ASSEMBLING POLICY DILEMMAS:SCIENCE TEACHER RESPONSES TO EDUCATIONAL POLICY

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ASSEMBLING POLICY DILEMMAS:SCIENCE TEACHER RESPONSES TO EDUCATIONAL POLICY

ABSTRACT

Educational policies are found at every level of the educational system, influencing what teachers do in their classrooms. This study examines how teachers in two middle schools, who participate in multiple communities of practice, negotiated the meaning of policies from multiple levels of the educational system and translated the policies into practice. The study explores the dilemmas teachers face during sense-making and translation of policy into practice and the cultural features that serve as affordances and constraints on this process. This dissertation follows in the ethnographic tradition, in that eight teachers (four science, four nonscience) participated in observations and interviews that also produced artifacts over an eighteenmonth study. Principals, district and state level administrators, and other district teachers also participated in interviews throughout the study. Grounded theory was used to analyze the data, complemented by MacLure’s (2010) concept of “glowing data” to generate the claims about the community. This study found that teachers responded to policy in four main ways: adapt, adopt, combine, or reject (Coburn, 2005). These responses were tied to conceptual, pedagogical, and political dilemmas (Windschitl, 2002) teachers faced as they negotiated meaning in their network of communities of practice. Communities of practice both supported and limited teachers’ sensemaking. When policies and espoused practices misaligned, teachers were less productive in their policy play and more likely to reject a policy.  Principals, who served as boundary agents, could also serve as an affordance if teachers had a collegial and collaborative relationship. When teachers viewed their principals’ actions as managerial or authoritative, principals became a constraint on teachers’ productive policy play. This study has implications as a framework to examine teacher learning about policy, as well as for practice in designing policies and opportunities for teachers to make sense of policies.

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF FIGURES …………………………………………………………………………………. x

LIST OF TABLES ………………………………………………………………………………….. xi

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ……………………………………………………………………. xii

Chapter 1  Introduction …………………………………………………………………………… 1

The American educational system ……………………………………………………………………. 3

State policies ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 5

Schools and school districts ……………………………………………………………………………. 6

Sense-making and productive policy play ………………………………………………………… 7

Sense-making ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7

Dilemmas …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 8

Communities of Practice ………………………………………………………………………………… 8

Productive play with policy ……………………………………………………………………………. 9

Goals of the Research ……………………………………………………………………………………… 9

Overview of the contents of the study …………………………………………………………….. 10

Research Questions ……………………………………………………………………………………… 11

Chapter 2  Frameworks and Review of the Literature …………………………….. 12

Conceptual Framing ……………………………………………………………………………………… 13

Educational Policy ………………………………………………………………………………………… 15

Types of policies …………………………………………………………………………………………. 16

Making policy …………………………………………………………………………………………….. 18

Tracing NCLB policy in the educational map …………………………………………………. 20 Policies currently governing science education ……………………………………………….. 21

Macro-policy influences on science education practice …………………………………………….. 23

Assessment policy in science ………………………………………………………………………………… 26

Policy sense-making ………………………………………………………………………………………. 27

Influences on sense-making ………………………………………………………………………….. 28

Dilemmas …………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 28

Opportunities for sense-making …………………………………………………………………………….. 30

Communities of Practice ………………………………………………………………………………………. 32

Responses to policies …………………………………………………………………………………………… 43

Playing with policy to create assemblages ………………………………………………………. 44

Chapter 3  Methodology …………………………………………………………………………. 47

Ethnography …………………………………………………………………………………………………. 47

Context of Research Study …………………………………………………………………………….. 50

Role of the Researcher …………………………………………………………………………………… 53

Data Collection ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 54

Overview of methods of data collection …………………………………………………………. 57

District Level Data ………………………………………………………………………………………. 57

District Interviews ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 57

District Artifacts ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 58

School Leadership Interviews ……………………………………………………………………………….. 58

Pilot Data – Spring 2016 at Wilson ……………………………………………………………….. 60

August 2016 ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. 60

August – Professional Development ………………………………………………………………………. 61

Observations and Interviews …………………………………………………………………………………. 62November 2016 …………………………………………………………………………………………… 63

