Monday, February 8, 2016

Evidence for small-group vs. large-group orientation in education?

I stumbled upon S. Mausethagen's 2013 article exploring teacher reactions to external change in forced environments: Accountable for what and to whom?  The article covers ground familiar to any ed reformer: teachers' focus of synergistic energy morphs throughout their career in fairly predictable patterns (see Dinham & Scott, 2000):

  1. A focus on their own classrooms.  Accountability to external standards verify that practice falls within acceptable norms.
  2. A focus at the school level.  Accountability to a larger community of learners.  A growing importance of the recognition of out-of-class contributions.
I'd also add that many mature teachers also grow beyond a school focus.  In this orientation, they tend to worry about larger student-well being issues. These issues closely relate to education's hidden curriculum & large, societal-level morality.

Here are a couple of quotes from Mausethagen's work

"Being accountable is often articulated in hierarchical relations in the team of beginning- of-career teachers."

"Legitimation through laws and regulations are examples of authorization strategies, which are important legitimation strategies for the beginning-of-career teachers in particular. A prominent representation is to be loyal and accountable to input control such as curriculum and new laws, in addition to output control."

"The teacher’s language is prescriptive and authoritative, giving strength to his view on how things should be. Disagreement and one’s opinion are subordinated authorities, and the teacher creates a binary towards those who do not adhere to external expectations and are therefore 'not professionals'. "

"Being accountable to parents is discursively related to expectations from the principal and being loyal and accountable to him."

But when Mausethagen looks at resistance to accountability, he finds a different locus of control:

"Resistance to accountability policies is often legitimized through the use of moral evaluations or references to the profession and professional work of teachers." 

"For example, national tests are first and foremost seen as accountability towards the government, and not toward students and parents." 

"While many teachers delegitimize the need for external control and are concerned about the implications both for the students and the profession, they also acknowledge a decrease in trust and legitimacy for the public." 

There is clear antagonism between many beginning teachers who see their role in terms of external achievement mandates and many veteran teachers who see their role in terms of social development and broad educational aims.  The former appeal to authority, the latter to morality.  

Veteran teachers' large-group focus clearly bifurcates toward a strong small-group focus (screw the curriculum & standardized tests, I'm doing what's best for the kids and community) or a large-group focus (larger societal & student well-being issues warrant a watered-down content focus).  Interesting stuff.  The only problem with such obviously superficial small-group large-group analysis is that they are pure hand waving and are extremely subject to proof-texting "just so" explanations.  Take them with a huge grain of salt...