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TNLI: Action Research: Teacher Leadership in School Change: Shared Leadership: School Autonomy and Teacher Accountability

AUGUST, 1997

What Is the Issue?
What Is the W. Haywood Burns School?
What Are Some Examples of Shared Leadership and Learner Centered Teacher Accountability Systems?
What Does the Union Say About Teacher Accountability Systems?
What Is a Major Obstacle to Shared Leadership and Peer Support/Review?
How Can Policy Makers Assist in Overcoming a Major Obstacle to Shared Decision and Peer Support /Review?
What Are Some of the Unanswered Questions


Learning is an active, dynamic, constructive process. (John Dewey, 1938;Constance Kamii, 1990). It is built upon making best sense of information by comparing real live experiences to new experiences. Teachers know that the key to students learning is their own learning. Teachers know that to increase their learning it takes time to study, plan, to work collaboratively, to try new ideas and to get feed back from peers. However, when a school district demands that all of the allotted professional development time be spent on standardized test sophistication plans, teachers miss precious opportunities to learn how to provide continuous sound educational experiences to all students. Although Teachers well understand the political reality of the current American Education bandwagon is "let's get higher test scores", this focus is taking us away from our primary mission of providing students with educational experiences from which all students can learn.

Teachers realize that it takes a different kind of district/school governance structure from the top down model that demands a prescribed teacher accountability system, to make teacher learning a long term commitment. Policy makers need to work on enabling communities to make changes in districts and schools governance structures so that teacher accountability systems reflect the particular needs of its school. These changes should include:

  • School autonomy in governance, budgeting, hiring, curriculum development, and professional development in exchange for accountability.
  • School autonomy in the creation of small school communities with a shared vision of learning and teaching that increases opportunities for communication and trust.
  • Compensation for collaborative teaching planning time outside of the school day.
  • Provide non-contact teaching time for teacher leader and team responsibilities.
  • Provide for multiple measures accountability system that demonstrates student achievement through performance assessment; standardize exams, attendance and progress reports.

The W. Haywood Burns School is currently in need of such changes in its district governance structure to enact its professional development teacher accountability plan.


The W. Haywood Burns School is a NYC, Board of Education parent/faculty collaborative, public school of choice. Families elect to send their children to the school. The newly built structure opened in September, 1996 in response to group of parents advocating for a school that responded to the needs of their children, (learner centered). The building houses three smaller schools with a combined population of about 650 students. The three schools share a philosophy that all students will have a "rigorous interdisciplinary, academic curriculum by emphasizing intellectual achievement, personal values, essential skills, active learning and the excitement of ideas". The school is a member of two networks; Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) of the Coalition of Essential Schools and New Visions for Public Schools. Both networks are guided by the principle that all students thrive in small, academically rigorous environments where they can receive personalized attention while learning through direct experience and cooperative exploration. The networks are working to revitalize public education by continuing to create and restructure schools by nurturing the development of mutually supportive schools that have agreed to establish common accountability criteria. (New Visions for Public Schools)

The student body of W. Haywood Burns School, which represents a collaboration of two networks, is 70% Latino; 17%White; 12% African-American, 3% Asian/Pacific Islander. The faculty is 57% White, 29% Latino, 12% African American and 2% Asian American. The school located in Washington Heights/Inwood section of Manhattan in part of a district that has the "highest rate of poverty in the city Ð 40% of its families have incomes under $10,000. The 34th Police precinct has one of the highest levels of drug activity and other crimes, including murder in NYC. In addition, teen age pregnancy is the norm Ð two out of every three new babies in the community are born to a mother between fifteen and nineteen years old. The District has the highest number of students with limited English proficiency of any in the state " (New Visions Proposal, 1995). According to District Superintendent, " school utilization is at 116 - 120% capacity. The District has the largest bilingual population in the State of New York and the fourth largest in the United States, a large proportion of who are immigrants with extreme needs". A parent of two W. Haywood Burns students writes in an article, "Parents, administrators and faculty confront difficult social problems that inhibit student learning and recognize that educational objectives cannot be addressed without taking into consideration the larger social realities."

