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Understanding Context Effects on Secondary School Teaching

by Joan E. Talbert, Milbrey W. McLaughlin & Brian Rowan - 1993

This article argues that the contexts of teaching are more diverse, embedded, and interactive in their effects on teaching practice than is assumed by prior "school effects" research.

Through the 1980s and 1990s, U.S. educational reform has evolved as a succession and convergence of strategies to improve the amount and quality of academic teaching and learning in the public schools. States' policies to increase academic coursework and test standards for graduation, for example, were joined by initiatives to improve teaching quality through enhanced professional controls and, in the 1990s, by strategies to improve the organization and governance of schools. Blending various strands of research and local reform initiatives, the national educational reform agenda now includes the redesign of U.S. schools. Among salient proposals for improving the organization of schooling are those aiming to dismantle or significantly decentralize public school bureaucracies, to create more specialized school communities, to establish higher standards for academic performance, and to prohibit student tracking.

Each of these proposals for school context reform makes assumptions about the nature of teaching and learning and about where, how, and why particular context conditions affect the quality of education. Unfortunately, the interdependence of teaching context conditions and the nature of classroom practice and student learning are little understood by reformers and thus largely neglected.(n1) It is not surprising that social science and policy research in education has paid little attention to the relations between classroom processes and factors in the immediate and distant environment of schooling. The fact that school teaching occurs within the confines of classrooms, where teachers are insulated from colleagues' and administrators' scrutiny and support, gives the impression that leaching' is buffered against influences beyond the classroom. Indeed "behind the classroom door" became the catchphrase explanation of variability in teachers' practices and the problematic relationship between policy and practice. Scholars have portrayed teaching as lacking both professional and bureaucratic controls,(n2) as loosely coupled to its organizational environment,(n3) and as a fragmented, compartmentalized enterprise.(n4)

Certainly, the classroom is the primary context of school teaching. Inmost U.S. schools, teachers spend their workdays in self-contained classrooms teaching 25-35 (or more) students in single, hour-long class periods. In the typical high school, teachers meet 5-7 different classes, or approximately 150-200 students, in the course of their working day. The prominent themes of teacher isolation and autonomy in portraits of the profession suggest that the classroom is the only meaningful context of teaching, and is the arena over which individual teachers have complete control.

However, the fact that teachers generally are isolated from one another and from administrators does not imply that teaching occurs in a vacuum, that other contexts do not matter, or that teaching practice is determined primarily by the attitudes and skills an individual brings to her or his first teaching job, behavior forever buttressed by the classroom door. Rather, the commonplace of teachers' isolation implies that the sources and nature of influences on a teacher's work in the classroom are less routine and visible than in most organizations, less codified than in many professions, and thus more implicit and more subject to social construction than in most lines of work.

 This article argues that the contexts of teaching are more diverse, embedded, and interactive in their effects on teaching practice than is assumed by prior "school effects" research. We use the term context to mean any of the diverse and multiple environments or conditions that intersect with the work of teachers and teaching -- such as the school, subject area, department, district, higher education, business alliance, professional networks, state policies, community demographics. The notion of context effect implies the influence of particular context conditions -- values, beliefs, norms, policies, structures, resources, and processes -- on teaching practice and, in turn, students' educational outcomes.(n5)

Attention to the effects of context on teaching is important at this time not only because it frames major reform policies and traditions of social science research, but because advances in learning theory, cognitive science, and classroom research describe instructional forms in which context is key to the construction of productive practice.(n6) Whereas models of classroom teaching of the "process/product" genre were effectively context-free, context matters fundamentally to conceptions of teaching that assume an active role for students and their teachers in the construction of knowledge. Our critiques of the lines of research informing reform efforts underway in the early 1990s draw on our own multiyear research conducted under the auspices of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching (CRC) in a large field sample of sixteen public and independent high schools.


During the 1980s, Research on teaching evidenced something of a paradigm shift as notions of teacher as knowledge transmitter and behavioral engineer gave way to more interactive, constructivist views of teaching and learning.(n7) The emerging paradigm focuses classroom research away from the study of teacher behaviors associated with student gains in basic skills toward inquiry on learners' active construction of subject matter, teachers' content-specific pedagogical strategies, and the social organization of the classroom.

The constructivist view of effective classroom instruction is often called "teaching for understanding,"(n8) and research on this topic has become a priority for educational policymakers. The importance of this form of teaching lies in its potential to enhance the kinds of cognitive outcomes for students that the American educational system has heretofore been notoriously ineffective at producing. While American schools have been relatively successful in engendering basic-skills achievement, they have not done well in promoting students' success in tasks variously described as problem solving, critical analysis, higher-order thinking, or flexible understanding of academic subject matter -- learning outcomes associated with teaching for understanding. Given the importance of such skills in modern society, teaching for understanding has been embraced by both policymakers and education researchers as the standard against which existing teaching practice should be judged and a goal toward which schools and the education profession should move.(n9)

This conception of teaching and learning entered the policy arena as among the central goals defined by the Spring 1991 national governors' conference on education, by the Bush administration in America 2000, and by the Clinton administration's commitment to equity and excellence for all students: to enhance students' higher-order thinking and problem-solving skills, particularly in mathematics and science. Teachers, teacher educators, school administrators, and educational policymakers across the country have been challenged, or mandated, to adopt as their primary educational goal students' deeper understanding of subject matter and improved problem-solving skills.(n10)

Research concerned with context effects on teaching and learning will need not only to specify and measure the new conceptions of desirable educational processes and outcomes, but to consider context variables that constrain or enable teachers' learning of new teaching strategies necessary to promote students' higher-order thinking skills.(n11)


Research on teaching highlights the critical role of particular kinds of teacher knowledge needed to promote the desired educational outcomes and thus challenges for teacher learning.(n12) Importantly, for a teacher to learn the beliefs and knowledge entailed in teaching for understanding involves more than simple retooling. This form of teaching requires teachers to have comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of subject matter, competence in representing and manipulating this knowledge in instructional activities, skill in eliciting information about learners' conceptions of subject matter, and facility in managing the classroom environment to enable active learning.(n13)

This literature argues, for example, that teachers with only superficial knowledge of their subject matter have little flexibility in their pedagogical choices and preferences, and thus are effectively constrained to teaching "just the facts." By contrast, teachers who have mastered the rich interconnections and multiple forms of knowledge found in a subject area have the substantive control of a subject needed to develop the kinds of activities and interactive, open-ended strategies involved in teaching for understanding.(n14)

Additionally, teaching for understanding requires pedagogical content knowledge, which Lee Shulman once called the "missing paradigm" in research on teaching.(n15) This is knowledge, not simply of a subject area, but also of how to select, represent, and organize information, concepts, and procedures in a specific domain so that subject-matter knowledge can be transformed into teaching and learning for understanding. A lack of pedagogical knowledge in a content area seriously constrains teachers' ability (or inclination) to move from conventional transmission styles of teaching to teaching for understanding. For example, researchers find that "crossover" teaching, or teaching out of one's subject area, promotes a "transmission" style of teaching.(n16) Crossover teachers often express discomfort, not with subject matter, but with the different pedagogies associated with a different domain and subject area cultures. Thus, knowing how to teach in a subject area and within a particular topic area is regarded as an additional, essential element of teaching for understanding.(n17)

Research highlights a third component of the knowledge base needed to successfully teach for understanding: knowledge of the learner. The research on students' cognitive growth in a subject domain suggests that teachers need sufficient information about students' conceptions of subject matter in order to promote conceptual change and flexible understanding of a knowledge domain.(n18) That is, teachers must be able to consider subject matter from the learner's viewpoint, as well as to understand the learner's questions, responses, and activities through the perspective of a particular academic subject.(n19)

Finally, research points to a fourth essential component of the teacher's knowledge base: new strategies of classroom management that support students' generation of knowledge rather than reinforce the transmission of information by teachers.(n20) Teaching for understanding assumes a classroom context that resembles a community of learners, an environment that is supportive of students' attempts to actively construct knowledge through hypothesis generation and inquiry. Teaching for understanding assumes that interactions between teachers and students change from teacher-dominated classroom management styles characterizing transmission-style teaching to reciprocal relationships of co-learners. Classrooms where teaching for understanding occurs are marked by cooperative relations among students, social support for trying out new ideas, and a close and interactive relationship between students and teacher.

