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Teacher Incentives as Reforms: Teachers' Work and the Changing Control Mechanism in Education

by Thomas S. Popkewitz & Kathryn Lind - 1989

An exploration of the assumptions, implications, and consequences of eight Wisconsin experimental projects concerned with creating career ladders and teacher incentive programs suggests that the reforms resulting from the projects intensify the work of teaching rather than redefine its conditions to make them more intellectually and socially satisfying. (Source: ERIC)

The historian Paul Mattingly has argued that most twentieth-century literature on teaching has portrayed reform as a matter of rational debate or as a particular response to acknowledged social needs, isolated from the considerations of social policy or power. He states that invariably such discussions immediately reduce themselves to limited questions of curriculum design, organizational planning, and to administrative and psychological accommodations to primary and secondary levels of schooling.1 Mattingly maintains that this stereotypic thinking has separated teaching and teacher education from the complexities of social history to such an extent that U.S. teachers have never experienced the control over their workplace necessary to sufficiently fulfill their educational responsibilities.

Such is the case with the current reforms in teaching. Since 1980, school reforms have been initiated by almost every state in the nation; mandates, guidelines, or pilot studies that aim to improve the quality of teaching are currently being implemented. Legislative committees, governors, state departments of education, philanthrophic foundations, and the federal government have made educational reform an agenda item tied to issues of economy and national revival. These general initiatives have been realized in the State of Wisconsin through eight experimental projects concerned with creating career ladders and teacher-incentive programs.

This article explores the assumptions, implications, and consequences of these projects, with a particular focus on the institutional conditions and power relations in which these projects were developed.2 It will be argued that while the reforms rhetoric supports improvements in teachers working conditions, the restructuring prompted by reform efforts in fact reduces teacher responsibility through standardization of conduct, increased bureaucracy, and greater monitoring. In making these observations, we recognize that the outcomes were not the intent or purpose of those who organized the investigated projects, but rather the result of a reform discourse that ignores the value and power relations engrained in schooling experiences.


The Wisconsin Teaching Incentives Pilot Project was to plan, develop, and administer a series of programs for training new teachers and for staff development, including monetary and nonmonetary incentives. After submitting plans to a state advisory committee, eight school districts were given matching state funds to pilot programs that could serve as the basis of eventual state regulations. In 1986- 1987, three districts were selected for in-depth case studies to understand the manner in which incentives were realized. The school districts contained a mixture of suburban and rural populations. Lakeside and Nakoma were bedroom communities near a large Wisconsin city. The third district, Collegeville, was located in a rural area but near a college. The average enrollment in the districts was 1,600 students.

Each district had variations of an incentive program. Lakeside was to experiment with a staff-development program, induction for first-year teachers, and a career-ladder program to provide merit pay. Collegeville adopted a performance assessment for teachers, a professional staff-development program, and a recognition-and-reward system that incorporated a career ladder with differentiated salaries. Nakoma focused on an incentive program that provided a differentiated salary schedule for its teachers.

To explore the assumptions and implications of the reforms, the research focused on how project programs were interpreted and directed by the institutional contexts in which teachers and administrators operated.3 Schools were viewed as places in which the incentives discourse had multiple layers of meaning. The reforms respond to public hopes to improve the quality of schooling. At the same time, the categories, practices, and ways of thinking about the reform are bound to the social organization of teachers and administrators work, including the power arrangements that underlie the patterns of schooling. These include issues of gender, politics, and economics, all of which underlie everyday school practices. The approach adopted in this study of these institutional conditions was to live within the projects (1986-1987), identifying and exploring the rules that support the ways people talked to each other, the problems discussed and the issues omitted, the practices that emerged, and the rationales that arose to justify action. Close to sixty open-ended interviews were conducted with teachers, student teachers, school administrators, and school board members involved in the projects, as well as with others recommended as important dissenting voices. In addition, we attended conferences for teachers and state agency administrators, examined relevant documents at all levels of the projects, and conducted a survey of teachers, administrators, and school board members in all eight school districts that identified perceptions about the role of teaching and the importance of incentives.

This analysis seeks to elucidate beliefs, events, and practices in the context of the social and cultural values implicit in the work conditions of teachers. In this evaluative organization, the outcomes are considered not as linear or straightforward but, as the discussion will illustrate, complex and contradicting.


