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40,000 Teachers Speak Out on Fixing U.S. Schools in New National Survey

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Results from what has to be one of the largest surveys of American teachers ever undertaken were released Wednesday. Teacher opinions on everything from merit pay to principal support to professional development revealed some surprising trends. The survey was sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic. Here is an executive summary of the findings. You can also download the full report here.

NPR covered the results on their "Talk of the Nation" program and added interesting commentary from a host of teachers. Listen here.

Finally, some smart analysis from The Washington Post.

Below is an excerpt from their coverage:

Among the survey's findings:
To retain good teachers, 68 percent called supportive leadership "absolutely essential," 45 percent said the same of higher salaries and 8 percent listed performance pay. Many of those surveyed also described "relevant" professional development as essential, along with "clean and safe" working conditions, time for teachers to collaborate and access to high-quality curriculum. In addition, 71 percent said monetary rewards for teacher performance would have moderate or no impact on student achievement.

Fifty-nine percent said establishing common standards across states would have a strong or very strong impact on achievement, and 73 percent said clearer academic standards would produce such benefits. But 69 percent said the rigor of their own state's standards was "about right," and teachers were nearly evenly split on whether their own state has "too many standards" or "the right amount."

Just over half of those responding called state and district tests somewhat important for measuring academic achievement, and more than one-quarter called them very important or essential.

Do you see any of your own views in all this?

-- David Markus, Edutopia's editorial director

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Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

I downloaded the report and found this to be one of the most interesting data points:

"When asked about the things that are most important in retaining good teachers, supportive leadership, time for collaboration and a high-quality curriculum top the list, with supportive leadership by far the most important factor in teacher retention. Higher salaries fall squarely in the middle -- important, but less so than non-monetary factors. Pay tied to teachers' performance12 -- which will be discussed in greater detail within this section -- is the lowest-ranked item, with 36% of teachers saying it is not at all important and 25% saying it is absolutely essential or very important in retaining good teachers."

Do these findings echo your own feelings?

Trevor McGarrah's picture

I'm wondering if the teachers asked about performance pay even receive performance pay. I work at a charter school that does give us a hefty performance pay bonus (up to $10,000 a year for core teachers, or $6,000 for elective class teachers). This extra money is a very strong incentive to stay put in the school, especially compared to the regular salary schedules in my state. We receive our normal salary, which is comparable to the school districts in the area AND the additional bonus. Talk about a HUGE incentive to work harder!

Do I agree with how the performance pay bonus is calculated in my school? No, but it better than nothing. About 25% is tied to the overall school performance on high stakes tests, 10% on administrator evaluations, and the rest is tied to students meeting or exceeding their individual growth goals as measured by NWEA test scores. This makes us more accountable as teachers to work with the students to meet their growth goals because there is an added incentive to work harder.

So until more schools experiment with merit pay for teachers, so more teachers can experience the benefit of it, I hold very little stock in studies that say performance pay is not very important for retaining good teachers.

SherryG's picture

Teachers need better pay for the reason of job retention. Most teachers are running themselves ragged just trying to make ends meet. Pay doesn't directly help students, but indirectly by keeping good teachers it will make a difference. I don't however agree with performance pay. I am a special education teacher and I don't feel it is fair to punish me for my student's disablities when they just need extra support and time to gain their skills. I feel this will result in pushing kids through the system when they really aren't ready just to say you met some quota of improvement.

Brad B's picture

I have always been skeptical of the reform movements that have emphasized performance pay. As most educators would agree, the business model of education is not applicable to most academic settings. Thus, it is irresponsible to simply say that if performance benchmarks works well in the private sector it should be applied to the public sector. Having teachers compete for larger portions of the pie will create an environment where collaboration and team efforts will erode as individual educators strive to better their own scores to the detriment of their peers. Quality instruction is based on positive collaborative efforts among staff members who are collectively working for the benefit of their students. Although I have been skeptical of performance pay, I am not against reform. Just as I reflect on my instructional practices and lesson plans to better my services, I also think that our educational institutions should be willing to do the same. However, I do not feel that performance pay will retain quality educators. Instead, school systems should seek methods of strengthening meaningful professional development, collaboration among teams, beneficial and consequential administrative evaluations, and to defend the actions of staff members who are in compliance of curricular objectives and policies without pandering for parental approval.

kavin's picture

These surveys are one of the most important tools which reveal various facts of govt in front of local public.I am impressed with the efforts they have made for taking a right decision in this regard.

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