While these kinds of knowledge may be necessary for teachers to move toward the desired new form of teaching, they are not sufficient. Transformation of the knowledge into practice depends also on teachers' values and beliefs about teaching and students.(n21) Teachers' dispositions toward the profession, beliefs about what should be taught and to whom, and conceptions of the teaching task independently shape the extent to which teachers actually engage in teaching for understanding.(n22) The important additional role of a teacher's beliefs and judgments in classroom practice presents another problem for conceptualizing and measuring teaching and learning outcomes in context-effects research: the day-to-day "micro" contexts and situational character of pedagogical choices.


For various reasons, teachers with the requisite knowledge to teach for understanding may adopt different and seemingly incompatible teaching goals, strategies, and techniques over the course of the teaching day or week. Such reasons might include different levels of knowledge relevant to specific courses, judgments that specific course topics or lesson goals demand different pedagogies, beliefs that they are adapting to different student achievement levels or that different class periods have different dynamics. Yet both context-effects research and the literature on teaching for understanding assume a global, traitlike character of teaching practice. Once a "teaching for understanding" teacher, these perspectives suggest, always so.

Analysts who recognize the variability of a teacher's behavior across instructional situations criticize researchers who emphasize teacher knowledge as the dominant basis of practice(n23) for paying insufficient attention to the varied contexts in which a teacher works.(n24) In this line of argument, a teacher's choice about classroom practices at any point in time is not simply a product of knowledge and goals, but depends also upon assessments of the feasibility and desirability of particular practices in specific instructional settings. Such "reason in action"(n25) constructs practice in the dynamic setting of the classroom and provides important explanation for the variability of an individual's teaching practice over time in a class and across classes.

The great demands that teaching for understanding places on teachers' energy, attention, and time comprise another important factor in teachers' variable use of this strategy, even when they possess the requisite knowledge and beliefs. Given that teachers have limited "engagement budgets" to spend on classroom activities, they may be forced to alternate between teaching for understanding and less demanding forms of classroom instruction within single class sessions or between classes, simply to survive the day. Constraints imposed by personal or other job demands are likely to weigh in this equation. In managing a packed plate of competing demands, teachers may restrict teaching for understanding to areas in which they expect it will have the greatest impact on student learning. Even teachers most committed to and competent in teaching for understanding engage in "pedagogical triage" as a way to survive the multiple presses of a typical school day.


From this perspective, the multiple and embedded contexts of high school teaching become critical to assessing the likelihood of teaching for understanding among teachers who possess the necessary knowledge or expertise. That is, teaching for understanding is more than a product of individual capacity imported into the teaching context; it is also a product of opportunities within teaching contexts for teachers to learn new standards and strategies of practice. And it is a product of the judgments teachers make about when to teach for understanding and when to use alternative teaching approaches. These learning opportunities and judgments are fundamentally a matter of teaching context: They vary as a function of a teacher's experience in particular courses and classrooms, departments and schools, district and state policy systems, and broader educational environments.

The remaining sections of this article review three major lines of research on context effects on educational outcomes and ask how well they address the issues raised by research on teaching. To what extent do they identify context effects on teachers' learning or choosing classroom instructional approaches that promote student understanding and thus inform context-focused reform?


A long-standing tradition of sociological research examines effects of student tracking in U.S. high schools on a range of educational outcomes.(n26) This line of work suggests that students' track placements affect their educational attainments through both the "chartering" effects of course labels and differential learning opportunities between tracked classes.(n27) Tracked courses and student groups have come to be seen as important contexts of high school teaching in that they can engender inequalities in teachers' instructional goals, practices, and standards. Accordingly, "detracking" has become a staple of the latest wave of educational reform to improve student achievement.

Field and ethnographic studies comparing instruction in high- and low-track classes document that low-track classes emphasize rote memory and highly structured assignments while higher-track classes place more emphasis on complex tasks that require analytic thinking.(n28) These findings appear to derive from two sources: teachers' adaptations to students with different aptitudes and achievement levels and the knowledge and beliefs of teachers assigned to different classes.

Differences in instructional practices in low- and high-track classes may result from teachers' adaptations to perceived differences in these students' learning needs. Considerable evidence suggests that direct instruction with teacher structuring of learning activities will work better than indirect, inductive methods of teaching for low-ability students.(n29) Regardless, the hierarchical structure of high school courses enforces a notion of sequential mastering of subject matter. By implication, low-achieving students are "behind" and need to catch up before going on to the material and skills being learned by high-achieving peers.(n30)

Cognitive psychologists have challenged the sequential view of learning that places simple facts and basic skills prior to problem solving and complex understanding. In fact, research suggests that "basic" and "higher-order" instructional tasks have their own inherent demands, and that mastery of one type of task does not necessarily lead to proficiency in the other.(n31) Moreover, proponents of teaching for understanding argue that this instructional goal is equally appropriate for high- and low-achieving students. Likewise, research demonstrates that instructional choices are not of the either/or variety. Studies in diverse classroom contexts find that adaptation of instructional techniques to include more direct instruction for low-ability students does not mean abandoning goals for student mastery of higher-level knowledge structures and strategies.(n32)

Adaptations to student characteristics other than achievement also appear to shape instruction in different tracks. In fact, ethnographic data suggest that teachers' instructional choices in tracked classes may have little to do with implicit or explicit theories of cognitive development. For example, Mary Metz observed two common rationales among teachers of low-track students for their emphasis on simplified and slow-paced instruction. First, teachers regarded this instructional approach as a way to maintain classroom order, especially because routine work often kept unruly students busy. Second, routine work was seen as an accommodation to students' preferences for undemanding and private work. Here differential student motivation and teachers' adaptations to it become the key explanations for the different teaching strategies observed across the tracked classes of comprehensive high schools.(n33)

A second line of argument about the relationship between tracking and teaching for understanding refers not to student characteristics and teacher judgments but to teacher assignment patterns. Assorted evidence on patterns of teacher assignment to tracked high school classes suggests that teachers of low-track classes might be relatively weaker in subject-matter or pedagogical-context knowledge than their higher-track counterparts, and that these differences in teachers' technical knowledge, rather than differences among students, may account for the differences in teaching practices across tracks in high schools.(n34)


Although research suggests that teaching for understanding may be more prevalent, on average, in high-track classes, a compelling challenge to this conclusion is the consistent finding that teaching for understanding is lacking in both high- and low-track classes. The routine character of teaching in high school classrooms regardless of track is much remarked upon.(n35) For example, Linda McNeil's description of schooling--as highly institutionalized, watered-down subject-matter curricula and routine, transmission-oriented pedagogy--challenges researchers to examine conditions that inhibit teaching for understanding in all high school classes.(n36) Conversely, what enables teaching for understanding in a class at any track level? What constrains it?

