Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Who will listen to the teachers?

Scholastic and the Gates Foundation just released an opinion survey of more than 40,000 public school teachers, called “Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools.” Some interesting findings:

—Only 38 percent of high school teachers believe that three-quarters of the students in their classes could be successful at even a two-year college.

—Almost half of teachers say they are willing to have parent-teacher conferences in their students’ homes. But how many actually have? I bet that number is closer to 1 percent, if that high.

—Only 27 percent of teachers said that state standardized tests are essential or very important to measuring students’ academic achievement, while 92 percent said so about ongoing assessment during class. They gave more credit even to data from software programs than to state test results.

—As for accurate measures of their own performance, they rate nearly everything higher than the results of standardized tests—though “student growth” ranks highly, and it is not clear how that differs from test results. Maybe that refers to the results of class assessments? No surprise, teachers put more stock in “self-evaluation” (huh?) than principal observations. They aren’t optimistic about pay tied to student achievement, either as a way to retain students or help them do better.

—When it comes to keeping them in their jobs, teachers say higher salaries are not as important as supportive leadership, collaboration time, relevant professional development, high-quality curriculum and even clean and safe buildings.

A survey of this magnitude is a huge effort. I personally love to see what real-life practitioners think about their jobs and the policies that affect them, and it is great to hear from the teachers themselves, because too often union positions are taken as a proxy for the entire profession. But I don’t think the people who have the reins right now in making and setting opinions on education policy pay much mind to teachers’ perspective, and I doubt they will start now.


  1. This is for sure: "But I don’t think the people who have the reins right now in making and setting opinions on education policy pay much mind to teachers’ perspective, and I doubt they will start now."

    It's interesting, because Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Waltons and the other billionaires who are de facto leading our nation's education policy would surely not endorse having their own businesses run by leaders with zero experience in computers, homebuilding and insurance, or mass-market retailing. Yet they view educators with vehement contempt and hostility -- the more experience, the more contempt and hostility. And they believe that the ideal leaders for school districts (and the nation's Department of Education) are those with as little experience in education as humanly possible -- zero classroom experience seems to be ideal, though they tolerate Michelle Rhee's few months as a bright-eyed TFAer (in which she claims to have worked miracles with her class, though all the evidence is mysteriously nowhere to be found, as are the miraculously well-educated kids).

    It's all pretty surreal.

  2. I was very disappointed in the survey questions. If I remember correctly, a few years ago the Public Insight polls would leave out questions about discipline and alternative schools. But if you read the questions about "Other," teachers voluinteered concerns about discipline, disorder, violence, and drugs. Add them up and you had one of the most signifigant factors. I don't know the story about it, but now that poll asks those questions - questions that tend to be the most important factor in urban schools.

    Large perecntages of teachers teach in schools where discipline is not an issue. But in the toughest neighborhood schools, the issue of disciplinary backing often is #1 in teachers' evaluation of principal leadership. I find it mind-boogling that the poll didn't scratch a little below the surface.

  3. I just clicked back to the Public Insight numbers. This poll, also supported by the Gates, showed that 90% of teachers identified disciplie as a concern and that 68% said that alternative placements would help. The links can be found at:

    As turnarounds start to deal with clusters, the Gates will have to take seriously the concerns about teachers regarding the artificial shortage of alternative schools. But I expect it to be an erratic, halting porcess. Too many "reformers" have too much invested in the idea that teachers' "expectations" are the problem and that data and their theories will solve the problems.

  4. Was this survey even a randomized sample? The methodology section is unclear and if this was a purely opt-in survey then the results are simply not generalizable.

    Hoping someone can clear this up.