Progress Report Contents
The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute may well be the most enduring of the school-college collaborations that have emerged during the past 20 years to enhance the quality of pre-college education. It has also been one of the most successful by any number of different measures.
The YNHTI is a joint activity of Yale University and the New Haven school district. Through the Institute, New Haven teachers and Yale faculty collaborate in the development of curriculum units. In the process, teachers who participate as Fellows of the Institute expand their disciplinary knowledge and, as will be documented in the report that follows, experience enhanced morale, and perceive improvements in their students' learning. Faculty, by their own admission, develop an appreciation of the conditions and circumstances that prevail in secondary and, more recently, middle and even elementary school education in New Haven.
The heart of the Institute program is a series of seminars held during the spring and summer on the University campus. Over the course of each seminar, Yale faculty and New Haven teachers explore an area of interest to both. Readings are assigned and discussed with an eye to creating, eventually, a set of curriculum units related to the area. The Yale faculty members who are seminar "leaders" contribute their background in the subject. New Haven teacher Fellows who are seminar participants contribute their expertise in pedagogy and their knowledge of students and the New Haven schools. Together, the participants create curriculum units that find their way into New Haven classrooms, those taught by Fellows and those taught by other teachers who find the units potentially useful.
There are other features of the Institute. A lecture series, assistance in the writing of units, availability of University campus facilities for use by the teachers, and school year meetings of Fellows within their own schools and at the University. All of these activities serve the objective of collegiality: between Fellows and Yale faculty, between schools and the University, among teachers across schools.
From the start, every facet of the Institute was developed collaboratively. Decisions have typically been achieved through consensus. Emphasis has been given in all Institute activities to crossing disciplines and schools and breaking down traditional barriers and the sources of professional isolation that have marked the teaching profession. Thus, Yale faculty lead seminars that transcend traditional disciplines. University faculty and school personnel work as colleagues in the exploration of subject matter and the creation of curriculum units. Teachers from different schools and disciplines work together in seminars and during the school year in activities related to the Institute and to the dissemination of the curriculum units.
The Institute itself has attempted to overcome the insularity that often marks attempts to effect changes in organizations and institutions. The Institute model was developed and refined through reviews of other efforts at creating collaborations between universities and public schools. Once the model had been adopted, Institute staff established and maintained contact with other school- university collaborations. The Yale-New Haven Institute has always been well represented at conferences on collaborative approaches to school reform. Moreover, the Institute has itself sponsored a major conference on school- university collaboration and has contributed in major ways to conferences sponsored by others. Dissemination of the Yale-New Haven model and the exchange of information with other similar programs has long been an objective of the Institute.
Since its inception in 1977, the planners and organizers of the Institute have engaged in an ongoing process of reflection and self evaluation. The process is fueled by a set of principles that guide the program. These include a belief in the fundamental importance of teaching as the basis for educational effectiveness, an emphasis on collaboration and collegiality among teachers at all levels, and an insistence that programs intended to change education can be effective only if they are long-term and involve teachers as leaders. The principles have been responsible for the particular focus and shape of the program, and have been the filter through which all evaluation has been viewed.
The director of the Institute has been careful, throughout the history of the collaboration, to maintain a perspective that combines on going evaluation and fine, tuning of program elements with a firm commitment to the original goals and scale of the project. Pressures to expand, disseminate, or change particular features of the program based on changing fashions in education have been weighed and ultimately rejected out of deference to the major mission of the collaboration. Such changes as have been made have been undertaken as a function of the collective wishes of Fellows expressed in their written evaluations of the Institute, or as responses to perceived needs that fall within the Institute's mission. For example, only after considerable institutional soul-searching and careful consideration of the meaning of the move did the Institute add, in 1990, elementary school teachers to its roster of Fellows, formerly restricted to the middle and high school ranks. The inclusion of a small cadre of elementary school teachers happened only after the Institute staff had reassured themselves that the change would not dilute the focus on subject matter that is a defining characteristic of the collaboration.
Evaluation has been a priority for the Institute from the outset. Consistent with its reflective and self-critical stance, Institute staff have employed a variety of techniques for assessing the operations and outcomes of the Institute and for using and disseminating the results of these efforts. In fact, evaluation activities have served the Institute as one more vehicle for collaboration: with prospective evaluators in the service of focusing the evaluation; with participants in deciding what to evaluate and interpreting results; and with potential audiences in tailoring reports to the information needs of others. Sensitivity to its many constituencies has required that the Institute collect different kinds of information and employ different evaluation strategies. Institute staff have concerned themselves with gathering data both to inform their own reflective process and to share their successes with external audiences. The latter include the collaborating institutions (Yale University and the New Haven Public Schools), funders and prospective funders, and other educators and policy makers engaged in or considering similar collaborative ventures.