Both student tracking and teachers' instructional choices in high- and low-track classes need to be understood in the broader context of American schooling. While teachers of high-track classes and their students and parents may emphasize critical thinking, analytic tasks, and problem-solving as important to success in college admissions,(n37) other factors impinge on high-track classes to suppress this effect. For example, college entrance exams and advanced placement tests emphasize greater coverage of course topics in preparation for college entrance exams,(n38) and this, in turn, encourages a more hurried, transmission-oriented pedagogy. Conversely, lower-track classes would be under less pressure for content coverage, and the slower pace of instruction could therefore free teachers to address a smaller number of topics in greater depth, to actively engage students in activities that promote deeper understanding.

A further condition of the effects of college-preparatory goals on instruction in academic track classes is the nature of students', parents', and teachers' understandings of college requirements. Since colleges differ in admission requirements and standards for their students' academic performance, notions about being prepared for higher education can and do vary and promote diversity in the educational goals and teaching strategies adopted in college-prep classes. For example, a study by Jean Anyon of fifth-grade instruction in five schools serving families of different occupational strata found that parents held different views about the preparation their children needed for later schooling and life.(n39) In schools serving students from middle-and working-class backgrounds, teachers emphasized knowledge as "received," whereas instruction in a school serving a professional class prized creativity; instruction in a school serving the executive elite stressed analysis of classic materials and scientific reasoning. This research suggests that the different educational goals parents and teachers hold for their students have substantial effects on the content and strategies of teaching. The fact that such differences appeared as early as the fifth grade in Anyon's study suggests that community social class may be a stronger predictor of teachers' emphasis on teaching for understanding than the track location of classes. In fact, Anyon's evidence suggests that there would be little demand for teaching for understanding, even in college-preparatory classes, in most working-and middle-class communities.

This analysis illustrates how track effects on teaching and learning can be mediated by the interplay of families' educational preferences and the standards of particular destination colleges. In some communities and colleges, students' mastery of facts denotes the prime educational standard; in others, deep subject understanding and problem solving are prized. Such differences in expectations for students' knowledge and skills among American colleges and universities are likely to be mirrored in the high-track classes of U.S. high schools and thus to condition effects of students' track placement on their learning opportunities.

Teachers' beliefs about how to teach different students comprise another key factor mediating tracking effects on instruction. While many teachers apparently believe that low-achieving students benefit from slow-paced, routine work and that only academically successful students can succeed at the more conceptually complex tasks involved in teaching for understanding, other teachers do not subscribe to this view. Such differences in teachers' beliefs derive, to some significant degree, from the beliefs and norms within the professional subcultures of departments or schools, teacher networks, or training programs.(n40) Such communities of practice can provide critical opportunities for teachers to learn new perspectives and skills for teaching diverse students or they can buttress beliefs and practices that shortchange low-track students. Teachers' individual and collective beliefs about teaching different kinds of students are thus central in the equation linking high school tracks to particular kinds of student learning opportunities.

Finally, the instructional effects of assigning least effective teachers to low-track classes and most effective teachers to high-track classes depend, of course, on the operation of such teacher assignment norms or policy in a particular high school department. In fact, CRC's research indicates that departments vary considerably in teacher assignment norms, even within the same school. Different departments within the name high school may have different strategies and philosophies of teacher and student assignment. Implications of these different department assignment policies for both student learning opportunities and teachers' sense of efficacy(n41) highlight the department as a critical policy context and an important focus for research on student tracking effects.

Prior context-effects research has ignored the many conditions under which tracking does or does not affect teaching practice--such as admissions standards of particular institutions of higher education and sociocultural "tastes" in education, instructional beliefs of teachers' professional subcultures, and class-assignment policies in high school departments. To ignore the contexts in which student tracking is embedded and operates is to misunderstand its effects on teaching and learning and, possibly, to misdirect policy aimed at improving the learning opportunities of low-achieving students.

Further, the focus in research and policy on tracking as the source of student differentiation in secondary education misses both substantial between-school differences in student composition and the variety of ways in which students constitute a context for teaching. Research on tracking does not begin to capture the many ways in which students frame teachers' practice. The cultural perspectives, language proficiency, academic motivation and preparation, family circumstances, and values and attitudes that students bring to the classroom comprise the most salient and problematic context for teaching.(n42)


A major line of research on educational contexts documents the effects of school "ethos" or "school community" on student outcomes.(n43) Such constructs refer to consensus among staff members on school goals, principal leadership, teacher cooperation and extended roles, high staff expectations for student achievement, and parent involvement.(n44) Evidence from the High School & Beyond national survey data presented by Anthony Bryk and Mary Driscoll(n45) reinforces and extends findings from a long line of field-based research on conditions of effective schools showing that schools relatively high on dimensions of community organization are higher on measures of student academic achievement and retention.(n46) While some critics have argued that student/family selection effects are not adequately controlled in this work, particularly insofar as sector is a strong predictor of school community, available data support the conclusion. In schools where the staffs share high expectations for student performance and where high levels of collegiality and principal leadership support teachers' work, students show relatively high levels of engagement in the life of the school, including academic aspects of school life.

The features of a productive high school community that emerge from this line of research contrast sharply with available portraits of the typical U.S. high school and illuminate substantial variation among schools as contexts of teaching and learning. American high schools have been portrayed as organizations lacking a sense of common purpose, a generalized responsibility on the part of teachers for the learning of all students, and a strong sense of attachment among students and teachers. Schools in general, and high schools in particular, are portrayed as "emotionally flat" environments(n47) because the internal organization of high schools results in weak attachment to schooling. Special courses are offered for high- and low-achieving students, who form into temporary groups for purposes of instruction, but form little attachment to any group that cuts across these divisions. And middle- achieving students are left to fend for themselves in an anonymous bureaucratic structure that neither acknowledges them as individuals nor provides them with special attention.(n48)

Weak attachment to schooling provokes students and teachers to seek other forms of engagement and undermines academic commitment and success. Nearly half of high school-age students are actively engaged in the workforce at the same time they are engaged as full-time students, and surveys indicate that students engage in these nonschool activities not out of economic necessity, but rather to search out meaningful attachment.(n49) Many teachers likewise hold second jobs, less out of economic necessity than out of a search for energizing commitments in life.(n50) This line of argument suggests that a strong school community can be important for the educational success of teachers and their students, and it has supported a substantial effective-schools reform movement over the past decade.(n51)


Although a prima facie case could be made linking strong school communities and teaching for understanding, this hypothesis ignores contingencies involved in both constructing a schoolwide community and establishing this norm of educational practice. In fact, an argument relating the presence or absence of some attribute labeled "school community" to particular kinds of teaching and learning in classrooms is problematic for a variety of practical reasons.

First, our CRC research suggests that strong schoolwide communities are rare indeed and often depend on very special conditions of client and staff selection or unusually small size. In the typical high school of about 1,200 students, the high school department functions as the primary organizational context of teaching. As indicated by measures of teacher collegiality, the extent of collaboration and support among teachers in the typical high school varies substantially across high school departments in the same school.(n52) Thus, departments can more or less approximate a communal form of organization and more or less support members' capacity for effective practice, sense of professional efficacy and commitment, and, under additional conditions, the likelihood that they will learn and practice teaching for understanding.