Much of the discussion about teacher reform has held that schools are bureaucratic institutions that need to be altered to improve the professional quality of teaching. The Carnegie Forum on Teaching and the Economy and the Holmes Group Report, among others, assert that school life involves a standardization of experience that limits teachers initiative, creativity, and intellectual stimulation.4 The arguments about bureaucracy point to deeply embedded conditions in teachers work. Bureaucracy is both a structure for our social practices and a social consciousness that gives organization to the ways we think, talk, act, and feel about our social conditions.5

Schools are fairly standardized places.6 The daily schedule of explicit periods embodies a ritualistic and cyclic quality.7 Crowded conditions and concerns for control produce teacher interactions that involve constant teacher talking, monitoring, and management of the flow of a classroom dialogue. In addition to instructional tasks, teachers cope with discipline, noninstructional time, and nontask student behaviors, as well as a variety of nonteaching procedures, including writing reports and lesson plans, attending faculty meetings, team planning, monitoring study hall, and collecting lunch monies.

The routines, intensity, and control of schoolwork became the background to the incentive programs. Teachers in all three districts made repeated references to the frenetic nature of the school day. They described the tension and stress inherent in a job that demands that they confront multiple levels of achievement in large classes of students, limitations of available materials, and pressures of maintenance and control during an eight-hour day. A Lakeside high school teacher, for example, said:

I think you get real frustrated, especially when, say youre a math teacher and dealing with 32 kids in the class and 8 different skill levels, youve got one book, no additional money to go out and get [more], no time to sit and revise or the knowledge to revise that curriculum, cause it does require knowledge to revise a curriculum. And here you are . . . Youre expected to teach them all. You have no help, no assistance. . . . And what do you do? And how do you get around that? And some teams are using extended time this summer, which I think is an excellent thing to do. You can be away from the sheer pressures of just being here 8 hours a day. Its constant interruptions. Its pep rallies. Its advisees. . . . At the 180 days a year that you are allotted as a teacher to teach these kids, you may be lucky if you get 120 or 110.

Social density influences all aspects of teachers school lives. Preparation time, often considered an opportunity for social interaction, reflection, and creative planning, was restricted in one high school. Supervisors expected teachers to be available to students or to perform such bureaucratic tasks as running off dittos, distributing books, or grading papers.

If the principal should find you in the lounge more than once a day or for more than ten minutes at a time hes shooing you out the door . . . we have offices or desks in the IMC and youre expected to be there working or being available to students. Again those are just some of the little extra expectation . . . that make your job just that more pressure loaded.

Teachers were to look busy but were not judged according to their productivity; the appearance of productivity was the criterion of competence.

Teachers fared no better during lunch time than they did in planning periods. Rather than offering respite from the tensions and pressures of schoolwork, the lunch period was often considered a rushed, frantic time, as teachers used it to finish the administrative work they could not complete during the academic day, or to anticipate the next teaching task.

Our lunch hour is thirty minutes. Well, you have enough time to go in and inhale your lunch and get back and get ready for the next hour so I just find this job a little intense. Very little time to just kick back and take a deep breath and collect yourself before you go on to the next class or whatever.

Teachers work demands in these districts extended beyond the school day. Meetings commonly were scheduled at 7:00 A.M., after 3:00 P.M., or in the evening. The fullness of a teachers day was most evident when committees sought to plan for future meetings: Scheduling had to coincide with coaching responsibilities and athletic seasons, school drama and music performances, and parent meetings, as well as with domestic chores of many of the teachers.

The time demand on teachers is exemplified by an administrators response to a lesson he observed as part of the new mandated evaluation for a career ladder. A schoolwide program had extended fifteen minutes beyond its allotted time, thereby reducing proportionally the time available for the lesson. Rather than questioning the appropriateness of cutting short the lesson, the administrator applauded the teacher for the ability to cover more material in less time: The irony of the scheduling problem appeared lost on the administrator, who noted that the teacher adjusted that lesson to still meet the goals and objectives of the lesson and in less time, I think thats real creative teaching when they can do that.

The organization of classroom time and space imposed a particular type of problem solving on teaching: Teaching became the efficient ordering and standardization of knowledge and people. While teachers viewed the standardization with uneasiness, their efforts to find alternatives often were channeled in ways that reinforced underlying orientations toward control and order. Teachers talked about the problem of making curriculum more responsive to childrens interests; in response, textbooks were redesigned, or worksheets were constructed to respond to multiple levels of achievement in a single class. The activities were designed to make the standardization less oppressive; yet this intent was directly contradicted because the existing definitions that ordered time, space, and knowledge were taken for granted.


Initial district discussions about the reforms did give focus to the conditions of teachers work. The Nakoma district formed the Our Nation-at-Risk Committee in 1985-1986 to consider how school conditions could be altered to respond to the issues raised in the numerous national reports. The committee came up with a plan that a teacher thought

really got people thinking around here. You know we talk about changing teachers duties, the way they operate on a day-to-day basis, what we do with kids, early releases, study hall requirements, academic requirements, they were all addressed within this report brought back to the board, approved by the board and each building was asked to go ahead and start implementing.

