Teacher Professionalism in Local School Contexts

by Joan E. Talbert, Milbrey W. McLaughlin
Teacher Professionalism in Local School Contexts
Joan E. Talbert, Milbrey W. McLaughlin
American Journal of Education
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Teacher Professionalism in Local School Contexts
This study analyzes teacher professionalism as an outcome of collegial interaction in local schools contexts. Evidence from a multiyear study in 16 diverse high schools supports the argument that high school de- partments, schools, and districts play a role in supporting or undermin- ing teacher professionalism-in particular, a shared technical culture, strong service ethic, and professional commitment. The data suggest that professionalism evolves within active, learning communities of teachers. However, evidence of tension between a strong service ethic and the technical culture that evolves within some high school depart- ments calls for further research on tensions between these two standards of professionalism in teaching.
Teaching has long been portrayed as lacking both organizational and professional controls, conventionally conceived (see, e.g., Bidwell 1965; Lortie 1975; Weick 1976; Meyer and Rowan 1977). Neither professional socialization nor organizational policy provides clear definition of teach- ers' roles and classroom practice; and neither schools nor collegial bodies have much capacity to meaningfully evaluate and sanction teachers. Yet, despite the effective absence of such formal controls, observers of teach- ers and teaching comment on the regularities in teaching practice (cf. Cuban 1984; Cohen 1988) and the appearance of logic and rational management in "real school" (Meyer and Rowan 1977; Metz 1990). Institutional theorists argue that the constancies observed across schools arise largely from teachers' and schools' enactment of institutional rules enforced by public expectations and agencies in the periphery of prima-
American Journal of Education 102 (February 1994) 
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February 1994 123 ry-secondary teaching. In this view, conditions external to the school and ultimately to the education policy system are responsible for the apparent sameness of America's schools.
Yet anyone who has visited schools or who has spent time observing classrooms knows that "a school is not a school" and that teachers' classrooms within the same school vary in significant ways-ways that matter enormously to students (and their parents). The differences are manifested in such core aspects of classroom life as how much teachers respect and expect of their students and whether they portray subject matter knowledge as static or dynamic, given or constructed. Such differences, we argue, derive to a significant extent from local norms and standards-the negotiated order of teachers' daily work lives in schools. In the absence of overarching professional, organiza- tional, and institutional mandates and sanctions, teachers' work lives are heavily framed by local school traditions and norms.
This article addresses the problem of professionalism and "standard setting" for teaching in the everyday contexts of schooling. We argue that teachers' professionalism, considered in terms of generic criteria for professional work and authority, is highly variable and contingent upon the strength and character of local teacher community. This claim rests, in part, on the assumption that colleagues are potentially important sources of work norms and sanctions when official or inter- nalized standards for practice are weak or inconsistent.' ?'he argument also builds upon prior research on teaching, which suggests that pri- vacy norms characteristic of the profession undermine capacity for teacher learning and sustained professional commitment (see, e.g., Little 1982, 1990; Rosenholtz 1989). Conversely, teacher communities that promote collegial discourse and collaboration set conditions for shared professional standards to emerge and be enforced.
Over recent decades, educational researchers and reformers have concentrated on technical, economic, and legal strategies for improv-
is senior research scholar and associate director of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching (CRC) at Stanford University. MILBKEY is professor of educa-
W. MCLAUGHLIN tion at Stanford University and director of the CRC. Their joint work examines teachers' work lives and practices in diverse schools, policy systems, and professional networks. They have recently published (with David K. Cohen) Teachingfor Understanding: Challenges to Practice, Research, and Policy ( Jossey-Bass).
124 American Journal of Education ing education and teachers' claims to professional status, with little attention to the social-normative or moral-ethical dimensions of pro- fessional practice (though see Darling-Hammond [1990]; Metz [1990]; Noddings [1984, 19921; Louis [1990] for exception). Yet recent re- search in high schools points to considerable ambiguity and diversity in the norms and relationships that frame teachers' daily work lives, and so the educational experiences of students. Researchers have ob- served, for example, considerable variation in teachers' commitments to their students and sense of instructional efficacy (LeCompte and Dworkin 1992; McLaughlin and Talbert 19936; Raudenbush et al. 1992). The problematic character of professional standards in schools and the factors that make a difference for the social-normative context of teaching are critical issues for educational research and policy for- mulation, particularly at a time when teachers face increasingly diverse and challenging student populations (see, e.g., Ward and Anthony 1992).
This study addresses two empirical issues. First, to what extent do particular local contexts of the school system-sector, district, school, and subject area departments-matter for teacher professionalism? Prior research suggests that each of these embedded school contexts can influence the development of teacher community; they may also play a role in promoting or inhibiting professional standards among teachers. Second, to what extent does teacher professionalism appear to be socially negotiated or constructed within school communities? Evidence consistent with our argument would show positive correla- tions between teacher community, or the level of collegial interaction and support in a school context, and professionalism indicators that persist after adjustments for teacher background differences across settings.
We first enumerate generic standards for professional work and authority and consider conditions of teaching that inhibit professional- ism so construed. Then we review literature on the school organization contexts of teaching to suggest how strong local teacher communities might promote professionalism. Data from a multiyear study of sec- ondary-level teachers and schools are analyzed to evaluate the argu- ment and to frame issues for further research.
Problematic Bases of Professionalism in Teaching
The technical and moral bases for professional authority in modern society is the subject of a long line of sociological research (see, e.g., Weber 1947; Parsons 1954; Wilensky and Lebeaux 1958; Wilensky
February 1994 125 1964; Scott 1965; Vollmer and Mills 1966; Hall 1968; Montagna 1968; Etzioni 1969; Freidson 1970, 1986; Bendix 1974; Larson 1977; Collins 1979; Abbott 1988). In recent years, analysts and reformers of teaching have drawn upon this literature to specify standards of professionalism against which to evaluate and improve the profession (cf. Lortie 1975; Shulman 1986, 1987; Darling-Hammond 1990).
