Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

The Prediction of Teacher Autonomy

Academic journal article Educational Research Quarterly

The Prediction of Teacher Autonomy

Article excerpt

The purpose of this study was to explore the relationships between autonomy and a set of attitudinal, professional participation, and reasons-for-leaving-teaching variables. The participants in the study consisted of a systematic sample of public school teachers in a large urban school district in Florida and the data were gathered through a mailed survey titled Survey of Teacher Characteristics and Activities. The results of a forward multiple regression analysis yielded a multiple correlation coefficient of .49 which accounted for 24% of the variance. Only four of the independent variables were found to be significant predictors of the dependent variable autonomy which were job satisfaction, perceived paper work load, lack of autonomy, and insufficient rewards for outstanding teacher performance.

Public school teachers have almost no authority over design and administration of the schools in which they exercise their "educational authority" as subject matter specialists (Heid & Leak, 1991; Nyberg & Farber, 1986; Williams, 1990). Decisions regarding class composition and size, scheduling, curriculum and text content; planning and allocation of "space" (from site selection of buildings to individual teacher planning rooms and classrooms), are often controlled by legislatures or by school boards and their administrators (Feir, 1985; Nyberg & Farber, 1986; Retsinas, 1982). As a result of these conditions, many teachers are interested in securing the right to manage themselves and their job environment. This right is necessary if young professionals who respect themselves and their work are to be attracted to and kept within the teaching profession (Grant et al., 1983; Hall, Villeme, & Phillippy, 1989; Heid & Leak, 1991; Kremer & Holman, 1981; Sacks, 1984).

Unionism has only somewhat helped teachers obtain an authoritative voice in decisions of educational substance (Nyberg & Farber, 1986; Retsinas,1982; Williams, 1990). Albert Shanker (1985), president of the American Federation of Teachers, now argues for "true teacher professionalism," using professional to indicate "a person who is an expert, and by virtue of that expertise is permitted to operate fairly independently, to make decisions, to exercise discretion, to be free of most direct supervision" (pp. 10, 12).

The educational reform movements of the 1980's proposed such solutions as career ladders, merit pay, and college loan incentives in critical areas (Berry,1986). Newer reform methods ofthe 1990's propose to seek and retain talented teachers who can produce students who can think critically, synthesize, experiment, and create. If teachers are going to produce such outcomes, they themselves must be allowed to think critically and create on the job (Berry, 1986; Boyer, 1988; Lieberman, 1988; Romanish, 1987).

Elmore (1987) speaks of an existing "culture of authority" within schools where teachers exert little control over the orientation of work habits of students. Students can engage or disengage in learning at their own discretion without worrying about adult intervention since teacher skill and knowledge has often been reduced to basic instructional procedures. Teachers are viewed as having a subordinate status in a hierarchy that bases reward on increased distance from and minimal direct contact with students. The teacher's work is defined in technical, specialized, and detached terms with pedagogical decisions being defined by rules external to the. school (Heid & Leak, 1991). With some teachers decisions about what gets taught are made by distant, impersonal, and legal-rational sources such as test publishers, standard setters, textbook adoption committees, curriculum guide publishers, and expert opinion.

Today public schools are being asked to reform through enhancement of their quality as institutions, and through a demand for teachers' professionalism (Hawthorne, 1986a; Heid & Leak, 1991; Nyberg & Farber, 1986). …

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