Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Education Sector's Biased Survey

Check that apple for worms

Last week the Education Sector held a pat themselves on the back event ( Teacher Voice: How Teachers See the Teacher Quality Debate) in Washington where they supposedly heard the voice of the classroom teacher as they released the results of their survey of a thousand teachers.

Our posting on the event led to Andrew Rotherham calling us a crazy and challenging us to read the report and listen to the event. The EdNotes gnomes have been busy poring over the audio and the report itself and we'll be posting some analysis over a period of time. Here is some preliminary stuff.

A few days before the event, the Justice Not Tests group here in NYC that has been organizing to get schools to reject merit pay held a conference call with one of the three teachers appearing at the event to review some of the ideas the Ed Sector is pushing. We didn't expect the actual voices of the teachers to get much play at the event and from what we hear they didn't. (I still haven't listened but I'm stocking up on liquor to get me through the 2 hours.)

Our view of the entire exercise is that it is insidious - designed to use the natural range of opinions of teachers to make the case that teachers ultimately want the kinds of reforms being pushed by the Ed Sector and to win over those that don't – designed to show that many teachers really want market-based concepts but their voices are being stifled by their unions.

Note the title of title of the report: Waiting to be Won Over.

Won over to what? Why the Ed Sector point of view of course.

Teacher quality is important, class size - nil
In Ed Sectorville, teacher quality matters more than lower class size. Of course they never asked the obvious question as to where teachers stand on this issue. I posted a follow-up piece on this issue here.

The focus on removing teachers is practically pathological. Here is a result based on one of the tenets of the Ed Sector type reforms:

Still, according to these survey results, most unions do not appear to be engaged in efforts to deal with ineffective teachers. Only 17 percent of teachers say that the union in their district “leads efforts to identify ineffective teachers and retrain them.”

Somehow, "good" unions - like their buddies in the UFT - are associated with taking part in removing teachers rather than defending them.

As a whole, teachers today are what political analysts might describe as “in play”and waiting to be won over by one side or another. Despite frustrations with schools, school districts, their unions, and a number of aspects of the job in general, teachers are not sold on any one reform agenda. They want change but are a skeptical audience. For instance, nearly half of teachers surveyed say that they personally know a teacher who is ineffective and should not be in the classroom. But, although teachers want something done about low-performing colleagues, they are leery of proposals to substantially change how teachers can be dismissed. [my bold]

So nearly half the teachers know of a teacher who should not be in the classroom. I've met as many bad principals as bad teachers. Did they ask how many know of a principal who should not be running a school? Who helpless teachers have to endure? Who have some political angels protecting them? Who cultivate bad teachers as spies? Next time try asking what teachers think about having them elect their principals. (It's done in many places in Europe.)

One of the things we discussed during our conference call was the idea of removing bad teachers. I asked all the participants in the call what percentage of people they have worked with they consider bad teachers. We all agreed on a rough number - about 5%. This included tenured and untenured. We agreed that many are still there because administrators either find them useful or just don't have the will to remove them. 5% - and this is a consistent figure I get from most teachers – becomes the end-all and be-all of the entire Ed Sector reform movement. I claim that no matter what you do there will be 5% "bad"- in all professions (maybe more in the Ed pundit field). Where are the calls to remove bad doctors, who can actually kill people, another question that should have been asked as a control? I bet more than 50% will say they know of at least one bad doctor. And lawyers? And education pundits who did not teach?

The amount of focus on removing bad teachers as the solution to the problems in education is dangerous. Look at the south in right to work states where the lack of a union and no tenure would seem to make it easy to remove anyone. Education is no better and in fact worse.

Three in four public school teachers (76 percent) agree that, “Too many veteran teachers who are burned out stay because they do not want to walk away from the benefits and service time they have accrued.” And this view resonates with majorities of teachers whether they are newcomers to the profession (80 percent) or veterans (68 percent).