Primary among the conditions that distinguish a "profession" from other occupations are a specialized knowledge base and shared stan- dards of practice, a strong service ethic, or commitment to meeting clients' needs, strong personal identity with, and commitment to, the occupation, and collegial versus bureaucratic control over entry, per- formance evaluations, and retention in the profession. Primary-sec- ondary teaching is portrayed as relatively weak on each criterion for professional status (Etzioni 1969; Larson 1977). Academics have de- bated whether teaching is a profession or a semiprofession, whether it is an art, a craft, or a science. Reformers have sought to engender teacher professionalism through various strategies to strengthen and amplify the specialized knowledge base for teaching, to enhance teach- ers' economic status and professional commitment, and to increase professional control over performance sanctions.
Challenges to Professionalism in Teaching
Nearly a quarter century ago Dan Lortie (1975) documented teachers' uniform dissatisfaction with their professional socialization and their limited sense of a shared technical culture. These conditions still hold, for the most part. Susan Rozenholtz's (1989) research with Tennessee elementary school teachers provides recent evidence of the occupa- tion's inadequate professional socialization and weak technical culture. Many teachers in her sample felt uncertain about the technical and intellectual bases of their teaching. Available evidence suggests that teachers do not experience their work as employing knowledge and standards for judgment widely shared in the profession.
Research on teaching yields divergent conclusions about the poten- tial for a specialized knowledge base for primary-secondary school teachers. While analysts seem to agree that, currently, teachers do not widely share knowledge for practice, some see promise in the growing body of literature on pedagogical content knowledge for teaching (Shulman [19871; see also Stodolsky [1988]; Stodolsky and Grossman [I9921 for discussion of subject difference in teachers' knowledge and beliefs). Other educational researchers, however, see constraints on the development of specialized knowledge for teaching rooted in insti-
126 American Journal of Education tutional traditions and routines (see, e.g., Cuban 1984) or in the domi- nance of texts and bureaucratic controls in education (McNeil 1986; Wise 1979). Regardless of perspective and prognosis, these analysts tend to locate constraints and enablers of professionalization in tempo- ral or organizational contexts far removed from the daily work lives of teachers. Such macro views of teachers' specialized knowledge base anticipates, at best, a slow and general process of professionalization.
The service ethic, a second dimension of professional standards, is highly variable in teaching. As shown by research in high schools, teach- ers' commitment to all students' personal and academic growth cannot be taken for granted. Studies of student tracking, for example, reveal that many teachers believe that students in low-track classes are not capable of learning course material and so water down the curriculum or write off the students (see, e.g., Oakes 1985; LeCompte and Dwor- lun 1992; McLaughlin and Talbert 1993b; Talbert 1990). In the inter- views that Jeannie Oakes and colleagues conducted with high school teachers in the early 1980s and in our interviews in the early 1990s, many teachers stated directly and without apology that their students could not or would not learn course material. The client orientation key to professionalism receives uneven application in schools, de- pending largely on teachers' assessment of student interests, abilities, and motivation. Teachers may subscribe generally to the service ethic, but this standard is transformed and interpreted differently when made explicit in the school or classroom.
The weak profssional commitment and control in teaching, the remaining standards of professionalism, were also well documented in Lortie's classic study (1975). He analyzed teachers' limited professional identity and commitment as rooted in the occupation's origins as a "temporary" line of work and in its wide accessibility and limited socialization. Pro- fessional control, Lortie and others have argued, is constrained by the insular character of classroom teaching. Further, Judith Warren Little (1982, 1990) observed that strong privacy norms can effectively pro- hibit teachers' "intrusions" into one another's professional space and define as illegitimate a teacher's attempt to promote or enforce collegial standards of any sort. In schools where norms of privacy prevailed, comment on another teacher's classroom was permissible only when aspects of practice, most especially inadequate control or discipline, encroached on another's classroom. "Bad" teaching, and even harmful classroom practices, typically were noticed silently.
We suspect, further, that public authority and market influences in
U.S. education set external limits, or conditions for variability, on each criterion for teachers' professionalism. The fact that conceptions of good teaching are highly permeated by public values and beliefs-par-
February 1994 127 ents' and others' opinions about education, child development, and different "kinds" of students-constrains the development of strong professional standards. For one, the service ethic in teaching is vulner- able to negative judgments within the local community about the abili- ties, character, and potential of some of today's students. An atmo- sphere of distrust or hostility toward new immigrant groups, for example, can foster and legitimize many teachers' negative stance toward the growing proportions of nontraditional students in their classrooms.
The development of a shared technical culture among teachers is also inhibited, or even defined as illegitimate, by our nation's strong tradition of local control coupled with divergent definitions of valuable knowledge and good teaching practice among parent communities (Anyon 1981). The premium placed on specialized school programs and choice within the current education reform movement furthers the frame of local, versus overarching professional, standards for teaching. The issue of teachers' professionalism, then, may increas- ingly hinge upon local values and beliefs about "best practice."
Such limits on educators' authority help to account for the generally weak levels of professionalism reported and observed among teachers. However, they also set conditions for local standard setting within teaching. In this regard, we know that the extent to which teachers collaborate and experience ongoing professional growth varies dra- matically from site to site; this variability may well translate into differential professionalism across local school contexts. Strong teacher communities are likely to engender the technical culture, shared commitment to student clients, and occupational commitment that characterize the prototypic profession.
Multiple Contexts of Teacher Community
A teacher's work life is conducted within multiple organization set- tings, each of which influences aspects of the teachingjob and delimits a professional community of particular character and strength (Little and McLaughlin 1993). The contexts for teacher community include school sectors, districts, schools, departments, and, for many teachers, professional associations such as networks, collaboratives, and unions. The multiple communities are, further, embedded in one another and so can be mutually reinforcing or competing in the signals and conditions they set for teachers' professional lives and collegial rela- tionships. In summarizing research on particular teaching contexts, we suggest how each can support or undermine teacher professionalism.