In Lakeside, an administrator argued that the national reports helped focus public attention on how teachers spend their time. The major issue confronting the district, he said, was whether teachers would be allowed sufficient time to accomplish the changes suggested by the reports:

I think that time is so valuable and again with the Carnegie report and all these national reports coming out saying teachers should spend their time teaching and not doing lunchroom duty, hall duty all these kind of things. Were looking at each other and saying, yeah, we agree with those things . . . if youd give us another hour a day to meet as a department or so many hours a week or whatever. We have people or re sources here that could help us grow and be better teachers but we dont have time to take advantage of it, its just not there.

Original project proposals also included programs designed to improve the conditions of teachers work, including release time for teachers, sabbaticals, reorganization of the school day, team-teaching arrangements, and teacher exchange programs.

The actual projects during the time of this research, however, translated the general slogans about quality and responsibility into psychological problems of incentives and organizational pressures to manage, evaluate, and reorganize teachers work to achieve the greatest level of efficiency. The assumption was that teachers were not motivated, and they needed more satisfaction and greater recognition. To make teachers feel better, rewards should be provided and methods of evaluation improved. The reform practices focused attention on recognizing teachers who sought extra work. Further, recognition was tied to increased monitoring that would, it was believed, improve the quality of teaching by proving that teachers were doing more. This transformation of teaching issues into questions of efficiency and monitoring occurred in all three sites, although each evolved in different ways as responses to the local organization. The issues raised in early considerations of reform, such as those in The Nation at Risk Committee report and the description of initial project purposes, were filtered out of subsequent discussions.

The reform discourse assumed that there existed a common framework of experience for all and that the goal was to identify the most appropriate strategies for rewarding teachers for increased work.8 The Nakoma discussion proceeded as though there were agreed-upon rules and regulations that need only be operationalized, such as whether preparation time for a conference and travel time should apply toward career-ladder advancement.

In Lakeside, discussion of the project focused on two levels. One was identifying broad statements of purpose; the other was the details and procedures for awarding pay increases and bonuses. The broad statements about enhancing participation or increased commitment functioned symbolically to enable participants to act as though there were a consensus about reform goals. At the same time, the details of the meetings covered strategies of implementation. At a Lakeside meeting called to discuss the viability of a career ladder, the committee concluded that a career ladder would foster encouragement/enrichment/enhancement of growth; flexibility to advance opportunity; better teaching, improved staff; fairness in evaluation; accountability. A career ladder was to minimize differences between administrators and the discrepancies between buildings. It was also to develop real job descriptions with a focus on how to keep good teachers in teaching.

These statements are emotive, they arouse interest, and they may incite cooperation, staff unity, and a spirit of enthusiasm about the task.9 The slogans, however, did not represent any sustained public discussion about the work of teaching; they were systematically ambiguous, leaving the nature of the districts plan of action unclarified. While individual teachers expressed concern about their work conditions, the procedures for developing a broad language of consensus served as a symbolic canopy. It enabled the committees to take for granted that there would be increased teacher monitoring and teacher differentiation to improve the existing organization and make it more psychologically attractive.

Far from being mere technicalities, the operational choices made in Lakeside carried substantive implications for the values and patterns of teachers work. Isolation, motivation, or recognition were viewed as variables independent of the institutional rules and patterns that give shape to teaching tasks.


As we examined the interviews, observations, and documents across districts, certain assumptions about the organization of reform emerged: (1) Teachers should do more work than they are doing; (2) increased monitoring would illuminate and improve teachers competence; (3) monitoring should be objective so as to eliminate judgments and biases; and (4) the increased work and monitoring should be systematically reorganized to provide a new hierarchy for allocation of financial reward. These assumptions were common among the sites despite the fact that each of the three school districts had established different incentive projects. How the variations produced similar outcomes that intensified the labor demands on teachers can be explored in the three district strategies.

One approach provided monetary reward for projects thought to improve teaching. A Lakeside committee on professional growth accomplished this task by creating an organization for incentives. Teachers were to propose a project, evaluate the number of credits the project was worth, and explain what its specific outcome would be. Up to five credits could be awarded, each one worth $50. On completion of the project, teachers were required to submit evidence of its outcome before receiving the stipend. While the program was intended to recognize special teacher projects, instead it simply rewarded teachers for new, more specific record keeping of what many said they were already doing: attending conferences and workshops or planning special activities, such as taking children on outings.