Second, whether the school or department forms the unit of community, value consensus within a faculty gives no guarantee that the values will support teaching and learning for understanding. This line of research and argument fails to consider the various kinds of school communities that can develop under different circumstances, and how subtle differences in communal norms or structures can affect the attachments that develop among members of a school and, in turn, educational goals and classroom processes that characterize teaching and learning.(n53) The nature of a school's mission and shared values will be more or less conducive to particular kinds of educational outcomes, and this context is heavily influenced by the broader contextual circumstances of a particular school--community demographics, parent preferences, state and local educational policy systems, and local political economy are examples.

Likewise, strong collegial ties among the teaching staff and a diffuse teacher role that builds strong affiliation among students and teachers may or may not support teaching and learning for understanding. Although these ties may energize both faculty and students, the agenda to which members are committed may be unrelated to academics. For example, strong collegial bonds among teachers may focus on the tasks of teaching and student learning, but they might also be seen simply as ends in themselves--to aid "survival" in a challenging school environment, for example. Similarly, a diffuse teacher role may bring students and teachers into more contact, but these contacts may focus around extracurricular activities rather than academics. Though knowledge and support of students as persons is an element in and a basis for teaching for understanding, it is by no means sufficient for this form of teaching and learning.

One condition for schoolwide community organized around the goal of teaching for understanding may be that students are sufficiently similar in academic background and aspirations, or perceived as such, to support a common curriculum that promotes students' deep understanding of subject matter. Schools that carefully select students--parochial schools, independent schools, public examination schools--are better able to assure teachers that students are prepared to succeed at this kind of demanding academic work. But in public schools, which face weak controls over the academic preparation of students, a common core of learning might mean a watered-down curriculum.(n54)

Third, we are finding that opportunities for teachers to learn and to receive collegial support for new teaching practices often exist outside the school. We see, in particular, the critical role that professional networks can play in teachers' interest and capacity to learn new forms of teaching. For example, large and growing subject area networks such as the Urban Math Collaborative and the Bay Area Writing Project have been pivotal in the professional growth of large numbers of mathematics and English teachers, respectively.(n55) University-school collaboratives are playing a similar role in promoting improved teaching practice.(n56) While the existence of such extra-school contexts of teachers' professional communities does not challenge the potential role of school community in promoting teaching for understanding, it may be that such professional networks and discourse communities are more important than schoolwide community in diffusing and enabling teaching for understanding in U.S. classrooms.


Still a third line of research on the context of teaching argues that increased bureaucratization of U.S. public schooling has negatively affected teaching and learning.(n57) In this view, teachers' work has become more routinized and regulated as state education agencies and local school systems implement centralized curricula and use standardized achievement tests to assess the performance of students, teachers, and schools. Since traditional texts and tests stress basic-skills outcomes and teachers are pressured to teach to the objectives of minimum competency and basic-skills achievement tests, instruction in schools is apparently becoming correspondingly more standard and routine.(n58) In fact, Linda Darling-Hammond and Arthur Wise argue that teachers' responses to this trend account for the pattern of test-score results that has emerged over the past several years -- rising scores in basic-skills areas but declining scores in writing, science, mathematical problem solving, and analytical reading.(n59)

Much recent evidence suggests that these trends are widespread throughout public school systems in the United States. For example, a decade ago Wise noted the tendency for state legislatures and education agencies to increasingly regulate schooling through the development of policies on curriculum and testing.(n60) More recently, Susan Fuhrman, William Clune, and Richard Elmore described how recent educational reform policies are tightening controls over teaching in local schools through the implementation of policies concerning curriculum, testing, and teacher evaluation.(n61) Calls for a national system of student assessment would extend the phenomenon of bureaucratic control of educational outcomes to the national level as well.

Teachers alter their instructional practices in response to these standardizing policies. For example, Susan Rosenholtz interviewed teachers in Tennessee in the first year of implementation of statewide minimum-competency testing and found that virtually all of the teachers interviewed altered the content of instruction to conform to the content of the tests.(n62) Similarly, Darling-Hammond and Wise found that districts' use of standardized tests altered the curriculum content and pacing of instruction and led teachers to teach directly to the content of the tests.(n63) This trend was especially strong in schools that implemented so-called competency-based education, a strategy that relies on a set of predetermined curricular objectives with pre- and post-tests determining student progress. A set of case studies likewise demonstrated the effects of this form of instructional management on teaching.(n64) According to this research, teachers developed "technocratic mindedness" in which students' learning needs were defined in terms of test results.

State and district policy systems comprise important contexts of teaching in U.S. public schools; they define and promote instructional policies and accountability systems that constrain teachers' classroom choices. The emphasis on basic skills, and the demands for accountability that have resulted from bureaucratized patterns of instructional management, apparently encourages teachers to organize knowledge into small sequenced steps, to teach knowledge as facts, to teach these facts directly, and to pace instruction briskly. This line of work suggests that, increasingly, classrooms are emotionally flat and teaching and learning processes are characterized by the routine presentation and consumption of facts.(n65)

Related research highlights school-sector differences in the organizational contexts of teaching and also considers the political context that gives rise to bureaucratization.(n66) While evidence for their argument is sparse,(n67) Chubb and Moe claim that institutions of democratic control generate bureaucratic controls and ineffectiveness in the public school sector, while the market context of private schools generates effective, communal conditions of school organization. They conclude that nothing short of dismantling school bureaucracies will work to improve -- or salvage -- public education.(n68)


This line of school-organization research suggests that bureaucratizing trends in U.S. public education promote direct instruction in basic skills and thus constrain the likelihood of teaching for understanding. It does not follow from this argument, however, that relaxing bureaucratic controls will promote teaching for understanding, nor does it follow that all dimensions and forms of bureaucratic organization in education are incompatible with endeavors to promote this form of teaching.

For example, consider what might happen if current bureaucratic controls in education were relaxed. The fact-oriented, teacher-dominated instruction that characterizes today's schools was the dominant form long before the bureaucratization of schooling and survived attempts during the progressive era to eliminate it.(n69) Given the highly institutionalized and resilient nature of this traditional teaching form, there is little reason to suppose that relaxation of today's bureaucratic controls would result in more teaching for understanding. Indeed, it is likely that teaching would continue as before, in a fairly traditional form.

On the other hand, if one considers dimensions of the bureaucratic form of organization -- hierarchy or centralization, specialization, universalistic standards of evaluation, formalization(n70) -- rather than the negative connotations of its "rationalization" of U.S. education, it is easy to envision conditions in which enhanced bureaucratic controls might actually increase the likelihood that teaching for understanding would prevail in schools. Consider, for example, the bureaucratic tendency toward specialization. In education, subject specialization is a major thrust of reform to improve education.(n71) This trend promises to deepen teachers' knowledge of specific subjects and, thus, should make it more likely that teachers will be prepared to teach for understanding. Of course, this kind of bureaucratic specialization is not sufficient to produce teaching for understanding in schools, but a good case can be made that teacher specialization is a necessary precondition.