128 American Journal of Education
Sector dzfferences in teacher community-the workplace differences associated with teaching in public or private schools-find expression primarily in terms of mission, values, and autonomy (see, e.g., Bryk and Driscoll1988; Chubb and Moe 1990). Independent schools gener- ally have a more coherent and mutually understood sense of school purpose and common values for both teachers and students than do public schools. Teachers working in the private sector say they have greater freedom than their public school colleagues in terms of what and how they teach and choice of instructional materials. In fact, many independent school teachers give professional autonomy as the reason why they teach in the private sector. Analysts also point to the absence of bureaucratic controls in the private sector as central to teachers' roles-being able to "act as a professional," free from the rules, regula- tions, and multiple authorities that operate in the public sector (see, esp., Chubb and Moe 1990).
District differences also figure importantly in how teachers think about and enact their professional roles and relations (Rosenholtz 1989; Louis and Miles 1990; McLaughlin 1992). Districts differ in the type and amount of resources available to education, in the expectations of the community for its schools, and in the organiza- tional arrangements that support school administration and man- agement. The messages conveyed to teachers about their profes- sional status, purpose, and value by district conditions such as committee structures, professional development opportunities, and governance play a prominent role in framing teachers' work lives. Case comparisons of CRC districts, for example, showed that differ- ent levels of respect, trust, and value communicated to teachers by district administrators generated significantly different district cultures that either bolstered or eroded teachers' sense of profes- sional efficacy (McLaughlin 1993, in press). The extent of loyalty to the district-the pride or hostility teachers feel about their dis- trict-translates to an important degree into their sense of profes- sional worth and of belonging to a community of educators.
School differences in strength of community are much remarked upon by those who have looked inside schools (see, e.g., Mortimore et al. 1988; Newmann et al. 1989; Bryk and Driscoll 1988; Little 1982; Metz 1990; Rosenholtz 1989). The extent to which teachers subscribe to norms of collegiality and ongoing professional growth contributes powerfully to school culture and community for teachers. Likewise, we found that a strong school mission, common among independent schools and special public schools, can be an influential frame for teachers' professional roles and relations (McLaughlin 1993; Talbert 1993).
February 1994 129
Important differences in the strength of teachers' professional com- munity also exist within high schools, at the department level (Johnson 1990; Talbert 1991; Siskin 1991). Subject area departments, like schools, can differ in coherence of purpose, norms of collegiality, and goals held for their students. Departments within the same school often vary substantially in terms of expectations about teachers' class- room activities, critical examination of practice, and involvement in curriculum development. Some departments make up strong learning communities for teachers where the faculty meets on a regular basis to reflect upon practice, review student accomplishments, and share information about new teaching strategies and resources. At the other extreme are departments where the faculty seldom convenes on other than administrative matters, where there is little or no shared informa- tion about practice or students, where teachers are isolated from one another in both professional and personal terms. Such department differences underlie substantial variation in high school teachers' sense of belonging to a professional community.
Teacher networks are yet another context for professional commu- nity and one that can significantly influence teachers' work lives (Little and McLaughlin 1991; Lichtenstein et al. 1992; Lieberman and McLaughlin 1992). Subject area networks (e.g., the Urban Math Collaboratives) can provide the occasion and support for innovation and change and opportunities for teacher leadership in areas of instructional development and curriculum. Networks engage teach- ers in discourse about the technology of teaching, exposing them to new content and conceptions of pedagogy and providing the supportive context essential to serious change. Teacher networks outside the school context sometimes provide the only strong profes- sional community for teachers working in schools or departments with limited collegial interaction.
Research on multiple contexts of teaching supports the proposition that communities of teachers-based in collegial networks, depart- ments, whole schools, or districts-constitute the meaningful unit and potential for teacher professionalism in U.S. education. Analyses of each level or kind of teaching context revealed substantial variation in the strength of teacher community and so in the potential for shared standards to develop and be enforced. We expect that strong teacher communities foster professionalism-a common knowledge base or technical culture, commitment to meeting the needs of all students, and durable professional identities and commitments.' Conversely, without opportunities to acquire new knowledge, to reflect on practice, and to share successes and failures with colleagues, teachers are not likely to develop a sense of professional control and responsibility.
130 American Journal of Education With Sarason (1990, p. 145), we believe that schools must be learning communities for teachers as well as students.
Our goal in this article is to demonstrate that teachers' professional standards very significantly across multiple, embedded work contexts and to suggest why that is the case. The analysis uses survey data for a large field sample of high school teachers and draws upon extensive qualitative data to explicate the survey research findings.
Data and Analyses
The study is part of a multiyear research program conducted by the Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching (CRC). Data analyzed are from the 1991 survey of approximately 800 teachers in 16 California and Michigan high schools. We also draw upon three years of interviews and two prior surveys conducted with these teachers to interpret this study's findings (see McLaughlin and Talbert [1993a] for discussion of the CRC database).
We analyze survey measures developed for three of the criteria or dimensions of professionalism: technical culture (shared knowledge and standards), service ethic, and professional commitment. The crite- rion of professionaVcollegia1 controls over teachers' performance eval- uations and careers is invariant, since none of the schools in this sample has established formal sanctioning authority for teachers. While we have qualitative evidence that performance norms and informal sanc- tioning of colleagues evolved within some of the schools and depart- ments in this study, we do not have survey measures of this process and regard it as highly dependent upon the presence of a strong technical culture and/or service ethic in a teacher community.3
Our analysis has two stages. First, we examine variation in teacher professionalism and community at different levels of the education system: sector, district, school, and subject department. Here we con- sider which organizational contexts make a difference for teachers' sense of shared knowledge, commitment to serving student clients, and engagement with the profession.
The second stage of analysis concerns the relationship between an active teacher community-or high levels of collaboration and mutual support for innovation among colleagues-and teacher professional- ism. We examine correlational data at the teacher level and at the subject area department level to assess the general proposition that professionalism among teachers is a product of social interaction and negotiation of norms within collegial work groups or networks. Re- gression analyses including controls for job satisfaction and for per-
February 1994 13 1 sonal characteristics and subject preparation help to rule out the possi- bilities that relationships are due to survey response bias or to teacher selection effects. We conduct these analyses for teachers in academic departments (English, mathematics, science, and social studies) of suf- ficient size to warrant department-level analyses.
