market-linked ideas in education and enhance accountability and data-driven change. She studies issues around the increasing use of new governance structures and nonpublic actors to improve public education (with a particular focus on urban education). She is the coeditor of Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance, and the New Portfolio Models for Urban School Reform (Harvard Education Press) and “Benchmarks for Success? Interim Assessments as a Strategy for Educational Improvement” (Peabody Journal of Education).
  • Jessica J. Gottlieb
    Notre Dame Center for STEM Education
    E-mail Author
    JESSICA GOTTLIEB is a postdoctoral scholar at the Center for STEM Education at the University of Notre Dame. Her research explores the intersection of policy and practice for equitable STEM educational opportunities. Her recent work in student STEM persistence seeks to identify the factors that predict student intentions to enter STEM occupations occupations that do not require a bachelor’s degree. Her recent research on teacher workforce policy focuses on exploring the role of longitudinal professional development in developing STEM teacher-leaders.
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