Further, centralized standards and controls of education might be used to promote teaching for understanding. Current bureaucratic controls over teaching are derived from the behaviorist traditions that spawned today's basic-skills curricula and standardized achievement tests. However, to the extent that policymakers can be convinced that alternative types of curricula and tests are needed, and to the extent that texts and tests more consistent with the philosophy of teaching for understanding can be developed, perhaps the same kinds of bureaucratic controls that currently enforce instruction in the basic-skills emphasis can be used instead to promote teaching for understanding.

In fact, this trend to align bureaucratic controls with current notions of desirable student outcomes is already occurring in American education. For example, results of such standardized tests as the National Assessment of Educational Progress first alerted many educator and policymakers to the need for teaching for understanding in America's schools. And currently, some states (e.g., California, Vermont, and Michigan) are implementing state testing systems that are more consistent with the principles of teaching for understanding; state-of-the-art curriculum frameworks in selected subjects are pointing the way to new standards of practice. A shift in the content of bureaucratic controls over curriculum and testing could well promote teaching for understanding.

In summary, we suggest that consequences of bureaucratic organization for teaching depend on the content of centralized controls and how they articulate with particular educational goals. In the policy environment of the 1980s, bureaucratic controls enforced behaviorist theories of education and discouraged teaching for understanding. However, given the traditional resilience of fact-oriented, teacher-dominated teaching, relaxing bureaucratic controls is not likely to engender teaching for understanding. Sweeping condemnations of centralizing trends in U.S. public education, and calls for dismantling the educational bureaucracy, are not likely to advance the cause of improved classroom teaching and learning.


The centrality of context to teachers' conception of their work, to the development of classroom practices, to teaching for understanding, together with the limits of "average effects" findings for formulating policy, suggests several implications for policy research.

First, refined conceptions and measures of context variables that correspond with teachers' realities and that matter to teaching for understanding are needed to provide valid representations of conditions of teaching and their effects on educational outcomes. As we illustrated for the school community and bureaucratization variables, qualitative differences are as important as quantitative variation in specifying the direction and significance of context influences on teaching. Field-based understandings of diverse meanings and manifestations of a particular context variable such as faculty goal consensus will be critical in meeting this challenge.

Second, policy researchers need to think strategically about the contributions and limits of survey research and field-based research. In the past, policy research has focused too much (and sometimes mistakenly) on estimating average effects of particular variables and too little on examining and understanding the conditions and processes whereby the multiple contexts of teaching influence teaching and learning for better or worse.

Survey research using refined measures of both learning outcomes and context conditions can provide important information about the distributions of students and teachers on indicators of educational success and about their context correlates within a particular historical period. Periodic examination of such survey data allows educators, school administrators, and policymakers to evaluate educational trends and possible levers for improvement.

Survey data also can be useful in pointing to meaningful units or contexts for research and policy formulation. By breaking down large-scale survey samples into particular kinds of settings, such as the subject area of teachers or the metropolitan status of schools, analysts can consider how similar or different the specific settings are on success indicators and their context correlates. As examples from survey research conducted within the CRC: Susan Stodolsky and Pamela Grossman have found important differences between subject areas in teachers' educational goals and instructional practices; Jane Hannaway and Joan Talbert found that effects of school and district size on school community were opposite for suburban and urban school sub-samples.(n72) Such analyses can identify important kinds of diversity among educational contexts and suggest strategic sites for educational research and policy formulation.

Field-based research can interpret why and how particular aspects of school context influence teaching and reaming and thus provide critical complement and explanation to survey findings. Qualitative research is essential for understanding the everyday meanings of contexts that are most salient to teachers as they construct practice in particular educational settings. Case studies of classrooms, teachers, schools, and school systems can describe, for example, how state or local curriculum policies, policies concerning student assignment and promotion, or shifts in the broader political economy work through and within the school or subject context to shape classroom activities and outcomes. Such analyses of change processes and of the meanings of and complex interactions among context conditions that support or undermine outcomes such as teaching for understanding are beyond the reach of survey methods but essential to policymakers' and practitioners' understanding of context effects on teaching.

The importance of context to practice underscores the potential of such field-based research to help policymakers and practitioners gain a better conception of what teaching for understanding in fact is, and to learn about the conditions that enable or constrain it. While many policymakers acknowledge the value of teaching for understanding and the need to develop higher-order thinking skills for students,(n73) they also struggle with what these notions mean in practice and the ways in which policy can support them. Policy research that provides contextualized understanding and interpretation can contribute to policymakers' understanding of how this form of education is learned and adopted by teachers and students and assist in identifying levers for change.

Likewise, policy research that attends to context can support educators' efforts to rethink or reform their practice. Practitioners benefited little from policy studies that presented only aggregate statistics and decontextualized summary findings. Teachers and administrators learn best from the experience of other practitioners or from opportunities to understand practice in context.(n74) Field-based, contextualized studies of teaching for understanding can facilitate practitioners' learning about alternatives to existing practices, about differences between teaching for understanding and traditional forms of instruction, and about how such practices might work in their own settings.

However, to fulfill this promise, policy research itself must be sensitive to context. Most lines of research on promising practice or on school effects ignore the contexts that teachers say are most critical to their practices and beliefs -- subject area and students. Teaching for understanding in English will depart in some elemental ways from teaching for understanding in mathematics, for example.(n75) Teaching for understanding in classrooms comprised of academically motivated and successful students is one thing; teaching for understanding in classrooms where student mobility is high, where English skills are limited, or where academic motivation is low presents different challenges. Teaching does not take place in generic classrooms stripped of subject-matter concerns; teachers are not mindless of the backgrounds, needs, and interests of the students who comprise a class. In order to seriously rethink their own strategies and beliefs, teachers need to comprehend alternatives to existing practices not just in general, but in contexts specific to their schools and classrooms.

Similarly, both teachers and administrators ask for evidence that new practices "can work here," and concrete information about how to transform their practices in ways that are consistent with teaching and learning for understanding. Policy research carried out in "boutique" or "hothouse" schools with special resources or advantages, as opposed to ordinary or difficult school settings, does little to convince educators that the promising practices or reforms reported can be implemented or can succeed in their settings. Likewise, policy research that focuses on outcomes but fails to describe and interpret the processes of transformation -- how the teachers and administrators under study were able to change their practices and accomplish the positive outcomes reported -- gives practitioners little explicit help in planning their own changes or confidence that they could in fact "get there from here."

In the absence of such information, practitioners' inclinations to stick with known practice are understandable. Yet without support from policy research that attends to specific salient contexts, the kinds of learning assumed by teaching for understanding are attenuated or confined to settings in which practitioners are able to observe teaching for understanding directly. Policy research thus can play a critical role in supporting systemic change in practice by describing, interpreting, and broadcasting contextualized examples of the teaching and learning activities reformers pursue. Without strategies to describe, analyze, and circulate contextualized examples of effective practices, it is likely that many policymakers and practitioners still "won't get it," and efforts at reform will continue to produce islands of excellence while most classrooms, schools, and districts continue with the questionably effective but familiar strategies of the past.

To be most useful, policy research also must attend to the embedded character of the multiple contexts that shape teaching and learning. As our discussion highlights, the attitudes and practices of actors in any one level of the system -- classroom, school, district, as examples --are conditioned by the activities and attitudes of actors in other parts of the system. Policy research that takes a systemic perspective can help identify the different levers and resources available in different parts of the system, and the ways in which they can work together to enable teaching for understanding (or, conversely, the ways in which actions in one component of the system constrain actors in other system segments).