Sample and Units of Ana,lysi.s
The CRC sample of 16 private and public high schools was constructed within two different metropolitan areas in each of two states (Califor- nia and Michigan). The states were selected to represent different levels of system centralization and reform efforts. The metropolitan areas were chosen to provide contrasts for middle-sized urban districts on local economic conditions, demographics, and recent administrative leadership. For each of the four metro areas, we selected two or three high schools within the core urban district and one school from a nearby suburban district. In California, we also selected three indepen- dent schools serving distinctive student populations (one academic elite, one regular college preparatory school, and one for students unsuccessful in traditional school settings).
All teachers in the CRC field sites were surveyed each spring for three years (1989, 1990, 1991). The most recent, 1991 survey data are used for this study. The teacher respondent N for this survey year was 623, representing a response rate of 74% for the pooled faculty population or a 77% average for the CRC schools. The samples appro- priate for particular analyses differ as follows. For analyses of variance associated with school sector, the full teacher sample is used (N = 623). Analyses of district versus school variance include only public school teachers in urban districts with two or three CRC schools (N
= 538). Department-level analyses are conducted for the subsample of English, mathematics, science, and social studies teachers in public high schools for which we have sufficient department-level data (at least four teacher respondents for all four academic departments); eight schools meet these criteria (department, N = 32; teacher, N
= 253).
The sample partitioning required for this study does not affect the nature of variance analyzed in different phases of the study and yields the maximum sample size appropriate for any given analysis. As shown in table 1, the means and standard deviations for study variables are comparable for the total, public school, and academic department sam- ples. Further, the separate correlation matrices for the three teacher
132 American Journal of Education
Means and Standard Deviations for Teacher Projessional&m and Community Variables: Breakdown for Study Subsamples
VARIABLES ALL TEACHERS (N= 623) Independent (N= 90) SUBSAMPLES Public (N= 538) Public, Academic Teachers Only* (N= 253)
Technical Culture
Service Ethic: Caring for students
Expectations for achievement
Professional commitment
Teacher community
NOTE.-Standard deviations are reported in parentheses. Measures of technical culture and teacher community are expressed as standard scores (2 scores) derived from individual-level data for the whole CRC teacher sample.
* This subsample is used for analyses of departments; it includes teachers whose primary assignment is in English, mathematics, science, or social sciences.
samples show no significant differences in the structure of relation- ships among variables (available on request).
The four dependent variables for the study correspond to three dimen- sions of professionalism and are represented by multiple-item survey measures (see Appendix for scale reliabilities and wording of the com- ponent items). We developed two indicators of the "service ethic" di- mension of professionalism to represent different facets of the concept that are important to teaching-the personal or affective and the academic or instrumental aspects of teachers' commitment to serving their student clients. These variables, with a brief description of their measures, are
Technical culture-shared standards for curriculum, subject instruc- tion, relations with students, and school goals
Seruice ethic, including two dimensions (caring for students-a sense of responsibility and caring for all students as individuals-and expectations for students' success-the converse of belief that some students are not capable of learning the subject matter and lowered expectation)
Professional commitment-a commitment to teaching, the subject mat- ter, and continued professional growth
The independent variable for the study is teacher community, a measure of collaboration and ongoing learning among teachers in a school setting. This variable is an indirect indicator of the process we refer to as social negotiation, since interaction and discourse among teachers in a district, school, department, or network is a necessary condition for the construction of social norms.
Control variables used in the multivariate analyses include
Job Satisfaction-satisfaction with the school
Personal characteristics, including the following: gender (male = 1; female = O), age (in years), subject preparation (number of college and graduate school courses in subject of primary assignment), and enrollment in a degree program (yes = 1; no = 0)
The survey measures of independent and dependent study variables tap teachers' perceptions of their work and work environment. Some are subjective reports of work conditions (technical culture and teacher community); others are attitudes and beliefs (caring, expectations, and professional commitment). Since these measures are commonly sub-
134 American Journal of Education
ject to bias from personality and affective factors, we include the global job satisfaction measure as a control variable when assessing effects of teacher community on the professionalism variables. The job satis- faction measure is subject to the same personality effects as our study variables and so allows us to adjust for the common source of measure- ment bias. Controls for job satisfaction yield conservative estimates of teacher community effects on professionalism variables, since both our independent and dependent variables should have substantively
meaningful, positive relationships with teachers' job satisfaction.
The first stage of analysis asks which local contexts matter for particu-
lar teacher professionalism and community variables of interest in this
study. We analyze the total variance among CRC teachers on each
variable in relation to embedded teaching contexts: sector, district,
school, and subject area department. While schools are the usual unit
for research on teacher community, this analysis makes problematic
the proper unit(s) for analysis of professional relations, norms, and
shared standards.
A series of dummy variable regression analyses are used to address
the issue. Each level of school context is represented by a set of dummy
variables: sector (private = 1, public = 0), district (a dummy variable
for each of the four districts with more than one school in the CRC
sample), school (a dummy variable for each of 16 high schools), and
department (dummy variables representing each of four academic
departments in the eight CRC schools that meet our sampling criteria
for departments (see above). Another set of dummy variables repre-
senting the four academic subjects (English, math, science, and social
sciences) is included in the analysis of department effects. The empiri-
cal question is whether or not a significant portion of variance in
teachers' scores on a given professiocalism variable is associated with
between-unit differences at a given level of school context, beyond
that accounted for by higher-level contexts.
Using a series of dummy variable regression analyses for each set
of contexts, we examine and compare the R2,or explained variance,
for each study variable. To assess sector, district, and school effects,
we compare the R~ for the three sets of dummy variables. To assess
department effects, we compare the R2for the model with department
dummy variables with that for a model including school and subject
dummy variables. Since the set of department dummy variables takes
up 32 df and may yield unstable estimates with a sample of 253, we
February 1994 135 also used a nested ANOVA technique to corroborate regression esti- mates of department versus school effects4
The second stage of analysis addresses the question of teacher com- munity effects on professional standards. We first examine individual- level and department-level correlations among the community and professional standards variables. We then analyze the professionalism variables as a function of teacher community with controls for job satisfaction and for individual background variables. Here we consider whether or not correlations of teacher community and professional standards at the individual level might be due to measurement biases and/or to differences in teachers' personal and professional back- grounds.