As a second incentive strategy, Nakoma established a career ladder. Under the career-ladder program, half of the teachers were evaluated four times each year (two announced and two unannounced). Teachers could use the results of their evaluations to increase their salary levels by applying for master teacher or teacher specialist positions.

The evaluation system, and particularly the unannounced evaluations, placed a great deal of emphasis on routines of lesson planning that demanded advance preparation.

Im every weekend taking my work home, writing lesson plans on Sundays. I spend my Sunday afternoons watching football, doing lesson plans, you know, and its four or five hours on a weekend writing the lesson plans and often I dont have them complete by then. I have the basics of it, I dont have all the planning done, I have the basics done so that during the week I can come in the morning and finish the overhead I need for that day or whatever, but have to put in four or five or six hours on a Sunday so that I can be able to complete my lesson plans.

The additional work, however, resulted not only from the evaluations but from the point system used to reward extracurricular involvement. On its face, the point system rewarded professional development, but in light of the high number of demands on teachers and the expectations regarding their work, the point often served to increase the pressure on teachers. Workshop attendance, for example, embodied a variety of hidden work agendas. Teachers were required to provide lessons for the substitute teachers in their classrooms, to correct class papers written in their absence, and to respond to other tasks that accumulate when a teacher is not present.

Activities outside the classroom involve other trade-offs as well. One teacher talked about involvement in a variety of professional activities, including acting as building representative for the union, working on a curriculum project, and attending professional meetings. This teacher viewed work outside the classroom as important because teaching is an awfully routine type job if youre a classroom teacher and so I find this a way to keep me stimulated professionally. As this teacher has become more involved in extracurricular professional activities, however, tensions have arisen: Because I have this [classroom] responsibility, Im starting to really feel guilty about my classes. Can I afford to let them have another sub?

Model/mentor teachers in Collegeville provided a third incentive strategy. Some teachers were identified to receive a monetary reward and release time to work with both new and experienced teachers. In order to receive the monetary reward, the model/mentor teachers had to complete twenty activity units each semester. Each activity unit required a teacher to conduct a one-hour faculty seminar during after-school hours or to observe instruction by another district teacher for one hour. District teachers received a $15 stipend each time they attended a topical seminar.

Administrators justified the requirements for accounting for teachers time and the demands made on teachers in exchange for extra money by pointing to the conservative political climate of the community. It was their perception that the school board elections had indicated that a significant element of the community wanted fiscal constraint and was concerned with a perceived secular humanism in the curriculum. These administrators sought to counterbalance that public pressure by assuring their constituencies that the school district work force was efficient, professionally competent, and fiscally responsible.

While teachers accepted the mentor responsibilities as important, the increased workload was resented. One teacher commented, I had no idea what I was getting into. I work from 7:15-5:30, run home, say hi to my husband, pass the kids in the hall and put in a couple more hours of work after dinner. I always work four hours on Saturday and Sunday. My husband is getting sick of it, but I am growing professionally. Another mentor stated that he had put in more than ninety hours beyond the minimum number required for incentive pay, and added, I cant keep up this pace, my wife wonders if I plan to work every minute of 1987. A twenty-seven year veteran in the district felt that the staff-development model and incentives involved a drastic change in the work conditions of teaching.

We were promised that we would have six classes, smaller study halls and two preparations a day. That happened for one year. I am gasping to get things done. I have three preparations and I am going home exhausted every day. Never have I had such a hectic year in teaching including my first. Its nuts, I spend three hours at home each night. Incentives have done nothing for me. I would rather go home at night and relax than go to a seminar. I cant take one more thing.

Despite the overwhelming workload, those who became mentors said they did not regret the decision. Although the incentive program increased the workload and created peer pressures, mentor teachers believed they were contributing to the district by doing something good beyond the walls of their own classrooms. One mentor stated, I was emotionally burned out in teaching before I started this program. Even though I work my tail off, it is worth it. We spend hours preparing but when you watch teachers interact on instructional concerns rather than lounge talk, you feel great. It is worthy of note, however, that when this teacher was asked whether she would apply again, there was no comment.


We must now turn to an apparent contradiction in the projects. While teachers valued more autonomy and professional responsibility, the particular character of the increased work load involved anomalies. Teachers did experience a generalized satisfaction with their role. Teachers surveyed in these districts expressed enthusiasm about teaching, perceived their relationships with administrators and their community as positive, and believed that they had access to adequate opportunities to engage in professional activities. At the same time, the project activities required new systems of paperwork, evaluation, and procedures to judge teachers work. Teachers thought that they were doing more to justify and support the work they had always done. They were also concerned about the meager amounts of money associated with the incentives, and the routine, time-consuming tasks they required.