The organizers of the Institute have envisioned several purposes for evaluation: documenting and examining the impact of collaboration on teaching and learning; assessing the success of the Institute in achieving its intended outcomes (and, possibly, outcomes that were not intended); understanding the ways in which it (and, by implication, other collaborative programs) might contribute to the enhancement of education in schools; and providing data that might be used to communicate the accomplishments and successes of the programs to diverse audiences. As a result, the Institute staff have employed a variety of evaluative strategies that transcend the traditional distinction between formative and summative evaluation. From the very beginning, planning the program has been a collaborative enterprise, involving an almost constant process of considering and evaluating each component of the program. Readings of participants' reactions to program policies and components have been taken regularly, in both formal and informal fashion. (The report that follows is one testimony to the formal side.) Over the course of its existence, particularly in its early years, the Institute invited important observers of public education and educational change to visit and comment in writing on their visits. A catalog has been maintained of the curriculum units created by Institute participants; a summative analysis was performed of the units in 1988. The Institute staff have collected data from and about the New Haven Public Schools, about Fellows and non Fellows, to assess the extent of the Institute's influence in the schools and its impact on retention of teachers. Comprehensive questionnaires have been completed by Fellows every year since the beginning of the Institute, reporting on a wide range of topics from their reactions to the Institute through their attitudes toward educational reform. The earliest questionnaires evoked essays based on open-ended questions posed by the Institute staff. Over time, themes in the responses to these questions became the basis for a more structured set of questions. Starting in 1992, lengthy questionnaires that included multiple-choice and open-ended questions were administered annually to Fellows. In 1982 and 1987, parallel questionnaires were administered as well to all of the teachers then teaching in New Haven. This report describes many of the responses to these questionnaires.
What is most notable about the findings reported here is their consistency. Although each Institute year brings a new crop of Fellows (albeit many Fellows return for repeat engagements with the Institute), the responses of Fellows to their experiences with the Institute have been similar. With great uniformity, Fellows describe their Institute experiences enthusiastically. They credit the Institute with enhancing their interest in the subjects they teach, increasing their engagement with teaching, and augmenting their senses of autonomy in their classrooms. They are unfailingly positive about the benefits to them of participation in the seminars and about the experience of having prepared their curriculum units. Such consistency of responses is manifest not only among each year's Fellows, but among Fellows across years. This consistency of findings was entirely unexpected. The teachers who have been Fellows of the Institute are a heterogeneous group. They teach different subjects and different grades. Their preparation is varied; they majored in different fields as undergraduates. Moreover, they teach the full range of students who attend the New Haven Public Schools. In short, the Fellows are representative of the larger population of New Haven teachers.
This representativeness would also be a surprise to early observers of the Institute plan who predicted that the Institute would attract teachers mainly from the ranks of those who teach advanced and honors classes and the most academically talented students in the schools. It had also been predicted that the Fellows would represent only the most motivated New Haven teachers.
Instead, Fellows represent all of the subjects and levels included in the middle and high schools of New Haven. That this diverse group of teachers experience the effects of the Institute in similar ways and report consistently positive reactions over time is remarkable indeed.
The dimensions of positive response correspond to some of the major concerns that plague education today. As will become apparent in the body of the report, Fellows reports of the benefits of Institute participation address issues of isolation and alienation, of feelings of competence, and of motivation among teachers.
Prior to 1982, when Fellows' reactions to the Institute were captured in mini- essays stimulated by sets of open-ended questions, Fellows identified the scholarship of the seminar leaders and the collegial nature of the atmosphere in seminars as some of the most important aspects of the Institute for them. Other features that Fellows identified spontaneously in their early evaluations, and acknowledged with considerable appreciation, were the process of developing and refining their curriculum units, and the balance maintained in their seminars between the study of a topic and the development of curriculum units. The benefits of participation that recurred in early accounts by Fellows inevitably included improved morale and professionalism, and intellectual stimulation. These topics became the focus of multiple-choice questions when the evaluation questionnaires assumed a more constructed format, mainly because they had been the topics most frequently discussed by Fellows in their free-form responses.
The more formal approach to surveying Fellows allowed for the addition of topics and the diversification of the evaluation. Since the Institute was established in the context of major efforts at reforming the teaching profession nationally, a major series of questions in the questionnaires address school reform and related issues. In the years that followed, Fellows (and their colleagues who did not participate as Fellows, when asked) expressed skepticism about some of the more procedural approaches to reform. Examples of these are lengthening the school day and increasing the number of days in the school year. Both groups-Fellows and non- Fellows-were more positively inclined toward raising standards for themselves and their colleagues. They reserved their greatest enthusiasm for enhancing professionalism among teachers and increasing opportunities for teachers to assume leadership roles in schools and in the profession.
These sentiments are particularly interesting in the context of Fellows' reactions to another set of questions, those focusing on the relative benefits of various facets of their Institute experience. Fellows were most appreciative of the avenues that the Institute offered them for professional growth and leadership. Given these responses, Fellows' enthusiasm for the enhancement of professionalism among teachers as a potentially fruitful approach to reform is not surprising. Whether their reactions to the reform proposals are a function of their Institute experiences or they chose to participate in the Institute because of their beliefs in the potential benefits to schools of increased professionalism, the two sets of reactions are consistent. What is somewhat surprising is that non-Fellows agree, suggesting strongly that the Institute approach to reform is one that is attractive to teachers and that fits with their beliefs. It is also significant that Fellows characterized their Institute experiences as more relevant to and valuable for their professional growth than other in service programs they had experienced.