Embedded Contexts of Teacher Community and Professionalism
The data reported in table 2 reveal the levels of teaching context that matter for teacher community and specific dimensions of professional- ism among teachers in the CRC field sample. Three sets of compari- sons are presented, each using the school level as the point of refer- ence. The first two columns of table 2, part A, juxtapose school and sector sources of variance; the second two columns consider school and district sources. Table 2, part B, allows one to separate department sources of variance from school and subject differences.
Consistent with our own and others' prior research, the data indicate that each level of school context matters for teacher community. Teacher-reported levels of community vary significantly and indepen- dently by sector, district, school, and department. Together these con- texts account for about one-third of the variance among CRC teachers on the teacher community index (this estimate combines the public school department R2 [.28] and the sector R2 L.061).
Levels of school context appear to differ, however, in their impor- tance for specific dimensions of professional standards. Sector differ- ences account for a small but significant portion of variance on each indicator of professionalism, as was the case for teacher community. School differences, on the other hand, account for no teacher variance on the professionalism variables that is independent of estimated sector or district context effects. School-related variance on technical culture and caring for students shown in the first column of table 2, part A, can be accounted for by sector differences. Public school differences on expectations and on professional commitment shown in the third column of table 2, part A, can be explained by district differences.
136 American Journal of Education
Embedded Contexts of Teacher Prc?fessionalism and Community: Estimated Variance at Sector, District, School, and
Department Levels
(N = 623) (N = 538)
School Sector School District
A. Sector and district vs. school sources of variance:
Technical culture
Service ethic:
Caring for students
Expectations for achievement
Professional commitment
Teacher community
(N = 253)
School and School Subject Subject Department
B. Department vs. school and subject sources of variance: Technical culture Service ethic:
Caring for students
Expectations for achievement Professional commitment Teacher community
NOTE.-Estimates are based on regression models including dummy variables for all units at each level, e.g., the set of dummy variables representing CRC schools is used to estimate variance associated with the school level. The table reports the R2, or percentage of variance explained, for each model.
*p s .OOl. 
**p s .Ol. 
***p S .05. 
High school departments appear to matter, independently of their school and district contexts and of their subject matter contexts, for three dimensions of teacher professionalism-technical culture, ex- pectations for achievement and, to a lesser extent, professional com- mitment. As shown in table 2, part B, the between-department vari- ance in teacher scores on these measures substantially exceeds that of the school and subject combined.'
This analysis says nothing about why sector, district, or department contexts matter for the teacher professionalism variables of interest in this study nor whether or not they covary with teacher community. It does illustrate, however, the importance of attending to the multiple, embedded contexts of teaching in educational research. While school effects show up in the CRC sample (see table 2), they can all be accounted for by apparent conditions in higher levels of the system; and conditions at lower levels of high school organization matter in ways that do not show up at the school (or higher) levels.
We next explore the issue of teacher community effects on profes- sionalism at both department and individual levels of analysis. Our data indicate that the department is an important context for understanding differences in both teacher community and professional standards. However, considerable individual variation in reported participation in teacher community and in professional standards exists within de- partments, and part of this variation is due to the existence of teacher networks within subject departments, across departments in a school, and beyond the scho01.~
Teacher Community Effects on Professional Standards
The correlational data reported in table 3 are mostly consistent with the proposition that professional standards evolve within the context of strong teacher communities. At both the individual level (shown below the diagonal) and department level (shown above the diagonal), teacher community is strongly related to shared conceptions of teach- ing practices (technical culture) and to teachers' professional commit- ment. On the other hand, expected relationships of community to the service ethic indicators appear only at the individual level.
The pattern of correlations among professionalism variables helps to account for the weak association of department community with the caring and expectations dimensions of a strong service ethic. Spe- cifically, the department's technical culture appears to mediate this weak relationship. While teacher community is strongly related to technical culture, the latter variable is essentially uncorrelated with
138 American Journal of Education
Correlations of Teacher Community with Professionalism Variables: Academic Teachers in Public Schools
'Teacher Community Technical Culture Caring Exp ectations Professional Commitment
Teacher community Technical culture Service ethic: Caring for students Expectations for achievement 1 .43*** .34*** .32*** .33*** 1 .05 .12* .02 -.lo 1 .42*** .08 .OO .39** 1 .52*** .34** .29* -.06
Professional commitment .47*** .16* .41*** .29*** 1
NOTE.-Individual-level correlations are reported below the diagonal (N = 253);department-level correlations are shown above the diagonal
(N = 36). *p s .lo. **p s.05. ***p 6 .01.
caring and expectations for students. Additional survey and interview data provide interpretation of this pattern.
It appears that qualitative differences between academic depart- ments' technical cultures make problematic teachers' commitment to all of their students. In some cases, teacher communities develop strong commitments to "upholding traditional standards" in the face of widespread student failure; a strong service ethic is inconsistent with the beliefs and commitments of these teachers' technical culture.' In other cases, teacher communities embrace the service ethic and collaborate to forge new conceptions of subject matter and approaches to teaching adaptive to their nontraditional students.
Our data suggest that strong teacher communities promote shared norms of practice, or a technical culture, and enhance teachers' profes- sional commitments-two conditions identified with professionalism. However, the substance of the culture and commitments, the norma- tive character of the department or school workplace, vary significantly in ways that matter for students' learning opportunities and educa- tional equity. Shared beliefs and norms among teachers in a high school department may promote or actively undermine a strong service ethic. A case of the latter in our sample of schools was a math depart- ment united in the belief that a majority of their students were neither very bright nor motivated. In this department context, the failure of more than half of the students enrolled in mathematics courses was both expected and approved. In contrast to this department-specific client orientation was the ethic of the social studies department in the same school, in which standards of practice were defined in terms of "success for all students." (See McLaughlin and Talbert [I99361 for further discussion of teachers' alternative adaptations to challenging students; see also Davidson [1992]; Phelan et al. [1992].)