Some teachers raised questions about the social meaning of the work required of them. A concern was expressed that the incentives program challenged communal values among teachers that stressed equal working conditions. The role expectations of the mentor position in Collegeville, for example, involved release time for paperwork and observation-time that was referred to by some teachers as the mentors day off because they spent the time working in an office rather than a classroom. One mentor-teacher felt guilty to go in the teachers lounge during release time. Mentors always felt the need to look busy so people wont question or say, OK, those mentors just drink coffee on their day off. A teacher in Nakoma worried that the incentives stressed only what seemed to be useful or what had a specifiable outcome. Taking a course at a university, a teacher suggested, might have little direct relation to tomorrows planning but is important for thinking about the direction and options that might be available in the overall organization of instruction.


One institutional assumption held that rewards and increased efforts at evaluation are indelibly linked. While public discussion concerned evaluation as a means of improving professionalism, the actual strategies for monitoring redefined and narrowed teacher skills according to criteria of management. The evaluations provided routinized procedures by which actions were to be standardized and judged, further moving the locus of control from teachers to those who would assign worth to the teaching process. This element is central because, as we will illustrate later, it ties issues of power and gender to concerns for a differentiated staff and increased teacher monitoring.

The teacher evaluations applied in the incentives programs embodied particular biases about the nature and control of teachers work. The discourse of reform assumed that the problem of teaching was a momentary weakness in planning and evaluation that could be overcome through more intelligent ordering of lessons and organization. The evaluations assumed the existence of agreed-upon standards that can demonstrate effective teaching, and that these standards involve planned performance criteria in which teaching is dissected into subparts and defined as specifics to be measured. These measurements, usually identified by some specific behavioral attribute, were assumed to be evidence of good teaching.

Two of the school districts adopted commercially produced evaluations that made management criteria the priority of teaching: Madeline Hunters Mastery Teaching and Digicator Systems The Teaching Performance Profile.10 The third district created its own Performance Evaluation Instrument, a locally defined evaluation that drew on and reflected the same epistemological assumptions about teaching and learning that were identified in the commercial evaluations. It is important to recognize that the commercial evaluations were designed to be administratively cost-efficient.

We can explore these assumptions by focusing first on the events in Collegeville. Exemplary evaluations were a prerequisite for teachers assignment as mentors. These evaluations were based on the principles and concepts established by education performance criteria that listed specific behaviors that were to occur in each lesson. Teachers selected as mentors would, in turn, use the educator performance criteria to supervise first-year teachers or veteran teachers who requested assistance. The purpose of this practice was to standardize teaching in the district as new teachers were inducted into the school system.

To emphasize the behavioral criteria, teacher lesson planning became an important element in determining competence. Lessons for each part of the day were to be prepared and made available to supervisors as part of the new evaluation; administrators reasoned that if teachers were more systematic about planning, their teaching would improve. The new rating system makes teachers more conscious of the value of systematic planning. As one teacher explained, I am constantly thinking about those criteria while Im teaching to make sure I am including them in my lesson.

Yet for many teachers and administrators, the demand for systematic lesson planning produced a ritualized performance that had little to do with issues of teacher creativity, professional competence, or the conditions of instruction. Instead, the teachers perceived the planning as a prescribed pattern in which they identified the problem and recorded a recipe for its solution that would satisfy an administrator, or they reproduced and gathered materials to be available during the week.

The tension between the desire for more thoughtfulness about teaching and the need for routinized planning was expressed by one administrator as he talked about the new evaluations. He thought that the staff was more conscious about having a lesson opening relating to the class objectives and a closure in a nice neat package. While arguing for the practice, the administrator also recognized that the concept of quality is not considered in evaluations of a teachers lesson plans.

Quality is not included. . . . The teacher prepares a daily lesson plan that contains some of the following: objectives, activities, methods, resource materials, time frames, differentiated activities for enrichment and/or evaluation.

. . . If [a teacher has] an objective and four of the other things, theyre a superior teacher. But the objectives may not be worth a tinkers damn.

The preparation procedures became time consuming and routinized. One teacher who helped to develop the Nakoma district evaluation argued that the procedures produced such busy work as writing copious lesson plansa result, he said, that was never intended.

The . . . district evaluation model identifies 25 elements of a good lesson which, at one level, enables a teacher to consider different aspects of organizing instruction. But the difficulty is that an administrator looks for evidence of each of the 25 elements and does not account for the variations in each lesson in which some of the characteristics are not emphasized.