January/February 2017 ………………………………………………………………………………… 64

February/March 2017 ………………………………………………………………………………….. 65

May/June 2017 ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 66

Data Analysis ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 67

During data collection ………………………………………………………………………………….. 67

After data collection …………………………………………………………………………………….. 70

Validity and reliability …………………………………………………………………………………… 75

Chapter 4  Policies and Layers of Infrastructure in Brighton School District

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 77

U.S. Department of Education ……………………………………………………………………….. 79

Pennsylvania Department of Education …………………………………………………………. 79

Student learning meso-policies ……………………………………………………………………… 80

Teacher meso-policies …………………………………………………………………………………. 81

Dissemination of meso-policies …………………………………………………………………….. 83

Non-Governmental Organizations …………………………………………………………………. 84

LEA – Brighton School District ……………………………………………………………………… 86

Administrative Identities ………………………………………………………………………………. 90

Megan ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 91

Keith – Wilson Middle School ………………………………………………………………………………. 95

Frank – Aldrin Middle School ………………………………………………………………………………. 99

Brighton School District sense-making dilemmas ………………………………………….. 104

Chapter 5  Research Question 1: Teacher Policy Responses and Dilemmas

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 108Brighton’s Micro-policies …………………………………………………………………………….. 108

Adopting Policy …………………………………………………………………………………………… 110

Adoption with pedagogical dilemmas ………………………………………………………….. 111

Adoption with political dilemmas ………………………………………………………………… 118

Adapting Policy …………………………………………………………………………………………… 121

Adapting with conceptual dilemmas …………………………………………………………….. 122

Adapting with pedagogical dilemmas …………………………………………………………… 129

Combining Policies ……………………………………………………………………………………… 133

Rejecting Policy …………………………………………………………………………………………… 140

Rejection with conceptual dilemmas ……………………………………………………………. 141

Rejection with political dilemmas ……………………………………………………………….. 148

Playing Productively with Policy – Creating Assemblages …………………………….. 151

Talia’s assemblage …………………………………………………………………………………….. 152

Rory’s assemblage …………………………………………………………………………………….. 155

Maggie’s assemblage …………………………………………………………………………………. 156

Kasey’s assemblage …………………………………………………………………………………… 157

Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 158

Chapter 6  Research Question 2: Affordances and Constraints to Productive

Policy Play ………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 160

Teacher learning opportunities ……………………………………………………………………. 168

Espoused vs. enacted practices ……………………………………………………………………. 170

Administrators as boundary agents ……………………………………………………………… 176

Principals as constraints – managers and authorities ………………………………………. 176

Principals as affordances – colleagues and collaborators ………………………………… 178Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 180

Chapter 7  Conclusion, Limitations, and Further Directions ………………….. 182

Summary of claims ……………………………………………………………………………………… 184

Dilemmas and productive play with policy …………………………………………………… 184

Affording and constraining productive play with policy through communities of

practice ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 186

Implications ………………………………………………………………………………………………… 188

Theory ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… 188

Practice …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 189

Policymakers …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 190

Administration and leadership …………………………………………………………………………….. 191

Teacher Educators ……………………………………………………………………………………………… 192

Chapter 1

 

Introduction

Keeping in mind a goal of science literacy as put forth by Roberts and Bybee (2014), science education should be preparing students for futures as both scientists who develop science and citizens who use science. Students majoring in science fields are decreasing (Stinebrickner and Stinebrickner, 2011) and jobs in those fields are increasingly difficult to fill. Between 2008 and 2018, there was expected to be 2.4 million open STEM jobs (Carnevale, Smith, & Melton, 2011) inclusive of positions for workers with high school diplomas, associates, bachelors, and master’s degrees, and doctorates in science, technology, engineering, or math fields. For students who do not desire careers in science fields, knowledge of science still pervades their daily decisions such as which foods to eat, which cars to drive, and whom to elect as leaders. Each of these decisions requires an understanding of basic scientific principles such as what makes food beneficial or how to decide the best car for fuel economy and ecological protection. There is, however, a perception that US students are ill-prepared for both using citizen’s science and careers in science. Internationally, US students are falling behind their global counterparts on international science assessments such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS; Ripley, 2013) but these scores cannot tell us why US students perform poorer than international peers. For the US to create a globally competitive workforce, US education will need to look at the structure and cultures of schools around science education, not just test scores.

