Teacher collaboration in context: professional learning communities in an era of standardization and accountability
Proponents of current educational reform initiatives emphasize strict accountability, the standardization of curriculum and pedagogy and the use of standardized tests to measure student learning and indicate teacher, administrator and school performance. As a result, professional learning communities have emerged as a platform for teachers to collaborate with one another in order to improve their teaching practices, increase student achievement and promote continuous school improvement. The primary purpose of this inquiry was to investigate how teachers respond to working in professional learning communities in which the discourses privilege the practice of regularly comparing evidence of students' learning and results. A second purpose was to raise questions about how the current focus on standardization, assessment and accountability impacts teachers, their interactions and relationships with one another, their teaching practices, and school culture. Participants in this qualitative, ethnographic inquiry included fifteen teachers working within Green School District (a pseudonym). Initial interviews were conducted with all teachers, and responses were categorized in a typology borrowed from Barone (2008). Data analysis involved attending to the behaviors and experiences of these teachers, and the meanings these teachers associated with those behaviors and events. Teachers of GSD responded differently to the various layers of expectations and pressures inherent in the policies and practices in education today. The experiences of the teachers from GSD confirm the body of research that illuminates the challenges and complexity of working in collaborative forms of professional development, situated within the present era of accountability. Looking through lenses privileged by critical theorists, this study examined important intended and unintended consequences inherent in the educational practices of standardization and accountability. The inquiry revealed that a focus on certain "results" and the demand to achieve short terms gains may impede the creation of successful, collaborative, professional learning communities.