Finally, policy research that informs policies to support more productive learning environments -- teaching for understanding -- can exploit the necessarily indirect relationship between policy and practice that long has frustrated reformers.(n76) Policies work through and within the contexts in which they are carried out;(n77) policy research, by extension, could aim to understand and influence those contexts as a way to influence practice. Policy research of this stripe moves away from seeking general prescriptions of "what works" to examining aspects of the contexts of practice that enable desired policy outcomes, or in this case, teaching for understanding.

Work on this manuscript was supported by the Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, a national research center funded by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education (Grant No. G0087C0235). We are grateful to Richard Elmore for his contributions to early discussions of the issues addressed by this paper; to Juliann Cummer for her substantial help in preparing the manuscript; and to Elizabeth Demarest, Harry Handler, Donald Hill, Ann Lieberman, Arthur Powell, Steven Raudenbush, and Theodore Sizer for their thoughtful comments on an earlier draft.


(n1) David K. Cohen, "Teaching Practice, Plus Que Ca Change . . .," in Contributing to Educational Change, ed. Philip W. Jackson (Berkeley: McCutchan, 1988), pp. 27-84.

(n2) See, for example, Dan C. Lortie, Schoolteacher: A Sociological Study (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975).

(n3) K. E. Weick, "Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems," Administrative Science Quarterly 21 (1976): 1-18; and J. W. Meyer and B. Rowan, "The Structure of Educational Organizations," in Environments and Organizations, ed. M. W. Meyer et al. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1978).

(n4) See Philip W. Jackson, The Practice of Teaching (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986).

(n5) We use the term outcome to mean educational consequences of a student's exposure to particular teaching conditions and of a teacher's exposure to particular context conditions. This follows colloquial use of the term and does not imply an "input/output" conception or model of schooling. Indeed, we explicitly recognize the interactive and reciprocal nature of individuals' relations with their environments and, thus, the co-construction of teaching and learning outcomes in contexts.

(n6) See James G. Greeno, "Number Sense as Situated Knowing in a Conceptual Domain," Journal for Research in Mathematics 22 (1991): 170-218; Magdalene Lampert, "What Can Research on Teacher Education Tell Us about Improving Quality in Mathematics Education?" Teacher and Teacher Education 4 (1988): 157-70; and J. S. Brown, A. Collins, and P. Duguid, "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning," Educational Researcher 18 (1989): 32-42.

(n7) See, for example, Lee S. Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching: Foundations of the New Reform," Harvard Educational Review 57 (1987): 1-22; Brown, Collins, and Duguid, "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning"; and N. L. Gage, "The Paradigm Wars and Their Aftermath: A 'Historical' Sketch of Research on Teaching Since 1989," Teachers College Record 91 (Winter 1989): 135-50.

(n8) Richard S. Prawat, "Teaching for Understanding: Three Key Attributes," Teaching and Teacher Education 5 (1989): 315-28; P. L. Peterson, E. Fennema, and T. Carpenter, "Using Children's Mathematical Knowledge," in Teaching Advanced Skills to At-Risk Students, ed. B. Means, C. Chelemer, and M. S. Knapp (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991); and Penelope L. Peterson, "Alternatives to Student Retention: New Images of the Learner, the Teacher, and Classroom Learning," in Flunking Grades: Research and Policies on Grade Retention, ed. L. A Shepard and M. L. Smith (New York: Falmer Press, 1988).

(n9) Brown, Collins, and DuGuid, "Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning"; Gerald Grant, Teaching Critical Thinking (New York: Praeger, 1988); Thomas Good, Classroom and School Research: Investments in Enhancing Schools (Columbia: University of Missouri, 1989); P. Mortimore et al., School Matters (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988); F. M. Newmann, "Can Depth Replace Coverage in the High School Curriculum?," Phi Delta Kappan 69 (1988): 345-48; and Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching."

(n10) The current primacy of teaching for understanding in the institutional zeitgeist can be seen, in part, as a resurgence of ideas championed in the 1950s' curriculum reform movement. In this era we see both stronger commitment to the goal of students' academic understandings and more research evidence on teaching strategies effective in reaching this goal.

(n11) Given current demographics of the teacher labor force, we cannot rely on the educational programs or certification standards for new recruits to bring about a transformation of teaching practice; rather, veteran teachers' willingness and capacity to change classroom practices will be central to educational improvement as currently conceived.

(n12) See, for example, Good, Classroom and School Research; Peterson, Fennema, and Carpenter, "Using Children's Mathematical Knowledge"; Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching"; Grant, Teaching Critical Thinking; and Mortimore et al., School Matters.

(n13) Pamela Grossman, Suzanne Wilson, and Lee S. Shulman, "Teachers of Substance: Subject Matter Knowledge in Teaching," in Knowledge Base of the Beginning Teacher, ed. M. Reynolds (Washington, D.C.: AACTE, 1989); and Magdalene Lampert, "How Do Teachers Manage to Teach? Perspectives on Problems in Practice," Harvard Educational Review 55 (1985): 178-94.

(n14) Pamela L. Grossman, "A Study of Contrast: Sources of Pedagogical Content Knowledge of English" (Ph.D. dies., Stanford University, 1991); Deborah L. Ball and G. Williamson McDiarmid, The Subject Matter Preparation of Teachers (Report # 89-4) (East Lansing: Michigan State University, Center for Research on Teacher Education, 1989); and Suzanne M. Wilson and Samuel S. Wineburg, "Peering at History from Different Lenses: The Role of Disciplinary Perspectives in the Teaching of American History," Teachers College Record 89 (Summer 1988): 525-39.

(n15) Lee S. Shulman, "Those Who Understand: Knowledge Growth in Teaching," Educational Researcher 15 (1986): 4-14; and idem, "Knowledge and Teaching."

(n16) Andy Hargreaves, "Teaching Quality: A Sociological Analysis," Curriculum Studies (1988): 211-31.

(n17) G. Williamson McDiarmid, Deborah L. Ball, and Charles W. Anderson, Why Staying One Chapter Ahead Doesn't Really Work: Subject-Specific Pedagogy (Retort # 88-6) (East Lansing: Michigan State University, Center for Research on Teacher Education, 1989); and M. Lampert, "Knowing, Doing and Teaching Multiplication," Cognition and Instruction 3 (1986): 305-42.

(n18) G. Williamson McDiarmid, What Do Prospective Teachers Learn in Their Liberal Arts Courses? (Report 89-4) (East Lansing: Michigan State University, Center for Research on Teacher Education, 1989); Mortimore et al., School Matters; Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching"; Grant, Teaching Critical Thinking; J. G. Greeno, "Situations, Mental Models, and Generative Knowledge," in Complex Information Processing: The Impact of Herbert A. Simon, ed. D. Klahr and K. Kotovsky (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1988); Lampert, "How Do Teachers Manage to Teach?"; L. B. Resnick, Education and Learning to Think (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1987); and Sharon Feiman-Nemser and Margret Buchmann, "The First Year of Teacher Preparation: Transition to Pedagogical Thinking," Journal of Curriculum Studies (1986): 239-56.

(n19) McDiarmid, Ball, end Anderson, Why Staying One Chapter Ahead Doesn't Really Work, p. 3.

(n20) Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching"; Grant, Teaching Critical Thinking; and Michael G. Fullan, "Change Processes in Secondary Schools: Toward a More Fundamental Agenda," in The Contexts of Teaching in Secondary Schools: Teachers' Realities, ed. Milbrey W. McLaughlin, Joan E. Talbert, and Nina Bascia (New York: Teachers College Press, 1990), pp. 224-55.