The routinization of the evaluation criteria concerned one principal, who commented that evidence of sequentially ordering curriculum objectives is a task that most people could accomplish. Although such ordering is listed as a minimal standard in the district evaluation, the administrator maintained that the criterion had little to do with improving teaching: Its quite a poor teacher who wouldnt be able to [accomplish the ordering]. Almost any teacher can get the 1s, and if they do, they [are evaluated as being] satisfactory. A teacher in the same district questioned whether the writing of objectives and lesson plans is associated with improved teaching:

Writing objectives, for example, involves no real thought and is in fact a ritual activity that discredits the other judgments and knowledge that a teacher has. If I can justify to you why Im not doing that or whatever, why are you forcing me to write unity objectives. . . Almost every teachers manual gives you countless objectives. . . I can go to the manual and read the objective, I know what it is.

While the performance criteria were intended to help new teachers, many of the first-year teachers thought the evaluation form restricted classroom activities. As one teacher explained,

In order to get a good evaluation you have to make sure you have all the performance criteria in your lesson. Sometimes that doesnt make sense. For example, you are to ask questions while you are handing back assignments so you dont waste time. However, I spend more time handing out papers because of the question-and-answer time. So, I quit handing back assignments during class. I just put the papers on their desks before school. Thats sad because it was a good informal interaction time.

At this point, one might question whether the routinization of teaching resulted from poor or ineffective use of the evaluation or the intrinsic logic of evaluation that defines teaching as discrete and sequential objects. Some administrators and teachers argued that the emphasis on tangible products and discrete elements of teaching denied any value to appreciation, intellectual curiosity, and understanding, which are nurtured over a long period of time. An elementary school teacher, thinking about changing criteria of teacher competence, argued:

In emphasizing tenable products to prove accomplishment, the incentive program devalued teachers long term commitments, outcomes which might be ambiguous at the start, and activities which did not translate directly into useful classroom practice but which might help teachers think about the issues, purposes, and directions of their teaching.

The incentive rewards and evaluations separated the longer-range concerns of practice from those that are more immediate and capable of producing an instant outcome. Procedural routinization and preparation of materials came to define good teaching.


When we consider the process of evaluation as part of a discourse that establishes rules about teaching, the evaluations tie the work of teaching to issues of power, bureaucracy, and gender. The evaluations removed responsibility for thinking about the relation of purpose and procedure from teachers and administrators and assigned them to the experts, who created the taxonomies of words and values. Teaching was to be seen as discrete and fragmented segments that could be managed more efficiently by applying procedures and categories concerned solely with administration. The systems of selecting and ordering fit the administrative, management style of reasoning associated with the bureaucracy of schooling. Judgments about the worth, direction, and appropriateness of the work tasks were determined by experts outside the work place.

Redefinition of teacher skills and control can be observed in the deliberations to introduce an evaluation approach for Lakeside teachers. A career-ladder committee discussed the need for evaluations to improve teaching and to prove to the public that district teachers were professionally competent. Career-ladder development involved first the task of choosing instruments for evaluationeven before job descriptions of existing positions had been written.

An outside consultant who had developed a commercial evaluation program was invited to a committee meeting to discuss his companys program. He informed his audience that, on hearing of the national call for better evaluation, he and his partners had created an evaluation program because teachers just didnt want to do it. They were reluctant to do it unless there was some evaluation that would help them. Too often, he said teachers wear their heart on their sleeve and need to be given an orderly procedure for evaluations.

Administrators, board members, and teachers were told that the format provided a simple administrative organization that any person can use to evaluate a teacher. The instrument required evaluators to assign word descriptors such as purposeful, expressive, and scholarly to subcategories of instruction; curriculum, for example, was divided into planning skills, use of materials, and knowledge of content. Following the classroom observation, evaluators were to assign designated point values to each descriptor, and to add the points for a summary of a teachers strengths and weaknesses.

The programs trial year was designed to enable the staff to work with the evaluation without involving it in upcoming contract negotiations; the union had taken a stand in opposition to including a career ladder in the contract. Those teachers involved in piloting the instrument argued in support of it because of the opportunity it provided for peer interaction.

While the evaluation procedure was viewed as administrative and not normative, the procedures and words embodied in it express particular values and ideologies. These biases can be illustrated by focusing on the observations use of the words purposeful, expressive, and scholarly. In the context of the evaluation, purpose in a lesson referred to direct instruction in which a set of precise objectives is articulated, and practices are directly related to achieved outcomes, that is, frontal teaching. Purpose as a directly observable outcome was assigned a higher point value than the characteristics labeled expressive or scholarly. The procedure valued knowledge that is directly useful and, in turn, devalued reflective or contemplative knowledge in which there may be no immediate application.

