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Teachers Feel Their Voices Aren't Heard in Policy Discussions, Survey Finds

While they find parts of their jobs incredibly rewarding, many teachers are frustrated by the constantly changing demands on them and don't feel like their voices are heard in policy discussions, according to a new study.

The study, released this evening by the Center on Education Policy, is based on online interviews with a nationally representative sample of 3,328 public school teachers conducted in November and December. All of the pecentages in the report are estimates, with a 95 percent confidence interval.

CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson said on a press call that the most disturbing finding was that large majorities of teachers believe their voices are not often factored into the decision-making process at the district, state, or national levels. (A little over half of teachers said their opinions are considered most of the time at the school level.)

Despite this perceived lack of input, the study paints a picture of a profession that is complex, constantly changing, and demanding. As shown in the chart below, teachers are mostly satisfied with their jobs, but about half say that the "stress and disappointments" of teaching in their school are not worth it. 

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Ferguson said some of the findings in the report could shed some light on the current teacher shortages in several parts of the country. Teachers are not sure how to do a good and effective job when "the target is constantly moving," she said.

"Sooner or later, you do have to wonder if this is a breaking point," Ferguson said, adding that it "seems so unreal" that teachers don't feel included or valued in policy discussions, given that the issues "affect teachers so personally." 

Other findings in the report touch on a range of key issues in the profession and in education policy today: 

  • Despite the fact that half of the teachers surveyed said they would leave the profession for a higher-paying job, teachers do largely enter the profession for altruistic reasons—68 percent said they became a teacher to make a difference in their students' lives and 45 percent said they wanted to help students reach their full potential.
  • In a similar vein, 82 percent of teachers said making a difference in their students' lives was the most rewarding aspect of teaching. About 70 percent said the most rewarding part was seeing their students succeed academically. 
  • More than two-thirds of both math and language arts teachers used student results from the spring 2015 tests to modify their teaching. But about half of those teachers are unsure if their state will retain its current math standards and assessments—and 80 percent of that group said the lack of certainty creates instructional challenges. 
  • A majority of teachers believe they spend too much time preparing students for state- and district-mandated tests, and 81 percent believe their students spend too much time taking those tests. 
  • Almost 90 percent of teachers received feedback from their performance evaluation, but about half of those teachers found the feedback only minimally or not at all helpful.
  • While many teachers are provided with curricula aligned to state standards, others are making autonomous decisions about developing or revising their own curricula. The report notes that this raises questions about the continuity and quality of the curricula used to teach the standards. (Also of note: More teachers in high-poverty schools report receiving curricula from their state than teachers in low-poverty schools.)

As for what would help in the day-to-day, teachers say they mostly want more planning time and smaller class sizes. Unsuprisingly, a decent chunk said that better financial compensation would also help—the study found that nearly all teachers reported taking on leadership or student support activities in addition to their regular classroom roles, but most are not paid for these extra responsibilities.

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Source: charts via the Center on Education Policy


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