Though improving science education should be a national concern, there does not appear to be an increase in science education outcomes based on national or international metrics such as standardized testing. For example, in reviewing results from both 4th and 8th grade students on the 2015 TIMSS testing, US students did not show statistically significant increases in average score from 2011, the most recent administration of the science test (Provasnik, Malley, Stephens, Landeros, Perkins, and Tang, 2016). Furthermore, 15-year-old students in the US were in the bottom third of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries on the 2006 PISA exam (Provasnik, Gonzalez, and Miller, 2009). US students are not improving their outcome or standing amongst the global counterparts, decreasing global marketability.

Science jobs often referred to in the larger umbrella of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), is a growing field in the US which requires a well-prepared workforce. From 1960 to 2011, U.S. science and engineering jobs grew at an average annual rate of 3.3% compared to 1.5% that of non-science and engineering fields (National Science Foundation,

2014). Science and engineering jobs are predicted to continue to increase 13% in the United States between 2017 and 2027, compared to a predicted 9% growth in non-science and engineering jobs (Education Commission of the States, 2019). One possibility for why we have not seen statistically significant changes in science education outcomes lies in the policy-making that governs what science US schools teach and how they go about it.

This study explores the ways educational policy and the cultures of schools impact the practice of science teaching. First, I outline the major constructs in this study: the American educational system, types of policies that impact that system, the ways members of the system come to understand and implement those policies, and what affordances and constraints exist in the process. Then I provide the impetus for this study and an overview of each chapter, including the questions that guide the research.

The American educational system

Governance of American education is a multifaceted system comprised of many actors and levels that each make policy. Policy is the attempt by one group to influence the actions of another (Stein & Coburn, 2008), wherein the influencing actor wields power over the targeted community. Figure 1-1 shows these layers and the general type of policies created at each level. This figure is specifically designed to show the consideration of policies and practice at each discrete level within the state of Pennsylvania, the site of this study. The United States Department of Education (US DOE) is the federal governing body which oversees educational laws at the national level. Their jurisdiction includes explicit policies like No Child Left Behind (NCLB; 2001) which revised standardized testing requirements for all fifty states and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013), an elective set of national science standards states may use. The second layer of the system, the state, determines how, when, and on what students are tested. States like Pennsylvania establish the standards, assessments, and accountability models they will use to comply with national policies. Pennsylvania has over 500 school districts, making sharing of information through the system challenging; therefore, Pennsylvania created “intermediate units” (regional education service agencies) to help disseminate state information to the local school districts. These vary in size with large urban areas like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia having hundreds of schools and smaller districts having singular elementary, middle, and high schools. At the school level, administrators implement additional policies which determine not just what to teach, but how to teach students. In this section, I describe the specific nature of the policies at the different levels of the educational system.

 

National policy

The federal Department of Education (US DOE) governs the top layer of this educational system in the United States. As education is considered a state’s right, the DOE has little direct influence over local educational practice but generates particular written policies that protect the rights of students. These policies are explicit macro-policies as they have clear, specific goals and mandates to be followed. No Child Left Behind (NCLB; 2001) is an example of this type of explicit national policy. Among other things, NCLB dictates that states must have educational standards in math, English Language Arts (ELA), and science and that states must develop assessments for these subjects in their public schools. Other federal educational policies include Title IX (1972) that protects gender equity in education, the G.I. Bill (1944) which funds postsecondary education for military members, and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act (1954) which helped to desegregate schools.

Furthermore, national level actors create some policies that are not mandates or laws,

Figure 1-1: Educational system layers and science policies such as the NGSS. Federal policies do not tell schools and teachers what or how they should teach students, but does clarify whom they must teach. The US DOE provides such protections to meet its mission: “to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access” (U.S. Department of Education, 2017). As federal policies filter through the layers of the educational system, they are interpreted by actors and become practices.

State policies

States translate national policy to be more specific to its local contexts. For example, NCLB leaves power to determine what the educational standards are and how to assess the standards to the state level of policies. A state Congressional Board (the Board) oversees the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PA DOE), including Pennsylvania’s state disciplinary supervisors, and approves PA DOE policies such as content standards and assessments. In Pennsylvania, students take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment (PSSA) tests in 3-8th grade in math and ELA and 4th and 8th grade in science. High school students take Keystone Assessments for biology, algebra, and literature. The state develops these tests in alignment with the PA DOE-developed content standards, which are approved by the Board. Because each state controls the implementation of the assessments, NCLB compliance varies between states.

