Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Promotion of Teacher Agency in New York State's Teacher Evaluation Policies: A Critical Discourse Analysis
by Waite, Lawrence T., Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany, 2018, 369; 13419527
Abstract (Summary)

This qualitative research study provides a critical analysis of New York State’s teacher evaluation policies to document and understand how teacher agency is promoted in these policies over time. Between 2009 and 2014, the United States Department of Education under its national Race to the Top education reform initiative incentivized significant changes to teacher evaluation policies and systems as a key strategy to enhance the quality of the teaching profession. During this same period, a growing body of research recognized teacher agency as an important capacity in improving student and teacher learning, suggesting that teachers achieve agency, both by their individual capacity and by social practices in teachers’ environments, including the discursive influences of educational policies. How teacher agency is conceptualized and achieved at the school level figures prominently in educational research and literature, however, there is a dearth of research on how policies at the national and state levels promote teacher agency.

The literature review has a dual purpose: first, it provides an extensive review of the literature on teacher agency to conceptualize the term agency and its affects on the educational system as a capacity to improve student and teacher learning, and second, to identify the contextual themes promoting teacher agency. The review also introduces the concepts of policy drivers and levers as means to understand how policy is conceptually directed, shaped and managed over time. Based on this review, three research questions guided the study: (1) To what extent do New York State’s teacher evaluation policies promote themes contributing to teacher agency? (2) In what manner do New York State’s teacher evaluation policies represent teachers’ roles and actions (3) To what degree do New York State teacher evaluation policies promote teacher agency, over time.

Methodologically, this thick description case study draws on the works of Fairclough (1995, 2010, 2013), van Leeuwan (2008) and Hyatt (2013). Fairclough’s elements of critical discourse analysis are employed to understand how power sources are used to define the parameters of ideologies (text), discourse practices and social practices related to teacher representation and teacher agency in New York State’s policies. Fairclough (2003 p. 61) suggests that discourse, as a form of social practice, both “constitutes the social world and is constituted by other social practices.” Van Leeuwen’s (2008) Sociosemantic Inventory helped to determine how the roles and actions of social actors (teachers) are depicted in the texts and discourses of these policies. Hyatt’s (2013) policy analysis framework was used to determine how teacher evaluation policy was conceptually directed, shaped and managed, over time.

The findings are presented across three chapters. Chapter 4 exposed the ways in which information and ideas are introduced via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and its competitive Race to the Top (RTTT) incentive. The findings point to the origins of changes taking place in the language, ideology and power relationships of New York State’s emerging teacher evaluation system as framed by a new teacher evaluation law and its RTTT Application. Chapters 5 and 6 examine New York State’s teacher evaluation policies within the context of two “moments of crisis or tension (referred to as cruces) that occurred during the development of these policies. (Fairclough, 1995a) Particular attention focuses on the relationships among power sources and their influence on promoting agency and the social positioning of teachers in state policy. The final chapter comprises a summary discussion of the major findings as framed by the research questions and their related propositions, and identifies gaps or silences in the teacher evaluation policies that if addressed would potentially strengthen their promotion of teacher agency. The chapter concludes with the limitations of the study and implications for further research.

The study presents four general observations. First, cultural themes, constituted in policy primarily through its drivers and related warrant promoted teachers as agents of change consistently over time. Second, the collective voice of teachers through their teacher organizations played a prominent role in promoting teacher engagement at all levels of the educational system. However, the degree of teachers’ engagement, particular through collective agency in the development and implementation of the teacher evaluation system was affected by those who held the dominant power, which shifted during the five years of the RTTT initiative. Third, that while teacher development was a consistent outcome for reform, accountability standards for the teachers’ personal professional development plans was shaped more by guidance than by explicit policy. Fourth, the macro discourses framing drivers and levers for teacher evaluation policy were consistently employed in the policy’s trajectory at the meso-level. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.)

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Schiller, Kathryn S.
Commitee: Butterworth, James, Durand, Francesca
School: State University of New York at Albany
Department: Educational Policy and Leadership
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 80/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Educational evaluation, Education Policy
Keywords: Critical discourse analysis, Macro/meso policy, Teacher agency, Teacher evaluation
Publication Number: 13419527
ISBN: 9780438786844
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