Teacher Voice

Jonathan Sullivan Gyurko

Teacher Voice
Gyurko, Jonathan Sullivan
Thesis Advisor(s):
Henig, Jeffrey
Politics and Education
Permanent URL:
Ph.D., Columbia University.
In many of today's education debates, "teacher voice" is invoked as a remedy to, or the cause of, the problems facing public schools. Advocates argue that teachers don't have a sufficient voice in setting educational policy and decision-making while critics maintain that teachers have too strong an influence. This study aims to bring some clarity to the contested and often ill-defined notion of "teacher voice." I begin with an original analytical framework to establish a working definition of teacher voice and a means by which to study teachers' educational, employment, and policy voice, as expressed individually and collectively, to their colleagues, supervisors, and policymakers. I then use this framework in Part I of my paper which is a historical review of the development and expression of teacher voice over five major periods in the history of public education in the United States, dating from the colonial era through today. Based on this historical interpretation and recent empirical research, I estimate the impact of teacher voice on two outcomes of interest: student achievement and teacher working conditions. In Part II of the paper, I conduct an original quantitative study of teacher voice, designed along the lines of my analytical framework, with particular attention to the relationship between teacher voice and teacher turnover, or "exit." As presented in Parts I and II and summarized in my Conclusion, teacher voice requires an enabling context. For much of the history of public education in the United States, a number of social and political factors presented conditions that inhibited teacher voice. As the state acquired more responsibility for the delivery of schooling, the required institutional context took shape allowing for the emergence of teacher voice in its various forms. Collective bargaining laws established formal procedures for the expression of teacher collective voice, originally on matters of employment but quickly spreading to issues of education and policy. Over the past thirty years, just as teacher voice gained strength at the negotiating table and in the corridors of power, the evolving institutional context has privileged choice, or "exit," over voice; a concurrent centralization of authority has made decision making less susceptible to voice efforts. At present, and despite mechanisms that promote teacher voice such as unionization and collective bargaining, teachers feel as if they do not have much of a voice in educational, employment, or policy decisions. Context matters, though, for when teachers are satisfied with their place of work, when represented by an effective union, and when the issues they raise are implemented or addressed, voice levels are at their highest. My findings also indicate that the right working conditions are associated with higher levels of teacher voice even among those educators who are inclined to leave their school. This finding suggests, and additional research is required to confirm, that promoting teacher voice can reduce unwanted turnover in schools. I conclude with thoughts on the future prospects of teacher voice. New technologies, social media, and other forms of connectivity are providing teachers with new opportunities to voice ideas amongst themselves and with supervisors and policymakers. Although it is too early to tell, there is reason to believe that these new voice pathways will serve as an effective medium for teachers to influence decisions and policies and expand the enabling context for teacher, and public, voice in education.
Political science
Public policy
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