Veteran education watchers may remember the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which for more than a quarter century took the temperature of the nation’s teaching workforce on issues pertaining to job satisfaction, pay, and prestige.
Veteran education watchers may remember the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, which for more than a quarter century took the temperature of the nation’s teaching workforce on issues pertaining to job satisfaction, pay, and prestige. That survey ceased publication ten years ago, but a successor is at hand in what is promised to be a new annual teacher survey from Merrimack College—a sixteen-question battery plus open-ended responses, administered online to 1,324 public school teachers in January and February of this year.
The newsworthy headline is the “deep disillusionment” that teachers are feeling. Just 12 percent of U.S. teachers describe themselves as “very satisfied” with their jobs, a precipitous drop from the old MetLife survey, which was 39 percent when last administered in 2011 and generally hovered between 40 and 60 percent for previous decades. Given the profound Covid-driven disruptions under which schools have labored in the last a couple of years, it can’t be too much of a surprise that teachers are feeling the strain. That said, a majority (56 percent) still say they are somewhat or very satisfied with their jobs. Four in ten, however, say they are “very likely” or “fairly likely” to leave the profession in the next two years, though this not necessarily a new phenomenon, nor does their stated intention to leave necessarily translate into them actually doing so.
The other major finding is that teachers work a lot: over fifty hours a week. It’s not surprising that those who are very dissatisfied with their job put in more time than very satisfied teachers: fifty-five hours a week to fifty-one. And across the board, there’s a growing perception among teachers that people neither understand nor appreciate their work. It’s interesting to compare this finding to another recent poll, the annual Gallup survey conducted at about the same time, which showed that public perception of the “honesty and ethical standards” of teachers has fallen from historical levels. Yet Americans still rank “grade-school teachers” as the third-most-trusted professionals, trailing only nurses and doctors. Of particular note, Black teachers are significantly more likely to report feeling respected than White teachers. Of the Black teachers surveyed, 71 percent perceive the general public respects them and treats them as professionals, compared to only 43 percent of White teachers and 40 percent of Hispanic teachers. That does not, however, translate to higher job satisfaction, which is lower for Black teachers than White.
If teachers perceive a softening of public esteem, at least some of that is traceable to the perception that schools have emerged as a battleground in the culture war and a hot zone in partisan politics. The Merrimack data suggest those perceptions might not be a mere figment of the imagination—and there’s some evidence in these data that teachers themselves are a contributing factor. They are indeed more likely to vote Democrat than Republican, though the difference may not be as substantial as some might imagine: 54 percent of teachers traditionally vote for Democrats vs. 30 percent for the GOP; the rest are either third-party supporters or don’t vote at all. Note, though, that teachers who identify as Democrats are five times more likely than their Republican-voting colleagues to say that more public attention should be paid to teaching about race and racism; they’re three times more likely to want more attention paid to inequities in school due to issues of race or poverty. Fortunately, Right- and Left-leaning teachers are more closely aligned in wanting more attention paid to workplace issues such as working conditions, school funding, and student mental-health problems.
Perhaps the most tantalizing new data are also the least satisfying. In seeking to ferret out the causes of teacher discontent, the survey looks at how teachers spend their time. Only about half goes to “actual teaching time,” which is merely the number of hours spent in class with students. But it’s what happens within those hours that shapes teacher satisfaction or discontent. Are class sizes manageable? Are students generally well-behaved, or is disruption forcing teachers to focus more on classroom management than instruction? The survey lumps together time spent on “grading and feedback of student work” as comprising about five hours per week, but those are not necessarily the same thing—studying student work and giving feedback are essential uses of teacher time and critically important for improving student engagement and raising outcomes. The contrast with “actual teaching time” suggests that survey developers see it as something less than “actual teaching.” Perhaps future iterations of the survey can more carefully parse how teachers spent their teaching hours and how they feel about “nonteaching” hours spent interacting with parents, running clubs, or coaching sports. Those activities often are among the most satisfying parts of the job.
Merrimack is doing a valuable service reviving the MetLife survey and building on the historical trendlines of the earlier work. That said, it risks advancing some assumptions about teaching that are long overdue to be questioned, reconsidered, and perhaps abandoned altogether. For example, a majority of teachers (57 percent) say they have “a lot of control over the curriculum they teach” (curriculum “transparency” enthusiasts, take note). The lack of such control is presumed to be an example of “deprofessionalization,” evidence of lack of teacher “autonomy,” and thus a contributor to poor job satisfaction. Perhaps so, but consider the experience of one Missouri high school teacher who reports feeling overwhelmed: “Personally, I have had to write curriculum from scratch as a new teacher alone every year,” she reports, in physics, honors physics, standards-based chemistry, AP German, and other classes. If creating materials from scratch, alone, in classes taken by tens of thousands of students all across the country every year is what passes for “autonomy,” there surely are teachers who would be happy with less of it, who would be grateful for a broader range of readily available high-quality instructional materials and thus more precious hours to spend teaching, building relationships with students and families, and myriad other more personally and professionally satisfying uses of time than writing curriculum from scratch.
If we had more fine-grained questions, better data, and not mere assumptions on the specific activities that give teachers the greatest psychic rewards—and move the needle for kids—perhaps we could make the job more satisfying.
It’s now fashionable in some circles of the Right to call any teacher who supports sex education a “groomer,” lumping them into the category of pedophile. Christina Pushaw, press secretary to Florida governor Ron Desantis, referred to that state’s new legislation as an “anti-grooming” bill. National Review author Nate Hochman sparked a debate when he faulted that term, garnering responses in support of it from countless conservative advocates, authors, and editors. Debates for and contra have reached the pages of National Review and the Daily Caller.
