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Alliance President Bob Wise on Metlife Survey of the American Teacher

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March 09, 2012 03:10 pm


On March 7, MetLife, Inc. released its Survey of the American Teacher, this year subtitled “Teachers, Parents, and the Economy.” Among the many critical insights this survey offers us, as it does every time it is released, is that the economy might be rebounding, but teacher satisfaction is not.

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher collects information from parents, teachers, and students about conditions on the ground in schools across America. This annual survey provides valuable information for policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels. Teachers are front and center in all education reform and policy discussions so it’s important to know how they feel about the work that they do and at their workplace: our children’s schools.

The Survey of the American Teacher reports that stresses on school budgets have led to cuts that affect the workplace environment for teachers. The nation depends on its teachers more than ever to help all students graduate with the high-level skills necessary to succeed in college and a career, but teacher job satisfaction has fallen to the lowest level in more than twenty years, according to the survey. At the same time, more teachers report they are likely to leave the profession while others feel that their jobs are not secure because of budget cuts. Resolving the challenges of declining morale and money must be first order so that educators and schools can be focused on their most critical task: preparing students for college and career in the twenty-first century.

The results we’re seeing in the survey reinforce why recruiting, training, and retaining teachers becomes much harder each year.. Already the attrition rate of first-year teachers—now the largest group within the occupation—has increased by more than 40 percent over the past two decades. Additionally, it is estimated that up to 50 percent of new teachers leave after five years. As a result, today’s typical teacher has just one to two years of experience, compared to fifteen years in 1987.

Across the country, states and schools are raising standards. We can hardly be surprised when teachers are discouraged by being asked to do more, but given less to do it.

We have a challenge in this country that we need to prepare our teachers to face. Approximately 25 percent of students are going to drop out. Another third are going to finish high school but not be college and career ready. Preparing just four out of ten students for college and career is not enough. Every state requires a corps of teachers who are ready to meet that challenge and raise their students to a higher level.

Teachers’ optimism for meeting this need shows concern. The MetLife Survey shows an extremely troubling expectation gap. Almost 40 percent of teachers and parents are pessimistic about student achievement increasing over the next five years. Parents and teachers need to believe that our students can, and will, do better. If they don’t succeed, neither will our nation. The consequences of not educating students to a college and career ready standard are real, and they are severe. Recent research by Professors Henry Levin and Cecilia Rouse has determined that there is a benefit to the public of nearly $90 billion for each year the number of high school dropouts is reduced by 700,000. Our work at the Alliance supports these findings and shows lifetime gains of $154 billion if the roughly 1.2 million students who did not graduate from high school in 2011 had earned a diploma instead.

In addition to the expectation gap that the Survey reports in schools, teachers also report a growing materials gap as well. Although digital learning strategies and educational technology can close gaps, transform classrooms, reconnect students, and energize teachers, these resources are often the first line items cut when school budgets get crunched. Other industries know that you have to effectively apply technology and application to be successful and keep growing; education faces the same challenge. Current necessity forces examining education budgets, at all levels, to find creative ways to stretch dollars. As a former governor in the last recession, I learned that when money is tight, you often must be willing to stretch mentally and conceive new ways to operate in order to be able to carry out the state’s most important mission—educating its children.

For policymakers, the MetLife survey proclaims that the nation needs a more organized, rational approach to teacher development. Job satisfaction is linked with adequate opportunities for professional development, time to collaborate with other teachers, more preparation and supports to engage parents effectively, job security, and feelings of respect as a professional.

If you believe as I do that the best economic stimulus is a diploma, then the best job creator is a well-prepared, well-equipped, highly effective teacher.

Bob Wise is the President of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former Governor of West Virginia.


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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.