Teacher Voice

I’m going to hazard a guess that most of the coverage of this new teacher survey from Scholastic and Gates is being written from secondhand accounts or press releases.   The actual survey is robust (it’s enormous) and a lot more complicated than the first day stories are letting on.  Lots of interesting implications for today’s debates that don’t just cut one way, in particular tenure.  Read it for yourself, here, especially the appendix (pdf).

11 Replies to “Teacher Voice”

  1. I was pleased to read most of the Scholastic/Gates report. I have long held and written about many of these issues but had no access to teacher’s views in other states, except for friends who agree with me, of course.
    I’ve read many differing proposals for connecting teacher evaluation and pay for performance, so I was especially interested in that section of the report. I feel it is one of the biggest issues facing education today and wonder how to offer a stronger voice to both the state departments of education (California in my case) and the U.S. Department of Ed.

  2. A big thank you to Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for asking teachers for their ideas on how to improve education. To me, this might herald the beginning of some authentic changes, instead of the nonsense that’s coming down the pike right now. The firing of all the teachers in RI is a perfect example of the phrase “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

    Three of the points made in this survey are especially important:

    1. Innovate to to Reach Today’s Students.

    When my older son started school he was immature and just wanted to play. The school, located in a suburban area, placed him in the “slow” class, where he was treated to lots of drill and practice. My husband and I basically followed our son’s interests and provided him with summer science classes (rockets, rocks, computers, Physics for Fun, etc.) and made certain he had what he needed at home (telescope, computer, construction toys etc.) This son grew up to be a Stanford-trained scientist. When I asked him recently why he hated school until college, his response was “It was all rote and that’s not my strength.”

    What happens to all those students who don’t have parents to fill in the gaps at home? Yes, many students enjoy the paper/pencil work in schools but many more do not. We need to reach these students by “responding to what they are trying to do.” (quote from Frank Smith, author of “Understanding Reading”). We have almost a century of research on learning from the greatest scientists from all over the world. It’s time to apply it.

    2. Non-monetary rewards for teachers.

    Some people in our society are not motivated by money, beyond what is required to provide the basics for their families. Individuals who choose to teach are often among this group of people. I was one and I can tell you I rarely even knew what my salary was. After my sons graduated from college I spent whatever I wanted on my classroom as did many of my friends. This is very common among teachers. If someone had ever said, “I’ll give you more money for higher test scores,” I would have felt insulted because it was a matter of professional pride to do my best at all times.

    That said, there were non-monetary rewards that were important to me. Number One was being treated as a valued professional by administrators. The best administrators asked for my opinions, encouraged me to attend conferences, shared books and periodicals, visited my classroom and remarked on the progress of my students. They were always supportive of my best efforts and gave criticism in a constructive way. I would guess that about a third of all the principals I had were in this group. They had a hugely positive effect on my teaching. People who are big on “merit pay” just don’t know teachers.

    3. Bring home and school together to raise student achievement.

    I know this is extremely difficult but we must find ways to do it. There is a mountain of research showing the primacy of the parents in education, so we can’t just say “No excuses.” This is tantamount to saying “I don’t care if the kid doesn’t get his insulin each day, he can still succeed!” Yeah, and pigs can fly.

    As a former teacher in a high-needs school, I can attest to the fact that most poor parents want the best for their children, just as the rest of us do, but many don’t fully understand their critical role in their child’s education or what they can do about it. We CAN and should reach out to these parents. As Geoffrey Canada has said, we need to do “whatever it takes.”

  3. I was very excited about the Scholastic/Gates report. I think it is very important to use teachers as a resource on how to improve education. The section about relying on student performance for instruction was especially meaningful to me. I work with low income students with special needs in an elementary setting. For these students, it is important for the content being taught directly relates to their performance. Their education must be differentiated in order to allow them to be effective learners. Constant evaluation of their performance allows me to ensure that I am teaching them to the best of my ability at their own individual levels. This practice shows where their strengths are as learners but also where they require extra practice.

    I am a firm believer that correlating student performance and instruction benefits all students. The Scholastic/Gates report was wonderful to read. I look forward to reading more about this report and hope to see teachers given a more powerful voice in education reform in the future.

