Today’s teachers face a slate of bold reforms: new and improved evaluation systems, professional development, tenure laws, and hiring, compensation, and dismissal policies. But far too often, these policies have been made by people who talk about teachers, rather than talking to them.
In Trending Toward Reform, a follow-up to 2007′s Waiting to Be Won Over, we surveyed a nationally representative random sample of more than 1,100 K-12 public school teachers. Here are the top five findings:
1. Teachers want the union to protect them.
Since 2007, teachers have demonstrated strong and significant increases in their support for unions. In 2007, 24 percent of union members were involved and engaged in their local union; in 2011, 38 percent were. This isn’t surprising— with layoffs looming and constant policy changes, teachers are seeking security and turning to the one place they know they can find it: the union. Eighty-one percent of teachers say that without a union, teachers would be vulnerable to school politics or administrators who abuse their power.
2. But the union should also engage in reform.
Teachers want more from their unions than traditional “bread and butter” basics. For example, among teachers who say their union does not currently negotiate evaluation, 75 percent say the union should play this role. Are teachers more supportive of union involvement because they view evaluation as important and in need of overhaul? Perhaps. Or teachers may want unions more involved in the negotiation process because they are concerned about the seemingly inevitable changes that are coming to evaluation.
3. Teacher evaluation is improving—but still not good enough.
Compared to 2007, teachers’ overall assessment of their most recent formal evaluation improved. They are more likely to say that their evaluation was useful and effective by seven percentage points, and less likely to say it was just a formality by nine. Still, 35 percent continue to describe their evaluation as “well-intentioned but not particularly helpful” to their teaching practice. While the numbers show a notable improvement over the four years, it’s clear that evaluation must improve further.
4. Teachers show strong support for some pay proposals.
Teachers are most in favor of pay reforms based on factors they can control, such as their school and the subject they teach. The less control teachers feel they have over performance measures, like student test scores, the less likely they will support proposals that tie pay to performance. In fact, only 35 percent favor financial incentives for teachers whose students routinely score higher than similar students on standardized tests. A much larger proportion (57 percent) support higher pay for teachers who consistently receive outstanding evaluations by their principals, indicating a pay-for-performance plan that may be more agreeable to teachers.
5. Tenure is a must—but shouldn’t prevent ineffective teachers from being dismissed.
Teachers want to keep tenure—only one-third would consider trading tenure for a $5,000 pay bonus. But they are ready and willing to make changes to tenure-related dismissal policies to ensure that tenure is not, as AFT president Randi Weingarten said, “a shield for incompetence.” Seventy-five percent of teachers think the union should play a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers instead of leaving it to district and school administrators, compared to 63 percent of teachers in 2007.