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The control and accountability of teachers and their work in schools has long been the subject of controversy, research, and reform. Two opposing views have dominated this issue. Are schools decentralized places where teachers work with little supervision or accountability, as some claim? Or are they overly centralized places with too much top-down bureaucracy restricting teachers, as others argue? And what difference, if any, does this issue make in how well schools function?

To resolve this debate, Professor Ingersoll undertook a series of studies that focused on several key questions: Who makes the crucial decisions concerning the education of the young? How much “voice” and input do teachers have in school decisions? How much autonomy do they have in their classrooms, and how much does teacher independence vary among different types of schools? Do these factors make any difference?

Professor Ingersoll’s research has examined the degree to which schools are centralized or decentralized and the extent to which these organizational conditions vary across different types of schools. He has investigated the kinds and forms of workplace controls that exist in schools and the extent of classroom autonomy held by teachers. Finally, his research has examined what impact the degree of organizational centralization, accountability, and control has on teachers and students in schools. He has documented that schools in which teachers have greater input into school decision-making have significantly fewer student behavior problems, higher teacher retention, and better student achievement. An early article by Professor Ingersoll on this topic won several honors, including the Braverman Award, sponsored by the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and an Honorable Mention in the competition for the Thompson Award, sponsored by the Sociology of Organizations, Occupations, and Work section of the American Sociological Association.

His subsequent book, Who Controls Teachers’ Work? Power and Accountability in America’s Schools, was published by Harvard University Press in 2003. The following year, the book received the Outstanding Writing Award for a Book from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. His publications on this topic have been cited more than 2,000 times, and his articles and essays have been downloaded more than 5,700 times from the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholarly Commons website.

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

The elementary and secondary teaching force represents one of the largest occupational groups in the United States. One of Professor Ingersoll’s research projects explores the ways in which the demographics of this workforce have changed or remained stable in recent decades. The results show significant shifts in the makeup of the teaching force since the 1980s, yet even the most dramatic trends appear to have been little noticed by researchers, policymakers, and the public. Most notably, Professor Ingersoll’s study showed that the U.S. teaching force has become larger, older, less experienced, more female, more racially and ethnically diverse, and more unstable. Teachers have remained consistent in academic ability.

Professor Ingersoll published the results of this study in 2012 and has updated it as new waves of national data have been released, co-authoring these publications with doctoral students Lisa Merrill, Dan Stuckey, Greg Collins, and Brandon Harrison. A 2021 report in the journal Education Sciences is the most comprehensive to date. These articles and reports have been cited more than 1,000 times and downloaded more than 11,000 times from the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholarly Commons website. This research has been presented to a wide variety of audiences and has also attracted considerable media attention.

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

Professionalization has long been a source of both hope and frustration for teachers. Since the early 20th century, educators have sought to promote the view that elementary and secondary teaching is a highly complex kind of work, requiring specialized knowledge and skill and deserving of the same status and standing as established professions such as law and medicine. Research and reform on professionalizing teaching has, however, been marked by both confusion and contention, much of which centers on what constitutes a profession and what it means to “professionalize” a particular kind of work. To some, the essence of a profession lies in advanced training. For others, it involves the attitudes individual practitioners hold toward their work. For still others, the focus is on the organizational conditions under which teachers work. Hence, efforts to professionalize an occupation might vary, depending on one’s definition of a profession.

To ground the debate, Professor Ingersoll drew upon sociological theory and an array of data to identify a set of characteristics associated with professions and professionals (for instance, a high degree of specialization, higher compensation relative to other occupations, greater authority and control, and high prestige). He then used these indicators to assess the professionalization of teaching in the United States and the extent to which teaching does, or does not, exhibit the characteristics of a profession. He concluded that teaching remained, at best, a “semi-profession.”

Professor Ingersoll published his findings in the late 1990s as two reports released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Later he summarized and updated this work in a chapter (co-authored with doctoral students David Perda, Lisa Merrill, and Greg Collins) titled “The Status of Teaching as a Profession,” published in successive editions (up to 2018) of a popular textbook, Schools and Society: A Sociological Approach to Education. These publications have been cited more than 800 times and downloaded more than 42,600 times from the University of Pennsylvania’s Scholarly Commons website.

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