Teacher agency in the process of state mandated reform

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), federally funded schools and Local Educational Agencies (LEAs) that do not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (A YP) criteria for two consecutive years are designated Program Improvement (PI), mandating participation in school reform interventions. In February 2008, the California Department of Education (CDE) released a corrective action plan mandate requiring all LEAs, or school districts in Year 3 of PI to participate in intensive, moderate, light, or other levels of technical support that includes participation in the District Assistance and Intervention Team (DAIT) process. The DAIT process brings outside consultants and district office administrators into schools and classrooms for regular walkthroughs and assessments of improvement plan implementation. Yet little is known about how these state mandates influence teachers' instructional practices and decision-making power or agency. This study explores teachers' perceptions of the DAIT process and how agency is influenced in an urban fringe pre-kindergarten through grade 8, PI school district in California that volunteered to pilot the DAIT process during the 2006 - 2009 school years. The socio-cultural theory of learning (Gallucci, 2003) and the principal-agent theory (Ferris, 1992) guide the analysis of this embedded and longitudinal multi-case study of three middle schools and the district office within the PI school district. Rich, thick qualitative descriptions from 24 teachers and five district office administrators engaged in state mandated reform emerge from the single-case and cross-case analyses. Teachers perceive the DAIT feedback as vague and lacking in teacher involvement in classroom visitations, which led to teachers viewing the process as superficial. Yet teachers also considered the DAIT process as beneficial in increasing teacher-team reflection and collaboration around a singular, common instructional focus of reading comprehension, which seemed to be positively associated with agency. A variance of teacher agency levels was found to depend upon school context and how teachers perceived themselves while balancing the costs and benefits from DAIT feedback. Findings also reveal that the DAIT process may have compromised teacher agency due to the lack of teacher participation and involvement in the development of the process, potentially eroding teachers' sense of professionalism.