The school district the W. Haywood Burns School resides in is an example of other urban districts in the United States. Linda Darling-Hammond, 1989 points out "the U.S. is entering a period of labor shortage while the number of older Americans is growing. In the 1950's the ratio of active workers to Social Security beneficiaries was 10 to 1. Soon that ratio will be 3 to 1. School drop out rates are about 25% for all U.S. students and about 50% for minority youth in central cities. Unemployment rates for the same reach almost as high. Lack of education is linked to crime and delinquency. More than half the adult prison population is functionally illiterate, and nearly 40 percent of adjudicated juvenile delinquents have treatable learning disabilities that were not diagnosed in school. The United Sates cannot maintain its democratic foundations or its standard of living unless all students are much better educated. This consensus creates a new mission for schools and teachers and entirely new approaches to accountability."

The mission of the W. Haywood Burns School reflects this consensus. The school's mission it provide a coherent and educational framework in which our kindergarten through eight grade organization will allow students, faculty and parents to collaborate over nine years to graduate students who demonstrate academic competency, community responsibility and an awareness of their personal goals and interest.


To help enact this mission the faculty at the W. Haywood Burns School is developing a system of teacher accountability by reviewing how teachers are held accountable for their work in other schools successfully serving like populations. One such example is the International High School at LaGuardia Community College in LIC, NY. The faculty developed a model teacher accountability system supported by a school governance structure of shared leadership. Under this system a faculty personnel committee responsible for the recruitment and selection of new applicants was established; a peer support and evaluation process to formalize that commitment was created and a system involving the whole school for peer review and assessment was established.

The faculty at International High School points out "that since they were given the opportunity to redefine the way the school would work, they feel a sense of ownership toward the school. They have created a dynamic and vibrant learning community for the benefit of the limited English proficient students it serves. The results of these innovative initiatives, as well as the process by which it has been achieved, holds promise for policy makers committed to empowering students as effective learners by transforming our schools into centers of teaching excellence".

Encouraged by the International High School model of shared leadership and professional accountability system; the W. Haywood Burns School developed a dynamic system of school governance and teacher support based on our community's particular needs. Our governance structure includes a representative body consisting of the Principal, Teacher-Leaders/Directors, the United Federation of Teachers, the Parents Association, Custodial Staff, School Aides and Dinning Room Staff, that meet weekly to allow for coordination of efforts, awareness of each small school's progress and policy decisions effecting the entire school. The entire school staff meets monthly and on an as needed basis. The agenda for these meetings are developed collaboratively, reflecting school, district and community interest as they relate to the teaching and learning process. Additionally, the three small schools meet as separate faculties. The Principal is a member of each of these faculties. She functions as a support for the development of each of the smaller schools within the larger school.

Each of the smaller schools is creating a teacher accountability system of peer support and review. One of the smaller schools is further along in its development of such a system. This smaller school describes the peer support system as Triads. "Triads were developed as a way of improving an individual teacher's practice, by posing a critical question and investigating that question with the help of two colleagues. Inquiry into a given question is facilitated by inter visitations, documentation using descriptive processes, readings, and collaborative meetings. The triad system is a way of opening up classroom practice to one another in constructive and supportive ways."

This smaller school within the W. Haywood Burns School describes its review system as follows. "All first year staff members will automatically be probationary employees of the school and go through the staff review process. Veteran staff members will be reviewed during their third or fourth year. The staff review process will begin within the first semester of the school year. January letters containing recommendations made to individual probationary staff members will be sent; progress made towards implementing those recommendations will be taken into account and included in subsequent staff reviews procedures. Expectations for staff review will focus on the work with students, colleagues, families, evidence of continued professional development, and potential for growth. All staff members are invited to use a narrative instrument to comment on any practitioner under review. Comments are based on direct, documented peer observations in order for the process to be valid. All writings must be stated in descriptive not evaluative terms and substantiated with evidence/specific and concrete examples. All written materials are reviewed by the staff review committee of three, which is chosen by a nomination process. The practitioner under review will be invited to address the committee in order to clarify any questions/issues contained in the evaluation summary. The school review committee offer written recommendation to the Teacher-Director and Principal for action.