What does "too many" mean? Of course the follow-up can become – let's cut these benefits to "improve" education? But there was no joy in Ed Sectorville on this point:

Educators and policymakers frequently discuss ways to attract and retain high-quality teachers. One idea getting attention these days is to swap some of the benefits teachers enjoy later in their careers for more money in the early years. The survey finds teachers are protective of their pensions, and the vast majority of teachers overall do not like the idea of raising starting salaries in exchange for fewer retirement benefits.

Class size not a factor in Ed Sectorville
On attracting and retaining teachers, there are seven options. There is no hint of attracting and retaining people with low class sizes, which many of my private school teacher friends point to as a reason never to teach in a public school. Many teachers who leave cite class size as the single most important factor. Hey! Why bring up a topic that is off bounds in your world of ed reform?

The only mention of class size:
Fifty-five percent of teachers overall say the union in their district “negotiates to keep class size down in the district.”

On how unions can improve teaching? Again, lowering class size was not an option.

There was even less joy in Ed Sectorville at this result:

Most teachers see the teachers union as vital to their profession. When asked how they think of teachers unions or associations, 54 percent of teachers responded that they are “absolutely essential.” This is an increase of 8 percentage points from 46 percent in 2003.
...most teachers do not think that union presence hinders the reputation of the profession. Just 21 percent of teachers agree that, “Teachers would have more prestige if collective bargaining and lifetime tenure were eliminated.”

We see this movement towards unions as a result of the imposition of they very market-based concepts the Ed Sector is pushing. I bet the figures on NYC would be considerably higher on the essential need for a union except for the fact that many teachers feel the UFT lines up way too often on the Ed Sector side of the fence.

I can't wait for the 2011 biased survey. A sign I need to get a life.

The questions, results and audio can be downloaded from the Education Sector. Or email me and I'll send you the pdfs.


j m holland said...

I analyzed 5 of the questions from a teacher's perspective.
What is interesting is what they chose not to report.

Anonymous said...

We will gain prestige only when this society truly cares about real education, not the canned corporate garbage they try to feed our children and the media. Their attempts at "accountability" by quoting statistics sounded as credible as anything our country's leaders have pulled out of the air to support "regime change" or whatever the excuse was for that war. Which "three out of four" teachers say that there are too many burnt out senior teachers? Who were they talking to, first year teachers who had to say what their handlers told them? This is utter propaganda, and I just cannot fathom what has happened to true education where people learned to critically analyze what they read, see, and hear. Now they want education to be adequate for someone to become a corporate cog and not question. Perhaps senior teachers have a bad habit...they question how non educators make bad educational decisions that affect millions.

NYC Educator said...

It's interesting so many teachers say their union negotiates to keep class size down. You could say the UFT does that too. The only problem is they've made no progress whatsoever in the 24 years I've been teaching.

Other than that, they do some great work.

Chaz said...

Great analysis Norm. While I still believe teacher quality is important, so is class size. Further, their definition of teacher quality is quite different than mine.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately for this retread of an inane argument, there is no reliable body of evidence that says that smaller classes lead to better results, when applied across a school system/district. Just saying that it's so doesn't make it so.

ed notes online said...

Ah, the imaginary teacher is back. Since you have idle hands - your assignment: go find the famous Tennessee study on class size. Write a report of at least 2000 words, then go to the blackboard in your imaginary classroom and write 250 times: Low class size raises teacher quality.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the first entry...teachers do report, leaders do nothing, there is no difference in pay between a good teacher and a bad one, there is much incentive to just be one...all teachers get paid the same amount of money based on how long they have stuck it out and how much education they have...so if you had those standards in your "real life jobs" do you think you would be taken work home?

I think not!!

ed notes online said...

I don't know of many teachers who do not take work home or stay extra hours in school to do their work. Do teachers in private schools get paid on that basis? I don't know of any schools that do it that way. And what about places like the suburbs? Are there calls in Scarsdale for paying teachers baased on their "quality?" It's all a red herring to destroy pay scales of teachers and to divide them from each other in urban areas with the goal of paying a few teachers a lot of money and the majority much less than they get now.