(n21) Feiman-Nemser and Buchmann, "The First Year of Teacher Preparation"; and Wilson and Wineburg, "Peering at History from Different Lenses."

(n22) Good, Classroom and School Research, p. 25.

(n23) Shulman, "Knowledge and Teaching."

(n24) See Hugh Sockett, "Research, Practice and Professional Aspiration within Teaching," Journal of Curriculum Studies (1989): 97-112; Grant, Teaching Critical Thinking; and Good, Classroom and School Research, as examples.

(n25) Sockett, "Research, Practice and Professional Aspiration within Teaching."

(n26) Cf. Christopher S. Jencks et al., Inequality: A Reassessment of the Effect of Family and Schooling in America (New York: Basic Books, 1972); James E. Rosenbaum, Making Inequality (New York: John Wiley, 1976); K. L. Alexander, M. A. Cook, and E. L. McDill, "Curriculum Tracking and Educational Stratification," American Sociological Review 43 (1978): 47-66; and Maureen T. Hallinan, "The Effects of Ability Grouping in Secondary Schools: A Response to Slavin's Best-Evidence Synthesis," Review of Educational Research 60 (1990): 501-04.

(n27) But see Robert E. Slavin, "Achievement Effects of Ability Grouping in Secondary Schools: A Best-Evidence Synthesis," Review of Educational Research 60 (1990): 471-500, for mixed evidence on the educational effects of ability grouping.

(n28) D. H. Hargreaves, Social Relations in a Secondary School (London: C. Tinling and Company, Ltd. 1967); Mary H. Metz, Classrooms and Corridors: The Crisis of Authority in Desegregated Secondary Schools (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978); and Jeannie Oakes, Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

(n29) See Lee J. Cronbach and Richard E. Snow, Aptitudes and Instructional Methods: A Handbook for Research on Interactions (New York: Irvington, 1977); W. Doyle, "Academic Work," Review of Educational Research 53 (1983): 159-99; and Richard E. Snow, "Aptitude-Treatment Interaction as a Framework for Research on Learning and Individual Differences," in Learning and Individual Differences, ed. P. L. Ackerman (New York: Freeman, 1989). One explanation for such evidence is that low-ability students and novices in a particular subject area lack general command of the processes needed to formulate their own solutions to tasks presented under conditions of indirect instruction.

(n30) Oakes, Keeping Track; Rosenbaum, Making Inequality; and D. Wilson and P. Schmits, "What's New in Ability Grouping?" Phi Delta Kappan 59 (1978): 535-36.

(n31) W. C. Becker and R. Gerstein, "A Follow-up of Follow Through: The Later Effects of the Direct Instruction Model on Children in Fifth and Sixth Grades," American Educational Research Journal 19 (1982): 75-92; A. Brown and J. Campione, Memory Strategies in Learning: Training Children to Study Strategically (Technical Report #22) (Urbana: University of Illinois-Urbana, Center for the Study of Reading, 1977): A. Brown and J. Campione, Inducing Flexible Thinking: Problem of Access (Technical Report #156) (Urbana: University of Illinois-Urbana, Center for the Study of Reading, 1980); J. G. Greeno, "Mathematical and Scientific Thinking in Classrooms and Other Situations," in Enhancement of Higher-Order Thinking in Science and Mathematics Education, ed. D. Halpern (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991); J. S. Greeno and J. L. Moore, "Transfer of Situated Learning," in Transfer on Trial, ed. D. Detterman and R. Sternberg (Hillsdale: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991); and Richard E. Mayer and James G. Greeno, "Structural Differences between Learning Outcomes Produced by Different Instructional Methods," Journal of Educational Psychology 63 (1972): 165-73.

(n32) Brown and Campione, Memory Strategies in Learning; D. W. Carnine and M. Stein, "Strategy and Organizational Practice Procedures for Teaching Basic Facts," Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 12 (1981): 65-69; J. Lloyd, "Academic Instruction and Cognitive Behavior Modification: The Need for Attack Strategy Training," Exceptional Education Quarterly 1 (1980): 53-63; J. Hansen, "The Effects of Inference Framing and Practice on Young Children's Reading Comprehension," Reading Research Quarterly 16 (1981): 391-417; A. Rubin, Making Stories, Making Sense (Reading Education Report Nov 14) (Urbana: University of Illinois-Urbana, Center for the Study of Reading, 1980); and M. Scardamalia, C. Bereiter, and E. Woodruff, Functional and Stylistic Choices in Computer-Assisted Instruction (Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association, 1982).

(n33) Mary H. Metz, Classrooms and Corridors: The Crisis of Authority in Desegregated Secondary Schools (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 103-06.

(n34) The notion that most capable teachers are assigned to high- versus low-track classes comes from evidence that most teachers prefer high or average classes, that teachers compete to avoid low-track classes, and that teachers' track assignment is regarded as a sign of their relative competence (see Marilee K. Finley, "Teachers and Tracking in a Comprehensive High School," Sociology of Education [1984]: 233-43; and Rosenbaum, Making Inequality, for evidence in U.S. schools; see Steven J. Ball, Beachside Comprehensive: A Case-study of Secondary Schooling [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 19811]; R. G. Burgess, Experiencing Comprehensive Education: A Study of Bishop McGregor High School [London: Methuen, 1983]; Hargreaves, Social Relations in a Secondary School; and C. Lacey, Hightown Grammar [Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1970] for data from British schools). On average, teachers prefer highly motivated students in high-track classes or cooperative students in general-track classes to disinterested or defiant students in low-track classes. Additional data consistent with this argument indicate that teachers assigned to low-track classes have more limited access to professional support and development opportunities than do their colleagues -- see Finley, "Teachers and Tracking in a Comprehensive High School" and Joan E. Talbert, Teacher Tracking: Exacerbating Inequalities in the High School (Retort # P90-121) (Stanford: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, 1990).

(n35) John I. Goodlad, A Place Called School (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984); Oakes, Keeping Track; A. Powell, E. Farrar, and D. Cohen, The Shopping Mall High School (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985); and Linda McNeil, "Defensive Teaching and Classroom Control," in Ideology and Practice in Schooling, ed. M. Apple and L. Weis (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1983), pp. 114-42.

(n36) McNeil, "Defensive Teaching and Classroom Control," pp. 114-42.

(n37) Hargreaves, Social Relations in a Secondary School; and Oakes, Keeping Track.

(n38) R. G. Burgess, "It's Not Proper Subject: It's Just Newsom," in Defining the Curriculum, ed. I. Goodson and S. Ball (London: The Falmer Press, 1984); and Oakes, Keeping Track.

(n39) Jean Anyon, "Social Class and School Knowledge," Curriculum Inquiry 11 (1981): 3-42.

(n40) Subject-area cultures may also condition track effects on teaching practice. Research being conducted in the CRC by Pamela Grossman and Susan Stodolsky indicates that teachers in different levels of control of over what and how they teach. Specifically, mathematics teachers are more likely than colleagues in other subject contexts to regard subject matter as "given" and instruction routine (Susan S. Stodolsky and Pamela L. Grossman, Subject Matter as Context for Teaching and Learning: Work in Progress 1989-1990 (Retort # R90-3) [Stanford: Stanford University: Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, 1990]; and Joan E. Talbert, Boundaries of Teachers' Professional Communities in U.S. High Schools (Retort # P91-130) [Stanford: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, 1991]).