It is at this point we can begin to focus on the subtle implications of gender, control, and teaching. Expressive knowledge has been associated with female characteristics, behaviors clearly not to be rewarded in this evaluation scheme. The expressive, caring, and maternal qualities that have been associated with women since the late nineteenth century and the development of elementary school pedagogy become attributes that are to be redefined in a patriarchical system. The comment about teachers wearing their heart on their sleeve can be linked with the devaluing of expressive elements of teaching. This issue of gender is not straightforward but is intermingled with the historical situation of teachers such that it impacts on all people-male and female-who work in school situations.

Anti-intellectualism is another aspect of the ideology of evaluation. Scholarly work, associated with an intellectual playfulness of ideas, was to be replaced with a style of thought that emphasized regularity, predictability, and administrative criteria of controllability. The values that underlie the evaluation, however, were never debated by the group but were assumed to be procedures in a discourse proclaiming science, research, and objectivity.

The redefining that was occurring has important consequences for the regulation and discipline of teachers conception of identity. Teachers craft and personal knowledge was redefined into tasks that were more similar to those previously thought appropriate to the administration of schools. Requiring teachers to redefine their work solely in terms of administrative schema triggers a concurrent reskilling process.

As important, there is evidence in the study that the new criteria of administration were incorporated into the discourse in which teachers expressed their work. The incentives and career ladder embodied strategies that objectively separated individuals by rank through various systems of ordering, reporting, and evaluating work. In this context, the individual in the school emerges as an object of political and scientific concern, but the issues of power were muted in the discourse of reform.

The monitoring strategy has at least three consequences for the restructuring of teachers work. Teachers personal knowledge and craft qualities are devalued and reorganized as skills related to the administrative control of schooling. Control is enhanced in a work force that has been predominantly comprised of women. In our contemporary situation, to direct teachers not to approach evaluation from an emotional perspective or to indicate that expressive thought is not to be valued is to raise historical issues of gender when thinking about the social implications of our practice. Finally, the evaluation procedures made plausible a technology of control in which the exercise of power became invisible as new forms to rationalize attributes, qualities, and behaviors were created and opened to scrutiny and manipulation.


The acceptance of increased monitoring and work intensification should be viewed as one element of a more general rhetoric about professionalization. Much of the teaching literature maintains a view of professionalism as the development of a common and technical language for describing teachers work. Drawing on a sociology of teaching and generalized myths about professions, reformers suggest that teachers and administrators should share a uniform, technical language. Teachers viewed increased evaluation and record keeping as part of the complicated process of being professional, and as the means by which they were to demonstrate the knowledge and skill that they possess.

In Collegeville, where the project slogan Confidence in our Competence exemplified the need to legitimize the profession through a common language and level of performance, the potency of the rhetoric of professionalism was explicitly illustrated. The teachers talked about the new evaluation criteria as creating a common language for all teachers. Teachers viewed the management language of behavioral objectives and anticipatory sets in lesson planning as a way to establish a feeling of commonality, community, and objectivity. As one teacher explained, I was doing those things all along, but I didnt know what to call them. This system enables me to talk about my teaching like a science. Other professionals have a language, why not teachers?

Teachers perceived the common language as legitimating their profession. One teacher offered an analogy to medicine:

I view it as similar to a doctor. Doctors examine a patient, make a diagnosis, prescribe a remedy. They have a body of knowledge and/or common language to translate that knowledge to themselves and others. As teachers, we now can examine the classroom setting, make a diagnosis, and prescribe a remedy. We have a body of knowledge and a common language m which to communicate.

The professional language was perceived to increase communication among the staff, which in turn would reduce isolation. They are no longer artists in isolation, one teacher explained. We have all gone through the same training, built a useable common language, have a common knowledge base, use the same terms and mean the same thing regardless of teaching level. . . . I have the knowledge to justify intellectually and educationally what I do.

Yet the language that teachers saw as enabling them to justify and intellectually guide their own work simultaneously created a poverty of expression of their knowledge. As one examines the common language, its unidimensionality becomes apparent; its priorities involve transforming teachers work into actions that can be defined in explicit, hierarchical, linear, and sequential ways. The importance of aesthetics, the playfulness of experience, and the use of intuition are lost. While the history of cognitive endeavor in science emphasizes the interplay of tacit elements of knowledge with explicit knowledge, the common language of the reforms refocused teachers understanding on a narrow range of communicative competence.

Professionalism assumes the validity of general myths that hold that highly trained, specialized, and dedicated groups achieve cultural and social status. Yet the characteristics commonly associated with occupations such as medicine and law have little to do with the ways in which these groups gain institutional control, financial reward, and cultural authority. The strategies in the current reform program and its language of professionalism represent a fundamental contradiction: They call for teachers to be more responsible while defining strategies that would make them less competent.