Standards and assessment tests are explicit meso-policies that govern what schools teach, but not how they instruct. States disseminate meso-policy in different ways, but Pennsylvania often uses the intermediate units (IU) to provide teachers within its geographical unit opportunities to learn about policies and practices. The IU does not create explicit policies but provides pedagogical options designed to meet the learning goals of state meso-policies. The practices disseminated through the IU become implicit policy, as the IU tries to influence teachers and their practice with soft power rather than mandates (Nye, 2004 in Aherne, 2009; McDonnell & Elmore, 1987). At the meso-level, we see the first policies regarding how to teach as content from the state begins to meet implicit pedagogical policy.

Schools and School Districts

School districts, or local education authorities (LEAs), are policymakers too, creating explicit and implicit micro-policies. School districts determine explicitly the curriculum that teachers follow to meet the state standards. They may also explicitly require certain teaching practices, e.g., having to use a specific lesson plan template, incorporating a particular number of written essays in classes, or giving a set number of tests. District and school level administrators also may create implicit micro-policies by advocating teachers use specific pedagogical tools like Problem Based Learning, inquiry-based science instruction, or non-fiction reading strategies across the curriculum. Absent explicit policy, administrators may incentivize compliance, such as providing more resources to teachers who follow these practices. They may also attempt to influence teachers’ practice by offering in-house professional development specific to these pedagogical tools.

Individual schools also make policies (Spillane, 1996). Some of these policies build on the macro- and meso-policies, but some are unique to the building itself. Principals and other administrators develop cultural norms to improve instructional practice such as a focus on a specific discipline like math or computer skills, a pedagogical focus on cooperative learning, or decisions about how much homework students should receive. These are often unwritten policies but are very specific to how it impacts practice (Coburn, 2001; Spillane, 2005; Allen & Penuel, 2015). The level of policy specificity is low, but the practices are concrete.

The final layer of the system is the teacher. Teachers themselves are also policymakers. Teachers make sense of the many policies trickling down through the educational system like a game of telephone (Spillane, 2005). Through this sense-making, teachers play with policies and create a policy assemblage which they translate into classroom practice. As teachers engage in policy play, they are likely to experience dilemmas that influence their responses to policy. In this next section, I briefly describe the key terms that frame this study: sense-making, dilemmas, communities of practice, and productive play with policy.

Sense-making and Productive Policy Play

With many policies being created and communicated to teachers from many different sources, it can be challenging to comply with all of them. In some policies, goals, and messages are misaligned either with one another or with the cultural norms of the community (Stillman, 2011). This misalignment can result in dilemmas for teachers. Teachers, therefore, engage in a sense-making process Koyama and Varenne (2012) term “productive policy play.” In this section, I describe what these processes look like and how it helps teachers’ practice.

Sense-making

The process of sense-making takes a sociocultural view of understanding policy. When teachers make sense of policy, they take policy messages, negotiate its meaning, and translate it into practice (Spillane, Reiser, & Reimer, 2002). Each of the levels of the educational system carries policy (Coburn, 2001) which positions teachers to negotiate multiple policies. In the sense-making process, teachers respond to the policy and will adopt, adapt, combine, or reject the policy (Coburn, 2001). The dilemmas teachers experience and their communities of practice influence how teachers respond to given policy.

Dilemmas

As policies are made by actors in the educational system to influence a large number of people, issues arise in local, contextualized sense-making. Dilemmas, as stated by Windschilt (2002), are “aspects of teachers’ intellectual and lived experiences that prevent theoretical ideals of [policy] from being realized in practice in school settings” (p. 132) and occur at the conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, or political level. Teachers’ dilemmas then influence whether they adapt, adopt, combine, or reject the policies at hand (Coburn, 2001). Features of a teacher’s communities of practice, particularly the affordances and constraints on sense-making, can influence teachers’ experienced dilemmas.