Other reactions of Fellows to the Institute are related to their reactions to proposals for school reform. Fellows reported that their Institute experiences enhanced collegiality with other teachers in the New Haven schools and with Yale faculty. In their ratings of selected features of the Institute as incentives to participate and as benefits to them, Fellows gave high marks to those features that were consistent with their preferences for reform. For example, the joint opportunities to create a curriculum unit (thereby, according to their ratings, increasing their autonomy in the classroom) and to do interdisciplinary work (thereby enhancing their professionalism and relations with colleagues) were among the highest-rated incentives for and benefits of participation in the Institute. For most Fellows, the ability to interact with Yale faculty was a recurring incentive for participation and a highly valued feature of the Institute program.
The ultimate goal of any program intended to improve education is, of course, the enhancement of student learning. Wisely, the Yale-New Haven Institute has focused its attention on teachers, reasoning that teachers who are engaged will inevitably translate their own engagement into enhanced learning for students. By all available measures, the Institute has succeeded in engaging teachers in important ways. Because its philosophical commitment and primary responsibility has always been to teachers, Institute staff have focused on teachers as the primary targets of evaluation activities. Questionnaires administered to Fellows and non Fellows have repeatedly probed the major dimensions of the Institute program and most of the foreseeable effects for teachers. In the context of the primacy of teachers in the Institute philosophy, this approach to assessing outcomes is entirely appropriate. Fellows are the immediate audience of Institute programs; non-Fellows are the next in importance.
Given the difficulty of assessing second-order effects directly, the Fellows' questionnaires have asked questions about Fellows' perceptions of their students' reactions to their teaching following their Institute experience, and to the units developed through Institute participation. Parallel questions about students' reactions to Institute units have also been asked of non-Fellows who use such units. In virtually all cases, student responses have been perceived as positive, to the units themselves and to the units when compared with non-Institute materials traditionally used in the same classes. These responses suggest that teachers, even those who did not participate as Fellows perceive some positive influence of the Institute on students. But the definitive study of student reaction has yet to be conducted.
This circumstance is not unique to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. It is typically the case with programs that seek to effect improvement in education by focusing their efforts on teachers, that the effects for students are difficult to assess directly. There are a number of possible reasons for this difficulty. One is that the outcomes for teachers are often diffuse. This means that they may take different forms in different teachers, and result in different behaviors. These behaviors, already different for different teachers, may translate into different classroom experiences for students. In the majority of the translations may be positive, they do not lend themselves to a limited set of potential outcome measures for students.
A related reason is that effects for students may not be felt directly but rather are embedded in intermediate outcomes that are difficult to operationalize and measure. For example, there is good evidence that participation in the Institute enhances the likelihood that good teachers remain in the New Haven Public Schools. Common sense dictates that retaining good teachers cannot but improve conditions for students. However, demonstrating this common sense tenet is not easy. Identifying and documenting student outcomes poses a difficult challenge even for programs, like the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, that have demonstrated consistently positive outcomes and important benefits for teachers. It is undoubtedly the case that the task will require a new and different approach. The questionnaire survey method that has prevailed and been so successful in characterizing teacher reactions since the beginning of the Institute will probably not work for students, at least at the outset. A method for documenting student reaction will need to take account of the range and variety of subjects, classes and students represented by Institute teachers, and the concomitant range and variety of ways in which students might be influenced. The challenge suggests a process that starts (once again) with the teachers. The process would probe in some depth and probably in open-ended fashion at first, the range of reactions that teachers observe in their students. When some of the more common reactions have been identified and catalogued, appropriate avenues may be developed for assessing the extent to which this set of reactions can be detected in students, by their own reports and the reports of observers. It is surely a worthy goal, as the Institute reflects on its substantial record of achievement in enhancing the professional lives of teachers, to begin to reflect on and develop a systematic approach to assessing the impact of its work on students.
A final note: Like all evaluations everywhere, the questionnaires completed by Fellows concentrate on those facets of the Institute that are common across the majority of Fellows. Analyses of the results of the questionnaires focus on central tendencies and group trends. What is missing from this report (and other reports on group reactions) is an accounting of the many ways in which individuals have been affected personally by the Institute. Participants become inspired, moved, energized, heartened, or aroused in idiosyncratic ways. In turn, they impart or transmit their reactions to others: their colleagues, students, families, friends. It is with such reactions that important changes in education often originate. Yet they evade the often crude investigative tools of evaluation studies, focused as the latter are on measurable phenomena. Even the statements of individual Institute participants that are woven into the pages of this report serve more to support and illustrate the major findings of the study than to illuminate the individual reactions that are probably the Institute's most compelling effects.
In the coming years, as Institute staff contemplate a more secure future, the results of the past twelve years of evaluation offer a strong foundation for assessing the continuing role of the Institute in a changing educational climate. For now, the questionnaire results provide evidence of a productive history.
Gita Z. Wilder
© 1992 by the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute