Supporting Professional Development in an Era of Accountability: The Elementary School Principal Perspective

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Supporting Professional Learning in an Era of Accountability:

The Elementary School Principal Perspective


The current wave of school reform demands high levels of accountability from districts and from individual schools.  The accountability is measured in terms of student achievement.  The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 demands that each state report student proficiency levels and hold schools accountable for student progress.  How students increase achievement is left to the districts and to the schools.

There is a large body of evidence that links student achievement to teacher professional development, although the linkage may be indirect.  There is also a large body of evidence that links the quality of teacher professional development to the structure and culture of the school.  The research in organizational learning links professional development to the creation of learning communities that support shared decision-making, a supportive environment for experimentation, collaboration among peers and supportive leadership.  The school principal is a key component in the creation of learning communities.  However, there is very little work done that examines the practices that principals use to create environments that support professional learning in an era of high stakes accountability.  This study seeks to uncover the practices that elementary school principals utilize that balance the demands of accountability with the creation of support learning environments.

To uncover these practices, this study will utilize a multi-case study of schools identified as having supportive environments for professional learning.  The case study is situated in a large suburban school district in a mid-Atlantic state under a state mandated accountability program.  To determine which schools to study, supervisors will be surveyed to generate a list of schools that support professional learning from a pool of 78 schools.  Four schools will then be selected that vary in achievement scores and socio-economic demographics.  A case study approach utilizing interviews will gather evidence of the practices that principals use the support professional learning.  The data will be categorized using a guiding conceptual framework developed from a review of the literature on organizational learning, principal leadership and teacher professional development.  These conditions include the district effects, beliefs of the school, the school culture, school decision-making structures and planning strategies.  In addition, this study will identify and categorize the actions that principals utilized to support professional learning in an era of high-stakes accountability.

The identification of the practices principals use to support professional learning is significant because accountability and student achievement impact virtually every school in the country.  The study will add to our knowledge about the effects of accountability, leadership and the development of environments that support learning.