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STAND BY ME: Public Agenda Survey Reveals Teachers Views on Key Issues

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"What teachers do counts."

A new survey by Public Agenda found that 76 percent of teachers feel they have become “scapegoats for all problems facing education” and a majority feel that they are unfairly being held accountable for raising student achievement when so much that affects learning is beyond their control. The report, Stand by Me: What Teachers Really Think about Unions, Merit Pay and Other Professional Matters, is based on a national random mail survey of 1,345 K-12 public school teachers conducted in the spring of 2003.

The report found that teachers feel pressure from all stakeholders, but often experience a lack of support in their work. For instance, 81 percent of teachers think parental involvement is key to success, but some parents leave teachers in the position of having to take on basic child-rearing tasks. And while 80 percent of teachers surveyed think guidelines for what students should know help improve academic performance, 93 percent believe education professionals, not elected officials, should set these standards.

Those surveyed said parental and student accusations, favoritism, fad educational solutions, and cost-cutting measures leave them relying on unions for support. While teachers know tenure tends to protect bad teachers, they still believe they need protection from unfair treatment. In fact, 78 percent of those teachers surveyed said their school had at least a few teachers “simply going through the motions” and 36 percent say it is too hard for administrators to remove any but the very worst.

The report also found that many teachers believe they are asked to perform the impossible. Even though they have confidence in their own skills, many teachers, especially those teaching in high schools, think it may not be possible for them to reach all students. In fact, high school teachers (27 percent) were less likely than elementary school teachers (42 percent) to feel very confident about getting through to most of their students by the end of the year. High school teachers were also four times more likely to choose “lack of student effort” as the hardest thing about teaching and half as likely as elementary school teachers to think, “What teachers do counts.”

The survey found that most teachers are receptive to alternative paying mechanisms that encourage teachers to work in hard-to-staff areas, or reward outstanding or hard-working teachers. Seventy percent support financial incentives for teachers in tough neighborhoods with lower performing students, and 67 percent believe that teachers who “consistently work harder, putting in more time and effort” should be paid more. On the other hand, 52 percent fear merit pay would lead to principals rewarding their favorite teachers instead of the good teachers.

Teachers also favor increased support for their new colleagues. Forty-five percent of teachers believe a large number of new teachers need more training on handling students with discipline problems, and 42 percent said new teachers need more training on effective ways to reach struggling students. Less than half of those surveyed said new teachers in their school get mentoring or support from experienced teachers.

The survey can be downloaded at Public Agenda’s Web site at: http://www.publicagenda.org/specials/standbyme/standbyme.htm

New Teachers Struggle Amidst California’s Budget Crunch

Although California currently has more than 50,000 teachers who are not fully credentialed and the state will need to hire 195,000 new teachers within the next 10 years, thousands of would-be California teachers are experiencing difficulty finding a job. The problem, at least in California appears not to be a shortage of qualified candidates, but their unwillingness to move into areas where high-quality teachers are needed most.

While jobs are plentiful in inner cities such as Los Angeles, openings have evaporated in other, more attractive areas of the state such as Sacramento. At a job fair in April, the Los Angeles school district said that it would have to hire 2,500 teachers this fall. However, recently certified teachers have expressed reservations about moving to work in low-performing, hard-to-staff schools such as those in Southern California. While teaching opportunities are available in other, more attractive schools throughout the state, they are usually only for teachers certified in special education, math, and science.

In its report, Every Child a Graduate, the Alliance has argued for financial incentives to attract high-quality teachers to hard-to-staff areas. The Alliance recommended a $4,000 annual income tax credit as a powerful incentive to encourage America’s best teachers and principals to accept the challenge of working in high-poverty schools. A similar proposal, sponsored by Rep. Heather Wilson (R-NM) has been introduced in Congress. By most recent count, Wilson’s bill has 52 cosponsors–22 Republicans and 30 Democrats.

The Alliance also embraced President Bush’s proposal to increase student loan forgiveness from the current $5,000 to $17,500 for highly qualified teachers who commit to teaching in high-needs schools for at least four years. This week the Education and the Workforce Committee marked up a similar bill that expands loan forgiveness for math, science, and special education teachers in high-needs areas. However, the Alliance has argued that while the percentage of teachers without a major or minor in their field is high in math and science, it is highest in history-55.1 percent of history teachers in low-achieving schools. Similarly, a quarter of low-achieving students have English teachers without a major or minor in that subject.

 

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