We have come to understand the reforms as intensifying the work of teaching rather than redefining its conditions to make them more intellectually and socially satisfying. Increased demands are placed on teachers. The issue of work is transformed from one of redesigning the condition of labor to psychological problems of incentives and teacher motivation concerned with existing social patterns and power relations. The irony of the current strategies is that the standardization of teachers work involves a further incorporation of bureaucratic structures into schooling that reduce teacher autonomy and redefine responsibility. The intensification of work also involves an increased rationalization by and monitoring of teachers.

The evaluation strategy carried consequences for the practices of teaching. While public rhetoric supported evaluation as a means to empower teachers and create a more professional occupation, the strategy in practical application tended to limit reflection to the development of techniques. Procedures came to be considered universal, devoid of reference to specific purposes and goals. The assumptions of increased monitoring suggested that it was possibleand valuableto separate elements of work from consideration of any total intellectual or social product of teaching.

A technicalization of work further eroded teacher autonomy in the immediate control of their environment.11 The reform discourse created an ideological control that legitimated the loss of practical control over decisions about the goals and objectives of work. The monitoring practices also established technical control over decisions about the everyday elements of teaching.

The discourse of reform was, however, not merely a ritual of affiliation, but a dynamic element in the ongoing relations and formation of identity in schooling. The general rhetoric about bureauracy and working conditions served to elicit comment among school staffs. At the same time and under the label of professionalism, a practical discourse concerned the development and implementation of strategies to define the possibilities of the teaching situation. New rules that routinized teachers work became plausible as status was to be gained through performance tied to a notion of science. This layer of discourse was served by a professional literature that focused on strategies and procedures of the implementation of reform.

The rituals of reform made its structural conditions a matter of assumption. While teachers felt personally uneasy with the new working conditions, the public discourse about teacher incentives became a language that teachers used to express their hopes and aspirations. Many teachers recognized the implications of elements of the incentive programs but were unable to articulate a collective voice as the discourse about reform transformed work issues into administrative problems.

A central but subtle issue of the rationalization and monitoring is the issue of gender. The study provides evidence concerning the difficulties of women and men who maintain dual obligations of working in schools and in the home. At a deeper and less obvious level was the attempt to create a sequential and rational model of practice that delegitimated the sensitivities and awareness of women and reordered them in a manner that increased the mechanisms of social control.

While we have focused on the internal structuring of value and ideology in the projects, we need to consider the concrete practices and discourse of the three districts in relation to larger issues of the relation of schooling to economy and society, The particular practices of the reform relate to two larger trends occuring in the U.S. educational system.12

First, the specific incentive programs are elements in a restructuring of the control mechanisms of schooling. Demands are rising for greater administrative flexibility in responding to nationally defined priorities of economy and culture, including a New Right agenda that would establish teacher Standards that would reduce liberal and secular humanistic influences on schooling. This restructuring has spawned a variety of strategies to steer schooling to nationally set priorities. The Wisconsin Incentive Program is one such strategy that involves increased state standardization and regulation to guide local practices, but posed as strategy of local involvement in creating the regulation.

Second, there is a restructuring of the mechanisms of governing schools as older networks of control are replaced by different institutional relations that provide greater centralized steering. There have been efforts toward greater centralization through coalitions that have developed at the national level among government agencies, philanthropic organizations, professional associations, unions, and universities.13 As a consequence, local teachers unions and school boards can be expected to experience reduced power and authority. The redesigning of teachers work will also affect administrators as the evaluation process influences the skills of administration, which, if the current strategies are maintained, involve less knowledge about the complexities of teaching or administration.

We can view the incentive processes as rituals that contain prescribed paths and magical words to impart a quality of purity to the adopted practices. Abstract statements of profession and routinized practices assume an aura of sanctity.14 The reform practices focused on sets of procedures that condensed complex interactions and events in a manner that made their recitation seem comprehensible and coherent. The writing of lesson plans and the incentives procedures projected images of competence, responsibility, and efficiency that helped some teachers feel a sense of accomplishment; yet the symbolic manipulation has little to do with objective conditions or long-term changes in the work conditions of teachers. The symbols and performances of the reform programs were dramatic enactments of affiliation and legitimacy-but not without institutional consequences, as there are practical implications for the redesign of the control mechanisms for teachers work.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 90 Number 4, 1989, p. 575-594
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 488, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 11:09:41 AM

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About the Author
  • Thomas Popkewitz
    University of Wisconsin-Madison

  • Kathryn Lind
    Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

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