Communities of Practice

As sense-making is a social process, a teacher’s networks of communities of practice are critical in the process of sense-making (Rigby, 2014). A community of practice participates in the mutual engagement of a joint enterprise with a shared repertoire, learning through reification (Wenger, 1998). Strong and open communities of practice afford teachers opportunities to make sense of policy, but weak and closed communities often constrain sense-making processes in teacher communities (Gallucci, 2003). Trying to sense-make in these weak and closed communities can create shared political dilemmas, (Kelchtermans, 2005) such as pushing back on policies like Common Core or standardized testing policies as a group. A network of diverse communities can assuage some of the constraints of weak and closed communities as teachers bring in outside practices from more diverse, open, and strong communities (Koyama, 2015). Teachers’ engagement in sense-making with the practice of multiple communities of practice results in policy play and the formation of a policy assemblage (Koyama & Varenne, 2012).

Productive play with policy

Productive play with policy is the process through which teachers engage in sensemaking to assemble a set of practices (Koyama & Varenne, 2012). Through their play, teachers bring together their understanding of all policies contextualized in their school and classroom cultures. The collective messages, objects, and tools teachers use in the sense-making process becomes their assemblage (Koyama, 2015) which develops through the social interaction with the community (Coburn, 2001) as teachers play with policy in various degrees of productive ways (Koyama & Varenne, 2012). Policy play and the resultant assemblage are transient entities; there is no finished assemblage, but exist as temporary captures of teachers’ actions in response to the messages, objects, and tools to which they have access in a given space and time.

Collectively, policy play occurs as communities of practice make sense of policies and negotiate meaning in their local context. The assemblage created by community members navigates teachers’ and communities’ experienced dilemmas to result in responses to the policy. As teachers make-sense of policies, they require opportunities to learn about policies and what it means for their classrooms and schools. This sense-making process is complex and social, involving actors both internal external to school communities. The complexities of this process are currently under-explored in current science education literature.

Goals of the Research

The goals of this study are to describe the culture of the school community, and how the members of the school community translate multiple policies into practice in ways that make sense in their local context. Though studies have surveyed teachers in science education (Anderson, 2012;

Aydeniz & Southerland, 2012), this study provides the opportunity to examine the espoused and enacted practices of teachers as they relate to policies. An ethnographic approach allows for the collection of data in interview and observation with teachers, and also with the larger community of the school. The findings in this study provide the educational research community a theoretical lens to examine why teachers take up some practices and not others. Examination of the larger culture in which teachers make sense of policy can then help with policy-making and implementation as part of a more extensive cultural practice.

Overview of the Contents of the Study

This study begins with this introduction, which provided the critical constructs used to frame the rest of the study, followed by an overview of the study and the research questions. In Chapter 2, I discuss the literature and further lay out the details of the theoretical and conceptual framework that are used to analyze the data. Chapter 2 focuses on sociocultural theory, educational policy making, sense-making, and communities of practice. Productive play with policy (Koyama & Varenne, 2012) is introduced to understand the sense-making of multiple policies as teachers navigate policy dilemmas in their practice (Windschitl, 2002). In Chapter 3, I describe the reasoning for ethnography as the methodological frame of the study. I then describe the methods used to collect and analyze the data and an overview of the audit trail to describe the data collection and analytical decision-making process.

Chapters 4 through 6 describe the findings of the study. Chapter 4 delves into the policy context under which the teachers in this study are operating. I describe the levels of policy influencing the schools in the study. This description includes descriptions of the administrators and the policies and espoused practices they bring to the schools. In Chapter 5, I address the first research question by describing four ways teachers responded to policy (adopt, adapt, reject, combine; Coburn 2001) and the dilemmas (Windschitl, 2002) that teachers faced that resulted in that response. Then, in Chapter 6, I address the second research question and describe the affordances and constraints the culture at Brighton provides to teachers in their attempts to make sense of policy. Finally, in Chapter 7, I summarize the study and provide the implications, limitations, and future directions for this study.

Research Questions

I am most interested in understanding the complex system in which teachers practice, and the influence of their community of practice norms and the broader culture on practice. Policy, both implicit and explicit, plays a significant role in influencing what practices teachers feel empowered, enabled, and required to do in their classrooms. What is it that determines how teachers respond to policy; how do they decide what to do with the policies? These wonderings led to the following research questions I explored in the dissertation:

  • What dilemmas do science teachers face when sense-making and translating educational policies into practices?
  • In what ways do cultural features afford or constrain science teachers’ productive play with policy?

ASSEMBLING POLICY DILEMMAS:SCIENCE TEACHER RESPONSES TO EDUCATIONAL POLICY

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