Theses Doctoral

Opening the Black Box: Government Teacher Workforce Policy in New York City

Stevens, Katharine

As recently highlighted by the federal Race to the Top program, teacher policy is a growing focus of education policymakers and reform advocates, with much debate over how to train, motivate, and evaluate teachers, and increasing concern about teacher accountability. Yet while teacher workforce policy is increasingly recognized as an important dimension of public education policy, the complexity and contradictions that characterize teacher policy remain poorly understood by the public, policymakers, and scholars alike. This dissertation illuminates a problematic gap between the aspirations of new policy initiatives and the web of state and district laws and regulations that actually governs public school teachers and holds them accountable. Using New York City as a case study, the dissertation investigates the broad range of state and district policies that operate together to manage the teacher workforce of an urban school district. The dissertation builds a comprehensive typology of both supply- and demand-side teacher policies, employing an original analytical framework that integrates concepts drawn from strategic human resource management, legal studies, and the education literature on accountability. In particular, the study examines what teachers are held accountable for, and how minimum teaching competence is defined and enforced across the district workforce. The study shows that the district teacher policy system is composed of a disparate set of multiple, interacting state and district policy subsystems, and reveals the state's dominant role in teacher accountability. The state-controlled due process proceedings mandated by New York Education Law § 3020-a are found to be the cornerstone of teacher accountability in New York City. These precedent-driven proceedings define and enforce minimum teaching standards, and play a critical, under-recognized role in the district policy system. The state-sanctioned role of the district teachers union is also found to be central to the design and function of teacher workforce policies. Operating as a systemic whole, teacher policies hold New York City teachers strictly accountable for credentials, longevity, and ongoing training, while policies holding teachers accountable for their work are very weak, and operative mechanisms to ensure system-wide teaching competence do not exist. The study also identifies a significant degree of incoherence between accountability policies for teachers and those for other school stakeholders. Using new institutional theory as an analytical lens, the study explores ideological paradigms and alignments evident in these discrepant policies, focusing especially on growing tension between government and professional authority. New York education policy now appears to incorporate two contrary ideological paradigms: one aligned with an emerging government emphasis on efficiency, and the other with the professionalization model long promoted by the education profession. Study findings reveal the intricate nature of teacher workforce policy in New York City, and shed light on limitations of both federal and state influence in a highly fragmented education system. The dissertation concludes that locally-implemented policy systems for managing the teacher workforce merit closer attention as a crucial domain of education policy and school improvement.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Education Leadership
Thesis Advisors
Henig, Jeffrey
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 18, 2013