(n41) Stephen W. Raudenbush, Brian Rowan, and Yuk Fai Cheong, "Contextual Effects on the Self-perceived Efficacy of High School Teachers," Sociology of Education 2 (1992): 150-67; and Talbert, Teacher Tracking.

(n42) Milbrey W. McLaughlin, Joan Talbert, and Patricia Phelan, 1990 CRC Report to Field Sites (Stanford: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, 1990).

(n43) On ethos, see M. Rutter et al., Fifteen Thousand Hours: Secondary Schools and Their Effects on Children (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979); on community, see A. Bryk and M. E. Driscoll, An Empirical Investigation of the School as a Community (Chicago: University of Chicago School of Education, 1988).

(n44) See S. C. Purkey and M. S. Smith, "Effective Schools: A Review," Elementary School Journal 83 (1983): 427-54, for review and discussion of "effective school" variables and research findings.

(n45) Bryk and Driscoll, An Empirical Investigation.

(n46) Purkey and Smith, "Effective Schools."

(n47) See Goodlad, A Place Called School.

(n48) Powell, Farrar, and Cohen, The Shopping Mall High School.

(n49) L. Steinberg et al., Noninstructional Influences on High School Student Achievement: The Contributions of Parents, Peers, Extracurricular Activities, and Part-Time Work (Madison: University of Wisconsin, National Center of Effective Secondary Schools, 1988); and Jerald Bachman, Correlates of Employment among High School Teachers: Monitoring tic Future (Occasional Paper Series, Paper 20) (Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, 1986).

(n50) M. W. Sedlak et al., Selling Students Short: Classroom Bargains and Academic Reform in the American High School (New York: Teachers College Press, 1986).

(n51) U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO), Effective Schools Programs: Their Extent and Characteristics (Washington, D.C.: General Accounting Office, GAO/HRD-89-132BR, 1989).

(n52) In Talbert, Boundaries of Teachers' Professional Communities, department-specific scores on a collegiality index replicated from a national survey revealed that four out of eight regular public schools in the CRC sample had departments scoring in both the top and the bottom quartiles of a national distribution of school averages on the index.

(n53) See Milbrey W. McLaughlin, Strategic Dimensions of Teachers' Workplace Context (Report # P90-119) (Stanford: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, 1990); and Joan E. Talbert et al., Goal Diversity among U.S. High Schools: Trade-Offs with Academic Excellence (Report # R90-2), (Stanford: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching, 1990).

(n54) McNeil, "Defensive Teaching and Classroom Control," pp. 114-42; and L. McNeil, "Exit, Voice, and Community: Magnet Teachers' Responses to Standardization," Educational Policy 1 (1987): 93-113.

(n55) Gary Lichtenstein, Milbrey W. McLaughlin, and Jennifer Knudsen, "Teacher Empowerment and Professional Knowledge," in The Changing Contexts of Teaching: Ninety-First Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, ed. Ann Lieberman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 37-59.

(n56) See David Cohen, Milbrey W. McLaughlin, Joan E. Talbert, eds., Teaching Understanding: Practice, Research and Policy (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, forthcoming).

(n57) See, for example, L. Darling-Hammond and A. C. Wise, "Beyond Standardization: State Standards and School Improvement," The Elementary School Journal, 1985, pp. 315-56; McNeil, "Defensive Teaching and Classroom Control"; and idem, "Exit, Voice and Community."

(n58) For a review, see Brian Rowan, "Commitment and Control: Alternative Strategies for the Organizational Design of Schools," in Review of Research in Education, Vol. 16, ed. C. B. Cazden (Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association, 1990), pp. 353-89.

(n59) Darling-Hammond and Wise, "Beyond Standardization."

(n60) A. Wise, Legislated Learning: The Bureaucratization of the American Classroom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979).

(n61) Susan H. Fuhrman, William H. Clune, and Richard F. Elmore, "Research on Education Reform: Lessons on the Implementation of Policy," Teachers College Record 90 (Winter 1989): 237-57.

(n62) Susan Rosenholtz, "Education Reform Strategies: Will They Increase Teacher Commitment?," American Journal of Education 95 (1987): 534-62.

(n63) Darling-Hammond and Wise, "Beyond Standardization."

(n64) Robert V. Bullough, Jr., Andrew D. Gitlin, and Stanley L. Goldstein, "Ideology, Teacher Role and Resistance," Teachers College Record 86 (Winter 1984): 339-58.

(n65) Goodlad, A Place Called School; McNeil, "Defensive Teaching and Classroom Control"; Oakes, Keeping Track; and Powell, Farrar, and Cohen, The Shopping Mall High School.

(n66) See L. H. Salganik and N. Karweit, "Voluntarism and Governance in Education," Sociology of Education 55 (1982): 152-61, on school-sector differences; and L. E. Chubb and T. E. Moe, Politics, Markets and America's Schools (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1990), on bureaucratization.

(n67) See J. F. Witte, "Understanding High School Achievement: After a Decade of Research, Do We Have Any Confident Policy Recommendations?" (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, San Francisco, 1990).

(n68) Chubb and Moe, Politics, Markets and America's Schools.

(n69) Larry Cuban, "Constancy and Change in Schools (1880s to the Present)," in Contributing to Educational Change, ed. Jackson, pp. 85-106; and Cohen, "Teaching Practice."

(n70) M. Weber, trans., The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (Glencoe, III.: Free Press, 1947).

(n71) For example, Holmes Group, Tomorrow's Teachers (East Lansing, Mich.: Holmes Group, 1986); and Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the Twenty-First Century (New York: Carnegie Corporation, 1986).

(n72) Susan S. Stodolsky and Pamela L. Grossman, "Subject Matter as Context" (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April 1992); and Jane Hannaway and Joan Talbert, "Bringing Context into Effective Schools Research: Urban-Suburban Differences," Education Administration Quarterly 29 (1993): 164-182.

(n73) See, e.g., America 2000.

(n74) Joseph B. Shedd and Samuel B. Bacharach, Tangled Hierarchies (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991), pp. 70ff.

(n75) Pamela Grossman, English as Context: English in Context (Retort #593-2) (Stanford: Stanford University, Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, 1992); and Susan Stodolsky, "A Framework for Subject Matter Comparisons in High Schools," in Teaching and Teacher Education (in press).

(n76) Cohen, "Teaching Practice."

(n77) Milbrey W. McLaughlin, "Learning from Experience: Lessons from Policy Implementation," Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis 1987, pp. 171-78; and M. Fullan, The New Meaning of Educational Change (New York: Teachers College Press, 1990).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 95 Number 1, 1993, p. 45-68
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 110, Date Accessed: 1/25/2022 6:43:21 PM

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About the Author
  • Joan Talbert
    Stanford University
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  • Milbrey McLaughlin
    Stanford University
    E-mail Author
    Dr. McLaughlin is the David Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University. Her research combines studies of K-12 education policy in the U.S and work on the broad question of community-school collaboration to support youth development. Her research on public education focuses on how school teaching is shaped by "context" issues such as organizational policy, social-cultural conditions of the schools, districts and communities.
  • Brian Rowan
    University of Michigan
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    Dr. Rowan is a professor of education at the University of Michigan. His research interests include the organization and management of instruction in schools, sociology of education and educational administration.
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