Learn about securing collective teacher autonomy

Decide what areas of autonomy your team will need to achieve its mission, vision, values, and goals. Do not assume that any area of autonomy is a given. Once you have a complete list, consider it alongside the information you learned when seeking external support. What arrangement will be best for getting all the autonomy you need? If you don’t think you can secure all the autonomy you will need, you may have to do more political navigation or consider alternate arrangements before making a formal request.


Means of securing autonomy


Learn how LAUSD Local District 4 educators and the Belmont Educational Collaborative navigated politics to secure a groundmaking agreement formalizing the opportunity to create a network of high-caliber, theme-based, teacher-powered public schools.


Choose the “Autonomy Arrangements” tab and browse for schools with the autonomy arrangement you plan to seek. Then connect using the contact information provided.

Discussion Starters.

Teams starting or improving a teacher-powered school should use the resource to explore about securing and sustaining autonomy, including existing autonomy arrangments teams could propose, which areas of autonomy are "musts," navigating politics, and resisting the pull to concede established autonomy.


There are many ways to secure collective autonomy to run a teacher-powered school. Chapter 2 describes the various arrangements.

Sample agreements for securing collective teacher autonomy

Memorandum of understanding.

Under the pilot agreement between Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers of Los Angeles, the school board delegates authority to pilot schools’ governing councils to try new and different means of improving teaching and learning. The potential exists for councils to put decisionmaking authority in teachers’ hands—and some do.

Collective bargaining agreement.

In 2009, teachers at Hughes STEM High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, secured collective autonomy to run the school via the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) structure negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement between the Cincinnati School Board and Cincinnati Federation of Teachers.

Memorandum of understanding.

MSLA teachers in Denver, Colorado share the documents (their memorandum of understanding, waivers and teacher acknowledgment) that provide the legal structures to operate as a teacher-powered school.

Operational Plan.

This document was written after the Oliver Partnership School proposal (see Sample Proposals) was accepted. The Partnership Council, which is made up of a teacher majority, determines the Oliver Partnership School's Operational Plan on an annual basis. The Operational Plan is an agreement with Lawrence Public Schools that spells out the areas in which the the team of teachers has autonomy to make decisions and its specific intentions in carrying out each area.

Renewal Proposal.

This charter renewal proposal, which became the charter contract between The Renaissance Charter School (K-12) and New York Department of Education, designates decision making authority to the school's board of trustees, knowing that the board would informally delegate that authority to a Collaborative School Governance Committee and the School Management Team. See, specifically, page 33 for more information about leadership and governance. This renewal proposal is also full of information reporting the school's past successes and challenges.

Charter Contract.

This charter renewal proposal, which became the charter contract between Santa Barbara Charter School (K-8) and Santa Barbara Unified School District, designates decision making authority to a Circle of Trustees (which includes teachers) and school directors. In practice, teachers select their leaders and make most decisions.

Charter Contract.

Shasta Charter Academy (6-12) has its value for teacher influence written into its charter contract with Shasta Union High School District. In practice, the governing board and the director have granted teachers informal authority to make the decisions in 9 of 15 potential areas.

Election-to-Work Agreement.

This EWA outlines the working conditions, including learning approach, evaluation, work hours, and payment agreed upon by the team at UCLA Community School.

Research and theory supporting school and teacher autonomy


In this 2009 report, the Reason Foundation describes and reviews Boston Pilot Schools, including their five essential areas of autonomy.


In this 2011 Fordham Institute study, authors Jacob L. Rosch and Dana Brinson find that the typical charter school in America today lacks the autonomy it needs to succeed once requirements by states, authorizers, and other authorities are considered.


In this RAND report, Bruce Bimber found that decentralization efforts had limited effects due to the inseparability of decisions. In other words, budget, personnel, instructional, and operational decisions are so closely linked that when school staff are given “decentralized” authority to make one type of decision, they are often hamstrung by centralized constraints on related decisions. If teacher-powered schools are to succeed in bringing innovation to K-12 schooling, what does this imply about the kind of autonomy that will be necessary?

Book and video.

Drawing on four decades of scientific research, Daniel Pink asserts that the secret to high performance and satisfaction is the need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.


The Boston Pilot/Horace Mann Schools Network outlines its Five Pilot School areas of autonomy and provides the Pilot Schools Network statement about accountability and assessment principles.


In a two-year study of 223 schools in six cities, William G. Ouchi and others discovered that top-performing schools had the most decentralized management systems, in which autonomous principals—not administrators in a central office—controlled school budgets and personnel hiring policies. They were fully responsible and fully accountable for the performance of their schools.


Kim Farris-Berg, Edward J. Dirkswager, and Amy Junge originally identified ten potential areas of autonomy when conducting research for Trusting Teachers with School Success. The list later expanded to 15 areas based on their findings.


William G. Ouchi studied 442 schools that have embraced school decentralization, finding improved school performance. Ouchi asserts that principals must be given control of their budgets and other authority. When principals are empowered, they allocate funds to increase the number of teachers and lower the Total Student Load (TSL) per teacher. TSL is a key factor in school performance.