To Adapt or Subscribe: Teachers' Informal Collaboration and View of Mandated Curricula
Stevenson, Heidi J., Issues in Teacher Education
California public schools serve a highly diverse student population, including: 65% minorities, 24.9% English Language Learners, 10.6% disabled, and 19% in poverty (Quality Counts at 10, 2006). In the face of this diversity, all teachers are expected to use the Curriculum Frameworks of the California State Board of Education as a "blueprint for implementing the content standards adopted by the California State Board of Education and are developed by the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission" (California State Board of Education, 2007a).
The Curriculum Standards for California Public Schools and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) appear to have a goal of equal access to education for all students. Education: The Promise of America states that the goal of the NCLB legislation is to ensure that "all children are proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year" and to "to close the achievement gap that exists between students of different socio-economic backgrounds" (Office of the Press Secretary, 2004). According to the California State Board of Education, "Content standards were designed to encourage the highest achievement of every student..." (California State Board of Education, 2007), but it would seem that teachers may vary in their interpretation of the Curriculum Frameworks and NCLB , and the manner in which every student can reach their highest achievement.
A 2004 American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences Teacher Opinion Poll illustrates the disparity in teachers' beliefs regarding NCLB. Sixty-two percent of responding teachers say that they do not think NCLB has enhanced or will enhance the education of American children, and 37 percent respond positively regarding NCLB (Wilson, 2004). In regards to district, state, and federal mandates, it appears that teachers may make the final decision as to how they interpret and implement curricular standards, including NCLB, into their practice.
The initial objective of this study was to determine what factors govern elementary school teachers' informal collaboration (i.e., voluntary conversations) regarding technology use (computers, software and the Internet). The scope of the study, however, quickly extended beyond technology and informal collaboration, into teachers' practical theories (defined below). It became readily apparent that teachers' beliefs concerning implementation of mandated curriculum, and their academic expectations for students, seem to strongly influence with whom, and under what circumstances they may informally collaborate.
We can understand beliefs teachers have that guide their practice as their practical theory. Practical theory is generally regarded as a set of beliefs that teachers conceptualize over the course of learning to teach (both through their teacher education and on-the-job learning) which assists with their work as teachers (Handal & Lauvas, 1987; Sergiovanni & Starratt, 1979; Goodman, 1988).
The construct of practical theory requires additional elaboration by the research community. Even as practical theory has gained attention in the research community, consensus has not developed on one definition or, in fact, a single term used to describe this construct. Practical theory is another common term used to refer to practical knowledge (Handal & Lauvas,1987), educational platform (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 1979), practical philosophy (Goodman, 1988), and schema (Bullough & Knowles, 1993).
While there are subtle differences among these formulations, the attention of most researchers has been on how practical theory is used regularly by teachers to understand students, content, teaching, classrooms, and how to act appropriately in the classroom environment. The present study uses the construct of practical theory, not to explore teachers' thoughts related to teaching, but to explore a previously unconsidered area of teachers' thought concerning their informal collaboration. …