  4. All the coverage of the survey I’ve seen has been based on the introductory letter and the five solutions listed in the body of the report. If you think coverage is based on “secondhand accounts,” I don’t know what evidence would make you say that. Could it be you want to make the tenure issue the most important thing? The teachers’ responses indicated how highly they value supportive leadership and collaborative work environments, and the MSM rightly, I believe, pinpointed the fact that teachers noted these items so strongly as the real highlights of the survey.

  5. “a lot more complicated than the first day stories are letting on”
    That goes to say with anything.
    We saw that last fall with the Math NAEP scores, especially the urban city re-release that gave Michell Rhee a lot of undeserved positive coverage.

  6. I think this survey misses the mark with respect to teacher retention. By way of background, I came into teaching mid-career as an alt-cert after a 15 year career as a scientist for a federal agency. I’m now in my 3rd year of teaching HS science.

    This blog and others like it put forward a mixed and inconsistent message with respect to teacher retention. On the one hand we hear about a crisis related to teacher retention. On the other hand we consistently hear hand wringing about how difficult it is to identify and weed out low performing teachers.

    A major teacher retention issue NOT addressed in the survey is teacher retirement. In most states, a large component of teacher pay is deferred retirement benefits. However they are generally structured in a way that penalizes shorter term teachers and rewards long-term teaching careers. Here in Texas, for example, teachers are not part of of Social Security so any teacher moving into the profession mid-career or moving out mid-career is going to face a major hit in their retirement benefits. And the retirement program is also structured to reward longevity. This has a triple effect. First, low starting salaries discourage people from entering the profession either fresh out of college or mid-career. Second, mid career professionals are especially discouraged from entering the profession due to the retirement benefits issue. Finally, burnt out teachers who are mid- or late career are discouraged from leaving due to the non-portability of their retirement benefits.

    I suspect most teachers and teachers unions would look very skeptically at a shift towards corporate-type 401(k) retirement plans. Especially given the low base salaries most teachers face. It’s one thing to max-out your 401(k) when you make 100 grand, it’s another thing when you make 30 grand/year and maxing out a 401(k) would take 2/3 of your gross salary.

    Personally I think the Federal government has the right approach to retirement benefits. It’s a 3-tiered system: (1) There’s a traditional pension equal to 1% of your final 3 years average salary x the number of years you worked, (2) there’s a Federal 403(b) program called the Thrift Savings Plan with Federal matching up to 5% of your income, and then of course (3) there’s social security. The Federal retirement program rewards longevity. But it is also portable which makes it much easier for workers to enter Federal employment mid-career and leave Federal employment mid-career.

    If the objective is to attract new blood to the teaching profession AND make it easier to remove underperforming teachers without destroying them financially, then serious thought should be given on how to restructure teacher retirement benefits. Given the way most teacher retirement plans are currently structured, it’s no wonder that many underperforming teachers hang onto their jobs with a death-grip. In many cases they basically have no choice if they want to retire with any semblance of dignity.

  7. this is potentially a wonderful resource for researchers because the N is so high for all the states, but the question I have which is unclear from the methodology page, is whether this was an opt-in survey, or whether it was randomly drawn. if it’s opt-in the results are utterly unreliable in terms of we don’t know if these views are representative of teachers in state x. the methodology section was really unclear, which makes me shudder to think gates spent all this money on an opt-in survey, when a random sample of 1,000 teachers would have given more reliable estimates of true national teacher opinion.

    can someone clear this up for me!? thanks.

  8. I also took a long look at the Methodology page and found it very unclear as to if the survey was opt-in or randomly drawn. The page said that the teachers were offered the incentive of a gift certificate to an online education store. The way it was worded made it seem like the survey was randomly sent out to teachers, however, with no definitive statement of that, we cannot be 100% sure. I would hope that the creators of this survey would have considered this when creating it.

  9. I found teh conclusions that the report made quite self-serving for the Gates Foundation. First, they totally blow the high school restructuring effort because they did not understand what the real problems are and now they are doing this same thing. If a history teacher ran Microsoft, the teacher would run it into the ground. Same with Gates and schools. Throw the bum out–Duncan too–and get someone who actually KNOWS about schooling ot lead reform.

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