MEMO From Michael: Sneak Peek – Some Surprising Preliminary Results of Our Educators’ Survey

(Updated 11/26/13)

Nearly 4500 educators (76 Board members, 225 superintendents, 616 principals, 2414 teachers and 406 school counselors) have already taken the new Josephson Institute survey on the state of education in America. (If you haven’t already, please take the survey here and please share this link on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere to encourage others to take it as well — the larger the sample the more influential the results.)

Here are some of the early findings (which could change as the sample gets bigger, though they are not likely to change significantly):

  • Have standardized tests had a positive effect on teacher performance and student learning? There is a wide disparity between administrators and teachers, but it’s safe to say that educators generally are not sold on the value of standardized testing — 42% of superintendents, 39% of principals and only 15% of teachers believe these tests are helpful.
  • With all the cost-cutting and pressures, are students getting a quality education? Despite widespread complaints and low morale, 86% of superintendents and 77% of principals say that the quality of education has improved over the past 5 years. Though the tint of the rose colored glasses of teachers is less positive, 58% of teachers agree that the quality of education is improving.
  • Do educators want us to stop expecting schools to teach morality, social skills and other nonacademic skills and traits and let them concentrate on core education (e.g., reading, writing and arithmetic)? Surprisingly administrators and teachers are emphatic that schools should be doing more to help students develop core ethical character traits (e.g., honesty, respect) – principals 91%, teachers 88%; success traits (e.g., perseverance, resilience) – principals 94%, teachers 92%; and success skills (e.g., organization, time management) – principals 94%, teachers 92%.
  • Do teachers want more or less professional development? Despite a consensus that teachers are overburdened and overworked, a substantial majority of teachers said they should receive more professional development on how to teach social emotional skills and traits (e.g., self-awareness, self-management) (70%); on classroom management (70%), on developing ethical character traits (e.g., honesty, respect) (69%); on how to teach positive life skills (e.g., organization, initiative) and traits (e.g., perseverance, positivity) (73%).We’ve also received many interesting and insightful comments from respondents and have posted many of them here and as a special reward for those of you reading this comment, I’ve posted below some more recent comments of Principals and Teachers

Do any of these results surprise you? What do you think about these issues? How can society do a better job of supporting our educators and improving the educational system?

Survey Question: What if any deficiencies or priority choices concern you the most? Why?

Responses from PRINCIPALS:

