Teacher professional learning community is a vital in-school condition that has been linked to student achievement and instructional conditions (Goldring & Cravens, 2007; Louis, et al., 1996). Further, charter schools appear to have higher levels of professional community (Cannata, 2007; Goldring & Cravens, 2007), although the mechanism through which this is achieved is less clear. This paper contributes to our knowledge of how teacher professional learning community varies among charter, magnet, private, and traditional public schools, and the extent to which school conditions mediate the effects of school type.
Teacher professional learning community (PLC) refers to the extent to which teachers collaborate and work together to further their own learning and their students learning (Bryk, Camburn, & Louis, 1999; Louis, et al., 1996). School conditions are conceptualized as organizational elements that facilitate and therefore have a moderating influence on the level of teacher-perceived PLC. They are composed of governance, leadership, and teaching conditions. In terms of governance and leadership, providing teachers with opportunities to influence school-wide policies may stimulate dialogue and collaboration among teachers (Cannata, 2007; Louis, et al., 1996). Allowing teachers to voluntarily associate themselves with the school facilitates trust (Bryk & Schneider, 2002). Coherent instructional programs and close teacher interaction through common planning times or teams may also facilitate PLC (Kruse, et al., 1995). Teacher characteristics may also influence PLC, although the direction is unknown. Experienced teachers are less likely to feel responsible for student learning (Lee & Loeb, 2000), but schools without sufficient teacher expertise may lack a sense of efficacy (Kruse & Louis, 1995).
To examine the predictive efficacy of school type and school conditions on PLC, this paper uses a two-level Hierarchical Linear Model with teachers nested within schools. Results suggest that charter schools had higher levels of PLC, although the teaching conditions and leadership practices in charter schools mediate this relationship. When teachers are given more influence over school decisions, interact on interdisciplinary teams, and help design coherent instructional programs, their schools tend to have higher levels of PLC. Also related to PLC are the degree to which principals provide strong support to their teachers and whether or not they spend less time on routine management.