This is the W. Haywood Burns School first year of operation and many kinks within our system need to be ironed out. But, by going through the process of dialoging, reading, visiting other schools, trying out new things, a mutual excitement has been built. We have sustained a lively interest over the past year resulting in collegial relationships that promote teacher learning.


Teacher unions also believe that systems of teacher accountability that include peer support and review promote teacher learning. The 1995 -2000 year contract agreement between NYC Board of Education and the United Federation of Teachers addresses the issue under article eight J, Education Reform and Evaluation/Observations System. It states "The first model, known as annual Performance Options offers an individual teacher, in consultation with his/her supervisor, the opportunity to set yearly goals and objectives and to choose the methods for demonstrating professional growth". National Education Association President, Bob Chase this year stated (as per Ed. Week, 2/12/97), "the nation is now engaged in a furious debate about what students learning standards should be, how we should measure them, and what kinds of rewards and consequences should be attached to meeting or failing to meet them. But, by and large, teachers have been absent from this debate. Unions need to begin to advocate and enforce standards for learning and standards for teaching. And unions need to back up these standards with adequate training, professional development, and strong peer review systems. In the few places that have adopted it, peer review is probably the most powerful demonstration of teacher knowledge of practice and commitment to high professional standards. Peer review requires teachers to define good teaching, to develop ways to measure and support it and to engage in means to ensure that where quality standards are not met, those teachers are no longer in the classroom."

Teacher union support is one response to creating a climate in school districts that encourages teacher accountability systems of peer support and review and the "Annenberg Challenge" is another response. According to Ed. Week, 6/25/97, the "Annenberg Challenge" is that by giving money to reformers on the ground, rather than to the school bureaucracy, the challenge could make public education work for poor and minority students and deepen existing grassroots efforts. But that initial premise of circumventing district red tape by creating groups of schools and educators has proven unrealistic. NYC schools Chancellor balked at the creation of a separate district operating; outside of his control."

The Director of New York Networks for School Renewal points outs "that the creation of a parallel system under this Chancellor is not going to happen. The concept of a "Learning Zone" as envisioned by the NYC schools Chancellor would remain part of the larger system. According to the chancellor high performing schools and community districts will be given greater autonomy". I believe schools need autonomy not as a reward but as a way to address their own particular needs. District and school governance structures need to support teacher autonomy by encouraging teacher accountability systems in which teachers are held accountable for meeting the individual needs of their students. Peer support and review is a teacher accountability system through which individual students needs can be met.


One way (as suggested by Joe Nathan, 1996), in which school policy makers can assist in the creating and maintenance of "high performing schools" meeting individual students needs is by influencing school legislation in New York that provides:

  • non-sectarian public schools of choice for families;
    The school will not charge tuition or have admission test. They would be open to all kinds of students. They will follow health and safety procedures.
  • schools responsible for improved student achievement;
    For example, each school will negotiate a 3-5 year contract with the sponsoring agency, specifying areas in which students will learn more and how that learning will be measured. The sponsor will close schools who do not achieve their contract.
  • up front waiver to develop multiple measures accountability system that demonstrates student achievement;
    For example, performance based assessment will count equally as standardize exams.
  • schools that are a discrete entity; schools in which full per pupil allocation moves with the student;
    The school is a legal entity, with its own elected board. Teachers can organize and bargain collectively.
  • schools where participating teachers will be protected and given new opportunities.
    The state will permit teachers to take a leave from their public school systems and retain their seniority. Teachers can stay in local or state retirement systems. Teachers can choose to be employees, organize a cooperative or choose another method of organization available to non- sectarian groups.