  1. Too much focus on state assessment
  2. Administrative competence and staff morale
  3. We have lost programs such as AVID that worked with students who ” falls between the gaps”. These programs taught success skills. Also students need vocational courses starting in middle school again such as Shop and Home Economics.
  4. Student engagement with school curriculum and a curriculum that is narrowly focused. If we are going to make everyone do college prep, we must contend with the fallout that not all students are college material and fail.
  5. Teacher and Administrative morale–teachers and admin ware working harder than EVER, with more accountability upon them. Where is the accountability for parents and students? Teachers are “zinged” if students don’t succeed, but why is it entirely upon teachers and administrators? Very often our purposes seem opposed to those of parents and students. Parents don’t make their students come to school and/or do work and/or support attempts in class to make students engage. Politically, public schools are bashed in the media unceasingly at the same time we are working harder than ever to meet increasing standards, and for some students unattainable in a standardized testing way. We get “graded” of for standardized test results, which as any educator knows, doesn’t tell the whole story of progress for students. We are working to provide a moral framework for students who don’t have it supported at home. Very mixed messages, and we are the only ones who are being accountable for any of it. And the work just keeps coming.
  6. The home, school, and community connection is critical – we cannot target needed areas without the help and cooperation of all stakeholders.
  7. Lack of integrity of administrators and select faculty
  8. Teachers are graduating from college not prepared to teach. Professionals choosing to change their career choice and become a teacher and with just a couple of classes suddenly are given a license to teach with no REAL training (I’m an educator if I decide to become an account or a lawyer tomorrow I would have to more or less start from scratch but there is this perception that ANY one can be a teacher regardless of background knowledge or training and this is simply NOT the case). There is a race to get our students caught up with other countries who have surpassed our country in various curriculum areas…however we need to stop the race and put in the time to teach students in a way that they will learn so that we can compete.
  9. Inability to motivate parent to become more involved
  10. I am still concerned with the fact that we don’t have educational equity. My students at my upper middle class school get a much better education than the poor children in Oakland. Although there are pockets of change and teachers who are amazing, there is still a great disparity.
  11. Emphasis on standardized test results is putting pressure on schools and crowding out more important teaching and learning.
  12. Increasing disconnect between families and schools due to broken families, poverty.
  13. Our district is in financial difficulty. There have been huge cuts to maintenance and operations, clerical, and other services. The “wait” time to get things done is months. Our schools are aging and with a skeleton crew, it is hard for our sites to have curb appeal when what we consider routine maintenance isn’t done. This then impacts on the morale-quite a ripple effect.
  14. Lack of student accountability for their education. All of the responsibility now lies with the school and teachers.
  15. The most frustrating is the lack of parental concern or involvement. If the parents aren’t concerned about their children’s education, no wonder we have so much trouble motivating the students.
  16. There is a concern with the gap in parent satisfaction and their willingness to be engaged. Parents boast over the phone and occasionally in person about the changes they see in their child’s attitude and education, however many parents cannot find the time to get involved in the school council, or parental activities that are offered at the school
  17. In Collateral Damage (2008) Nichols and Berliner offer definitive evidence that high-stakes testing is harmful to our students and creates the conditions that compel frightened teachers to cheat. We then blame the teachers. My highest priority would be returning education to its progressive goal, which worked well from Dewey to NCLB, of producing competent, caring citizens.
  18. My biggest concern is the support of my teachers who are paid below poverty level yet continue to deliver better than average education to our students. We receive 46% of the funding that comparable comprehensive schools do in our state (about $4500 per student per year) I think it is only a matter of time before our staff burns out. We are in our 8th year with less than 5% staff turnover. We do our best to use every resource available to us, engage parents at the highest level and eliminate the bell curve.
  19. Two things really concern me. One, the ability for schools to really deal with teachers. Even the new teacher evaluation system in PA does not provide a way to eliminate the unions and court system to deal with ineffective teachers. Two, monies are constantly tied to grants and initiatives that tie our hands as how the money should be spent. Money should be spent on hiring teachers first. All research shows the one thing that is most effective agent of change is good teachers and smaller classes for them to be effective.
  20. Because of the increased number of students coming from broken homes, I feel that we have a stronger responsibility to teach our students how to be respectful, caring, and teach the social skills that we use to leave up to parents to teach.

Survey Question: What if any deficiencies or priority choices concern you the most? Why?

Responses from TEACHERS:

  1. Helping to develop ethical and moral character traits because we are fighting an uphill battle when they see different responses to this in community, home and television.
  2. Quality of administrators; many of these former teachers go this route for the money; they were really good teachers but this doesn’t necessarily mean you are cut out to be in admin.
  3. The quality of educational administrators is disconcerting.
  4. Schools are not given the support needed for success. We need more staffing support. We need more parent support.
  5. The amount of “outdated” resources- textbooks from 2000, slow computers (youtube videos), etc.
  6. Many students are still coming into the high school with belief system that anything they do should have some reward attached. Thus, writing down something on paper means that homework is “done” and should receive a grade. Students are still lacking, even by senior year, a conscientiousness about leaning as a “process.” This also is a result of the social-cultural norm of “entitlement.”
  7. Children are being used through standardized testing. They are not becoming whole, well rounded individuals, they are being sold to the publishing companies and test makers. Teacher and administrators know this and morale is low because we have no control over what is going on.
  8. Morale is low because the current administration requires an inordinate amount of time to be spent on analysis of test and other data. Because of this, teachers do not have adequate time to actually improve lessons/strategies that will help the student be more effective.
  9. It’s a ‘cookie cutter’ curriculum! Teachers teach in their own style; students learn in their own way!! Let us get back to the business of really teaching in a way that students learn!! We change curriculums as quickly as we change light bulbs! And we don’t; stick with a program long enough to see it through!! We waste so much of our resources in training and such when, just as we implement the curriculum, it changes and we have to be trained in something else!!
  10. A lot of school administrators have never been teachers. They have no idea what it is like to teach children. Others taught with minimum (1-3 years) classroom experience and then became an administrator. How can these people decide what should be taught to and how it should be taught to students?
  11. The four which concern me the most are: developing critical thinking & higher learning skills, developing ethical/moral character traits, developing social/emotional skills/qualities, and developing success traits, because these are requirements for making it in life.
  12. I am concerned that the numbers in the classroom do not allow teachers the time to interact enough one-on-one, even though research proves lower numbers in classrooms is a huge factor for success.
  13. The lack of student responsibility and the blaming of schools/teachers in the recent years concerns me. The over-identifying of RTI students causing teachers to do more paperwork than the student we are documenting is also a major concern!
  14. Students lack of responsibility, entitlement and parents expecting high grade marks but not wanting their student to be held accountable.
  15. Class sizes beyond 30 in a room means very few prosper and instructors are demoralized. I see classes with 50 (no kidding) 50 in an English writing class!
  16. We seem to be hiring more people who are not educators to be teachers and administrators. We have a principal in her twenties that has a BS degree in Psychology and Philosophy. She was a Teach for America teacher, then New Leaders of Tomorrow. She doesn’t have a degree in Education, nor does she have a Master’s. We hire more and more people out of college and if they teach two years they get their student loans paid for and then many of them are gone. Teacher morale… we haven’t had a raise in 5 years. No textbook, but yet not enough technology. Now they are putting the halt to running copies because it is too expensive. How do you teach and have no resources? We have different “required” meetings on different days during our planning. Plus, two mornings a week we come to school an hour early to have meetings. We are supposed to give of our time, give of our money, give of ourselves yet have not pay raises, no step raises, oh, and starting for anyone after 2014, teachers will not get any benefits to get their Master’s. I am afraid that teaching as a profession is going down the drain.
  17. Lack of “talking time” with students……….short homerooms, less teacher/student downtime.
  18. Parents do not make their children accountable for their actions. They always blame the teacher or other students in the classroom for their child’s misbehavior.
  19. Parents being involved with their children’s education would be a priority, as all of our students are IEP students. Another area of deficiency would be student impact on school decisions. We used to have a Student Council, but we do not anymore. I think that is a great loss.
  20. Teacher and Administrative morale–teachers and admins are working harder than EVER, with more accountability upon them. Where is the accountability for parents and students? Teachers are “zinged” if students don’t succeed, but why is it entirely upon teachers and administrators? We are working to provide a moral framework for students who don’t have it supported at home. Very mixed messages, and we are the only ones who are being accountable for any of it. And the work just keeps coming.
  21. We spend 13 years in public education failing to prepare students for the harsh realities of actual employment (whether in college, the military, or business world). Coddling students by failing to hold them responsible for their actions (e.g., failing to meet deadlines then giving them several chances to “recover”) does not serve them well. Also, the failure to find an appropriate measure of “good teaching” ultimately fails everyone: students, parents, and teachers.
  22. Too much emphasis on teaching all the concepts for the standardized tests. They tell us they want to see all these great strategies, small groups, technology, etc, but on the other hand they want us to go with this ridiculous scope and sequence. How can we teach to their individual needs?
  23. I am concerned that we jump on every bandwagon In our county. We change things so often that we do not master anything. This causes the students to suffer. We as teachers are micromanaged. We are told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it, by people who cannot even come close to being competent in a classroom setting.
  24. Choices to adequately fund education have me gravely concerned. Our district has suffered tremendous loss of funding and programs to support student achievement have been reduced. Teacher morale is very low. We are asked to do more every day with less resources, time, and support. I teach Kindergarten with 30 students and no aide. The curriculum is very intense and demanding and children do not come to school with the social and emotional tools they need to succeed. Class size makes learning and addressing the needs of all students next to impossible. I feel sad coming to work, knowing that I can’t do it all anymore. It makes me feel inadequate. I love being a teacher. It has always been my passion, but I feel like we keep getting knocked down by the very institution that is supposed to be supporting us.
  25. Despite the lack of adequate resources and the administrative issues teachers face, the teachers themselves do a remarkable job of responding to students’ needs by using creativity, resourcefulness, and often their own resources.

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