The fact that individual-level data show substantial positive correla- tions between teacher community and service ethic (though not be- tween the latter and technical culture) could be interpreted in various ways. One possibility, which follows from our general argument, is that a teacher's participation in a strong professional network within or outside the subject department can engender and sustain a service ethic. Another possibility is that the relationship is an artifact of per- sonality or professional background differences. For instance, teachers with a relatively positive and caring nature are likely to see and report more support and collaboration from colleagues, that is, to have in- flated scores on the teacher community scale, and to score high on the service ethic scale. Another possibility is that teachers relatively well prepared in their subject matter are overrepresented in strong teacher communities and are better able to sustain students' suc
140 American Journal of Education cess-in which case their participation in a strong community is coinci- dental with their high levels of professionalism.
Analyses reported in table 4 shed light on this issue. For each profes- sionalism variable, we examine the regression effect of teacher com- munity with controls for a global measure of job satisfaction (Model 11) and for personal characteristics of gender, age, subject preparation, and program enrollment (Model 111). Results suggest that teacher community effects on professionalism are not spurious. Effects of community are essentially unaffected by controls for the background variables; indeed, a teacher's subject preparation appears unrelated to the professionalism indicators. Controls for job satisfaction reduce the estimated regression effects of teacher community on service ethic and commitment variables, but the adjusted coefficients remain sig- nificant. Also, the community and professionalism variables are likely to promotejob satisfaction, so this strategy, which assumes that correla- tions among them are spurious due to personality factors, yields con- servative estimates of the community effect.
Summary and Discussion
This study supports the proposition that teacher professionalism de- pends, to a significant degree, on the extent and character of local teacher community. Consistent with this claim are data showing sys- tematic variation in high school teachers' adherence to particular pro- fessional standards between the multiple, embedded local contexts of teaching: subject area departments, schools (private vs. public), and public school districts. Were standards among teachers largely a matter of bureaucratic controls over requirements for professional credentials and licenses, for example, then we might see sector differences (fa- voring public schools) but no systematic variation across lower levels of the system. Or, were standards among teachers largely a matter of individuals' professional socialization and values, then we might see district and school differences associated with their differential ability to attract highly "professional" teachers, but random variation in teaching standards within schools. Our finding that high school depart- ments vary substantially on professionalism indicators, after school and subject effects are taken into account, supports the argument that norms of teaching practice are socially negotiated within the everyday contexts of schooling.'
Further, our data reveal that teachers who participate in strong professional communities within their subject area departments or other teacher networks have higher levels of professionalism, as mea-
February 1994 141
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sured in this study, than do teachers in less collegial settings. On average, they report higher levels of shared standards for curriculum and instruction, evidence a stronger service ethic in their relations with students, and show stronger commitment to the teaching profession.
We find, however, that teacher professionalism is somewhat contingent upon the substance of the department's technical culture. Specifically, we observe some tension between strong community and technical cul- ture and the service ethic across the academic departments in our field sample. We suspect that qualitative differences in the beliefs teachers hold about subject matter, instruction, and students underlie the ambiguous relationship between department community and service ethic. In other words, the substance of teachers' shared technical standards can either promote or undermine their adherence to a service ethic. The math department mentioned earlier held strong standards of practice: flunk the studentsg In such cases, the department community embraces tradi- tional conceptions of teaching and learning-emphasizing instruction that is based on a text-and-lecture format and absolute, grade-level aca- demic standards for student evaluation-which compete with teachers' commitment to meeting the needs of growing proportions of nontradi- tional students who often are unprepared to learn, or even to survive academically, under these circumstances.
Issues for Further Research
Our survey data for a large field sample illustrate local variation in professionalism among U.S. high school teachers that is related to collegial relations. Given limitations of the sample, however, further research should be designed to replicate and extend these findings. Specifically, both our district sample and school-within-district samples are small; and variance estimates are therefore imprecise. A much larger nested sample of teachers, schools, and districts would yield better estimates of variance in professionalism associated with differ- ent levels of the public school system. The sampling design we call for is costly-population samples of teachers at the school level (needed to estimate department vs. school variance) and multiple school samples within a large number of districts (needed to estimate school vs. district variance). The state level would be a valuable addition to such a design. Unfortunately, none of the national survey programs uses such a nested sampling design, and the survey we envision would require a major investment.
Despite its crude statistical estimates, this study calls for further research on the development of teacher communities and on the nego-
February 1994 143 tiation of professional standards within them. Our survey data do not shed light on key issues of how teacher community develops in the local contexts of teaching or the nature of technical cultures that promote all standards of professionalism simultaneously. Such lines of research would require in-depth longitudinal studies, or retrospective analyses, of the development of teacher communities and their technical cultures.
Research on teacher-community building would extend the social system perspective on teacher professionalism and inform educational reform policy. At least two core problems frame this line of analysis. First, through what stages do teacher communities evolve? Or, what is the process by which a high school department or a subject network, for examples, moves from teacher isolation and norms of privacy to dialogue about teaching and collaboration? Are the stages common across kinds of settings? Do they begin with new beliefs and principles, as often assumed in current reform models, or do they begin with discussions of practice and evolve toward new, shared beliefs?
Second, what division of functions and roles is played in building teacher communities by the different levels of the system analyzed in this article? How does department leadership work to promote collegial trust and collective problem solving, for example, and what essential support is provided by district versus school administrators and staff? Can state policy and programs set the stage for, or facilitate, the devel- opment of local professional communities? What about outside organi- zations and networks? Answers to such questions will provide sub- stance to this study's observation that each level of the embedded school context helps to account for variation among teachers' commu- nity and professional standards.
The other direction for research concerns the norms and beliefs around which teacher community develops. Our study points to ten- sion between some teaching cultures and the service ethic. It calls for in-depth qualitative studies of different communities of teachers in, say, mathematics to determine the substance of this tension. What elements of teaching in a content area are most negotiable, and what norms for teaching compete with commitment to the learner?