Nationwide, nearly 500 such schools are up and running, 27 states including the District of Columbia have these laws on the books. Teacher unions are interested in these schools as long as collective bargaining rights are respected. In 1996, the St. Paul Minnesota, school Board voted 7-0 to renew one of its schools charter because many youngsters not succeeding in larger, traditional schools were flourishing in the school's smaller, intensive program. Other charters, like New Visions, in Minneapolis, Vaughn in Next Century Charter in LA, Bowling Green Charter in Sacramento and Academy Charter in Castle Rock, Colorado, also have produced achievement gains. Many charter schools serve low and middle-income students. A 1995 survey of 110 charter schools in seven states found that most charters were designed at least in part to serve "at risk" students. A review by Louisiana State University analyst, Louann Bierlen, states that of six states with the most charter schools found that minority youngsters comprise 40 percent of charter school enrollments although the same minorities make up just 31 percent of pupils in the regular public schools in those states.


This movement is still new. It faces some unanswered questions about valid methods of assessing student achievement; how much of an impact such schools will have on existing public schools, will policy makers be willing to adopt laws permitting groups other than local school boards to sponsor charter schools, can universities prepare people to start up and operate such schools. These are questions that researchers can help us to understand what are the best ways to establish these schools and what are the mistakes to avoid. This movement does allow for the elimination of large top down school district bureaucracies. The movement allows for a school governance structure of shared leadership in which teachers can perform at the highest level by being a part of an accountability system that fosters continuous learning. When teachers are learning, students are learning.


  1. Applebome, Peter. Who's Minding the Schools. New York Times, 12-22-96.
  2. AFT. Charter School Laws Do They Measure Up. 1966.
  3. Center for Collaborative Education of Coalition for Essential Schools. 1996.
  4. Darling-Hammond. Authentic Assessment in Practice. New York, NCREST, Teachers College, Columbia University. 1993.
  5. Darling- Hammond. Creating Learner-Centered Accountability. New York, NCREST, Teachers College, Columbia University. 1993.
  6. Darling-Hammond. Creating Accountability in Big City School Systems. New York, NCREST, Teachers College , Columbia University.
  7. Dewey, J.(1964). The Child and the Curriculum. John Dewey on Education: Selected Writing. New York, 1902.
  8. Feldman, Sandra. Charter Schools The Way We See Them, New York Teacher, 11-25-96.
  9. Finn, Bierlein, Manno. Charter Schools in Action. Hudson Institute Educational Excellence Network, Wash. DC., 1996.
  10. International High Schools. Partnerships Realizing the International Schools Model. 1994.
  11. Jacobson, Linda. Under the Microscope, Charter Schools Do They Work? Education Week. 11-6-96.
  12. Kamii, Constance. Achievement Testing in the Early Grades. NAEYC, 1990
  13. Landmark High School Personnel Committee. Teaching Criteria. 1995.
  14. Marshall, Hatcher. Promoting Career Development through CADRE. Educational Leadership. March, 1996.
  15. Muscota New School. Structure for Peer Review. 1996.
  16. Nathan, Joe. Early Lessons from the Charter Movement. Center for Educational Innovation, 1996.
  17. NYC Board of Education Meeting on Chancellor's Learning Zone; Building Capacity for Sustained Innovation Trough System Reform. 12-4-96.
  18. New Visions for Public Schools. New Visions for Public Schools. NY, NY, 1996.
  19. Ponessa Jeanne. Star Potential. Education Week. 11-13-96.
  20. Purdy Matthew, Political Networking Caused Shift in NYC School Governance. NY Time 12-23-96.
  21. Unknown. High Standards Demanded for Charter Schools. NY Teacher. 11-11-96.


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