Especially, this work would aim to identify technical cultures that embrace both strong subject standards and the service ethic. How do teachers in such communities construe their subject matter and student learners in ways that avoid conflict between the two professional stan- dards? Answers to such questions promise to inform theory on teach- ing and professionalism-specifically, as suggested below, to extend the analysis from social processes in organizational settings to the broader institutional environment. We suspect that such research can, further, help to promote teacher professionalism by contributing mod-
144 American Journal of Education els of strong professional communities of teachers effective with all students.
Implications for Theory on Schools and Teaching
This article's social system perspective on the problem and potential of teacher professionalism seems well suited to current conditions in
U.S. education. Conventional conceptions of professionalism as rooted in codified knowledge and legal controls over entry and careers point to constraints on teacher professionalism in the U.S. context. Among the constraints are a highly diverse and shifting knowledge base for teaching, wide recruitment and minimal preparation of teachers, the strong tradition of local control, and the movement toward school specialization and parental choice. The prospects for wide consensus and centralized authority among American educators are slim for prac- tical and political reasons.
The challenge of enhancing teacher professionalism is, then, sig- nificantly a local matter. The prospects can be framed in social system terms-as colleagues coming to share standards for educational prac- tice, including strong commitments to students and the profession. In this view, local communities of teachers are the vehicles for enhanced professionalism in teaching. Dan Lortie entertained this notion of teacher professionalization, suggesting that collegiality would be a possible, albeit unlikely, route to teachers' enhanced professional au- thority (1975, pp. 235-40).
Nevertheless, we believe that organizational and institutional per- spectives on U.S. education provide critical complement to our social- system view of teacher professionalism. They explicate the contexts and substance of teachers' professional communities. Our research shows, for example, that district administrations can promote or under- mine teacher community and, in turn, professional commitments and expectations for students. It appears, too, that the different technical cultures that emerge within teacher communities derive from the insti- tutional environment: the various local cultures appear to be rooted in alternative, legitimate goals for education and prescriptions for teaching practice. To understand teacher professionalism in the every- day context of schooling requires the multiple lenses of organizational, institutional, and social systems theory.
An organizational perspective highlights the diversity among U.S. schools, particularly in student composition, which has important im- plications for differences in the work of teachers and in the substance of their local professional communities. For example, the educational
February 1994 145 challenges for teachers in poor inner-city schools differ from those for teachers in private schools or suburban public schools and so present different problems for teacher collaboration. School organi- zation also establishes varying capacities for building teacher com- munity, by virtue of resources and leadership at all levels of the system. School administrators and staff can enable or constrain teacher professionalism in ways such as providing more or less space and time for collegial interaction, signaling and authorizing more or less teacher responsibility for good professional practice, estab- lishing more or less meaningful opportunities for teachers to con- tinue learning.
Institutional theory sheds additional light on the diversity of educa- tional cultures we have seen among academic departments in our field sample of high schools. According to the principle of isomorphism, classroom teachers and schools obtain legitimacy for their practices and support by conforming to the norms of "real school." Generally the case is made with regard to structural regularities of school organi- zation (Meyer and Rowan 1977); but the principle can also apply to technical rationality and modal teaching practices.
Given a wide variety of "theories" about effective education and good teaching in U.S. education, teachers and schools can obtain legiti- macy by embracing any one of the alternatives. In this view, the various educational theories, programs, values, and norms expressed in the broad arena of American education find or create local markets or niches. The problem posed by institutional theory regarding the char- acter of teachers' technical cultures and the problem of professionalism is, Isomorphic with what? Which public values for education, notions of effective practice, conceptions of students and their differences does a community of teachers embrace to make sense of-and gain legitimacy for-their professional decisions?
Institutional theory can help interpret the tensions we detected in this study between the service ethic and technical culture dimensions of professionalism. In most general terms, the tension is rooted in competing priorities in American education of promoting equal op- portunity versus sorting students according to academic performance, of developing the "whole person" versus promoting subject matter expertise. These competing priorities become sources of deep conflict among teachers and of qualitatively different teacher communities.
A recent analysis of teacher beliefs (Prawat 1992) reveals how institu- tionalized tension between commitment to students and enforcement of subject matter standards manifests in individual teachers' beliefs and internal conflicts. Prawat and others have found that most (traditional) teachers compartmentalize these core components of teaching and so
146 American Journal of Education experience an ongoing struggle between the priorities of the curricu- lum and learners' needs (Prawat 1992, p. 361). It is not surprising, then, that teacher communities often develop norms favoring one or the other priority.
We suggest that an integrative theoretical framework-combining social system, organizational, and institutional perspectives on Ameri- can education and the teaching occupation-is essential for under- standing the problems and potentials of enhanced teacher profession- alism. Any one framework, alone, cannot explain the variability, boundaries, and substance of teachers' professional communities and standards. The prospect and process of teacher professionalism appear to be in the dialectic of local and institutional constructions of educa- tion standards within teacher communities.
Teacher Community, Professionalism, 
and Job Satisfaction Scales" 
I. Teacher community (independent variable)
A. Teacher community index (eight items; alpha = .85)
CRC 18.-Please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each
of the following statements regarding your current feelings about
teaching in general and your present job.
a) I feel that I have many opportunities to learn new things in my
present job.
b) I feel supported by colleagues to try out new ideas.
CRC 29 (ATS 19).-Using the scale provided, please indicate the extent
to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements
about working conditions in your school.
e) In this school we solve problems, we don't just talk about them.
i) My job provides me continuing professional stimulation and
k) The staff seldom evaluates its programs and activities (reverse
t) In this school, I am encouraged to experiment with my teaching.
w) Teachers in this school are constantly learning and seeking new
ideas. ee) The principal is interested in innovations and new ideas.
11. Professionalism variables (dependent variables)
A. Technical culture (six items; alpha = .73)
CRC 14.-To what extent does each of the following statements de- scribe relationships among the teachers in your primary subject area in this school? b) We have very different ideas about what we should emphasize in
the curriculum (reverse coded). h) We have little idea of each other's teaching goals and classroom practices (reverse coded).
February 1994 147
i) There is little disagreement about what should be taught in our
. .
subject area. m) There is a lot of disagreement among us about how to teach the subject (reverse coded). n) We share views of students and how to relate to them.
CRC 29 (ATS 19).-Using the scale provided, please indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: b (e) Most of my colleagues share my beliefs and values about what
the central mission of the school should be.
B. Service ethic
1. Caring for students (six items; alpha = .74)
CRC 6.-The statements below concern goals for educational out- comes and for relationships with students. Please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement as it applies to your own teaching philosophy and practice.
f) I try very hard to show my students that I care about them.
i) I feel that I should be accessible to students even if it means meeting with them before or after school, during my prep or free period, etc.
m) It is important for me that my students enjoy learning and become independent learners.
CRC 7 (NELS:88 First Follow-Up Item IV.5).-On the scale below, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: a) If I try really hard, I can get through to even the most difficult
or unmotivated students. b) I feel that it's part of my responsibility to keep students from dropping out of school. f) I am certain I am making a difference in the lives of my students.
2. High expectations for student achievement (six items; alpha = .60)
CRC ~.-NOMT consider each of the statements below concerning instruction in your subject area. Indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each statement.
j) No matter how hard they try, some students will not be able to learn aspects of my subject matter (reverse coded).
CRC 6.-The statements below concern goals for educational out- comes and for relationships with students. Please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each statement as it applies to your own teaching philosophy and practice. C) ,My expectations about how much students should learn are not
as high as they used to be (reverse coded). g) Students who work hard and do well deserve more of my time than those who do not (reverse coded).
CRC 7 (NELS:88 item IV.5).-On the scale below, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with each of the follo~ing statements: e) There is really very little I can do to ensure that most of my
students achieve at a high level (reverse coded).
CRC 27 (ATS l9).-Indicate how much you agree or disagree with each of these statements about students in your classes this year. d) The attitudes and habits students bring to my classes greatly
reduce their chances for academic success (reverse coded).
148 American Journal of Education
f) Most of the students I teach are not capable of learning the material I should be teaching them (reverse coded).
C. Professional commitment (six items; alpha = .71)
CRC 18.-Please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with each
of the following statements regarding your current feelings about
teaching in general and your present job.
d) I am willing to put in a great deal of effort beyond that usually
expected of teachers.
g) I feel that I am improving each year as a teacher.
h) I don't seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I
began teaching (reverse coded).
i) I really love the subject I teach most frequently.
k) I am always eager to hear about ways to improve my teaching.
I) I feel little loyalty to the teaching profession (reverse coded).
111.Job satisfaction (control variable)
A. Job satisfaction index (two items; alpha = .73)
CRC 30 (ATS 32).--How much of the time do you feel satisfied with your job in this school?
Almost never
Some of the time
Most of the time
4. All the time CRC 29 (ATS 19).-Using the scale provided, please indicate the extent
to which you agree or disagree with each of the following statements: (ff)I usually look forward to each working day at this school.
An earlier version of this article was presented at the American Educational Research Association meetings, San Francisco, April 1992. The research was supported by funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, to the Center for Research on the Context of Secondary School Teaching (CRC) at Stanford University (grant G0087C0235) and from the National Science Foundation (grant RED9253068). We thank Marian Eaton, Shur-er Tsai, and Rebecca Perry for help in analyzing the survey data and Renee Hoch and Julie Cummer for preparing the tables for this article. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers for hel~fulcomments on an earlier version of the article.
Sociological research on work in a variety of occupational and organiza- tional settings demonstrates the power of work groups to set standards for occupational roles and productivity (most notably, Homans [1950], Gouldner [1954], and Whyte [1959]; see Scott [I9881 for review of more recent research).
While in some cases the norms that emerge in a strong teacher commu- nity may actively undermine one or another professional standard, we will take up the issue of qualitative differences among teacher communities after evaluating the general proposition.
One school in our sample, for example, established by faculty vote a committee of five elected teachers to serve as a jury and sanctioning body for colleagues alleged to have complained about students-thus formalizing the strong service ethic that characterizes this school community.
This analysis treats school as the top level and subjects (English, math, science, and social studies) as the lower level; given uneven numbers of cases within the subject cells across schools, statistical tests of significance are not computed. Results of this corroborating analysis are not reported but may be obtained upon request.
These results are replicated by a nested ANOVA (separating school and department variance) for the professionalism variables. For our sample of public comprehensive high schools, variance in technical culture and profes- sional commitment is associated with departments but not schools; expecta- tions and teacher community vary at both department and school levels; and neither level accounts for variation in the caring variable.
We currently are investigating networks as contexts for professional com- munity and standards among CRC mathematics and science teachers. Clearly, some of variance unexplained by formal school organization contexts in this study can be accounted for by informal networks of teachers. The individual- level analysis of teacher community effects on professionalism assumes such informal or out-of-school contexts of teachers' work lives.
The CRC survey data show that, on average, teachers' technical cultures tend toward the traditional side of this dichotomy. This is illustrated by the positive, though weak, correlation between technical culture and indicators of static conceptions of subject matter and routine views of the teaching job (both of which are negatively related to the service ethic and professional commitment variables).
We note, however, that substantial variation among individuals within departments remains. In particular, the standards of caring for students and overall professional commitment are not well explained by context differences represented in this field sample. Neither are these dimensions of professional- ism accounted for by individual preparation and personal variables; even a likely relationship between teacher gender and caring for students is not shown by these data. Of course, it may still be the case that unmeasured background variables are important, such as different emphases in teacher preparation programs on normative standards for the profession.
This department scored relatively high on our measures of teacher com- munity and technical culture but low on the service ethic indicators.
Principal components factor analyses of CRC survey data for approxi- mately 650 teachers were used to define the scales; alpha coefficients indicate the internal consistency of scale items. Some of the CRC teacher questionnaire items replicate items from the High School and Beyond program's 1984 Ad- ministrator and Teacher Survey (ATS) or from the NELS:88 (National Educa- tional Longitudinal Survey:88) First Follow-Up Teacher Survey. In these cases, the questionnaire item number from the relevant national teacher sur- vey is reported (in parentheses) along with the item number from the CRC 1991 Teacher Survey. Lowercase letters preceding the choices are from the actual questionnaire.
February 1994 149
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