Education has lately become a winning issue for Republicans—and, properly handled, it could continue to be. But branding the other side as pedophiles threatens to tarnish that winning streak.
Left-leaning publications, from Vox to The Washington Post, argue that the use of this term finds its justification in either old-school homophobia or winks to conspiracy theorists for electoral gain. While I cannot definitively say that there’s no speck of homophobia or conspiracy-mind whack-jobbery in this kerfuffle—who can judge the hearts of man?—I think both explanations miss the mark. Many using the term accept homosexual marriage and atypical self-expression or criticize sex education and sexual misconduct in general, avoiding the LGBTQ connotations of the term.
Rather, what we’re seeing is an ideologically hypocritical strategy. They seem to be playing propagandistic, rhetorical word games in a desperate attempt to win more battles in the culture war.
Proponents of the term “grooming” argue that explicit sex education fosters a higher level of sexual activity later in life—a contention that itself is tenuous. Such an argument mirrors the Left’s attempt to redefine the term “racism” away from beliefs about racial superiority and toward any policy that causes disparities. It’s the same logic applied to sex education: individual intent doesn’t matter, only systemic outcomes. By this logic, you don’t have to be a pedophile to be a groomer, just like you don’t have to be a racist to contribute to a racist society.
In other words, those defending the use of the term “groomer” are applying an argument reminiscent of radical philosophers like poststructuralists, postmodernists, and critical theorists: the meaning of words is fluid, and so their ability to convey truth matters less than the power they wield and the intentions of the users. Definitions are a construct with which we can meddle, leveraging terms to advance our own cause. It’s cynical and incorrect when the Left toys with definitions; it’s equally so and hypocritical when the Right attempts it.
Beyond the ideological fault, however, using such a slanderous term is tactically idiotic. After school closures, 2021 became the “year of school choice,” a policy with support across every demographic. Opposition to fringe issues and respect for parental rights pushed Glenn Youngkin into the Virginia governor’s mansion. Similarly, school-choice policies won Ron Desantis his election, and now opposition to radical sex-ed curricula has won him a legislative victory (now, he’s tackling Disney World). A majority of Democrats in the state of Florida support his latest education bill, as do voters across the country.
These policies are undeniably popular. Accusations of politicizing the classroom are already rhetorically effective. A positive vision of local control, commitment to tradition, and family empowerment is already a winning strategy. We don’t need to add lies.
I worry most about ostracizing teachers. Because they comprise the majority of school staff and have an outsized influence in local elections, winning the support of public school educators is essential to reforming American education. Nothing will get teachers to close ranks like suggesting that they or their colleagues are pedophiles.
Teachers are a winnable demographic. Contrary to popular belief, a plurality of teachers describes themselves as moderate. While moderate is a slippery term, at the very least it suggests that most teachers stand in opposition to the excesses of the far Left, now often called “woke-ism.” Only 30 percent of teachers view divisive concepts such as critical race theory in a positive light. In my own experience, most teachers resemble blue-dog Democrats; they want their pensions and unions but don’t have much truck with the hyper-progressive ideology that conservatives complain about in mainstream media.
We have examples of successful political movements from history. None of them succeeded through insults. With a philosophy of fusionism, the modern Republican party brought together interesting bedfellows in pursuit of a similar goal.
Similarly, a conservative education-reform movement needs to build a coalition that stands in opposition to critical race theory and activism in our schools, which will require coalition building, not ideological purity tests. If this movement pushes out even conservatives like Andrew Sullivan, if it employs language reminiscent of anti-gay bigotry, it doesn’t have enough purchase for long-term political gain.
Insults might win the midterms, but it won’t gain any stable political victories—ones that last past the next election. We’re up in the polls, we’re passing legislation, and the ball is in our hands. If conservatives fumble, we have only ourselves to blame. We’ll be grooming failure.
In-person instruction has been restored everywhere in the United States, and the nation’s schools once again find themselves dealing with the age-old battle of children against authority—although now it is frequently erupting into violence and threats against teachers.
Recent weeks have brought us stories of disturbing and vicious incidents that have school and union officials sounding the alarm.
Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County Education Association in Florida, went to the school board with reports of forty-four attacks against district employees this school year.
“We have a discipline problem—not just in Alachua County. This is across the state. We have situations where schools are unsafe,” she told the board, adding that students are “maybe more violent than they ever have been.”
Florida isn’t alone. The American Psychological Association conducted a survey that found one of every three teachers had experienced verbal harassment or threats of violence from students since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Individual teacher responses were chilling.
“I have been physically assaulted multiple times by students in the building, and they know that not only is there no one to stop them, but there will be no consequences either. I ended up in the hospital the last time it happened,” one teacher recounted.
A student in Clark County, Nevada, was arrested for sexual assault and attempted murder of a teacher in her classroom. The district has seen 1,300 incidents this school year where arrests were made or citations issued. Police have confiscated twenty-eight guns on campus.
Teachers and their unions are demanding action, but the actions demanded vary widely in emphasis, degree, and harmony with past demands.
In response, the Clark County school district upgraded security cameras, provided teachers with wearable panic buttons, and increased police presence around schools.
In Erie, Pennsylvania, a school shooting of one student by another led a labor relations specialist from the Pennsylvania State Education Association to pen a letter to the district superintendent, demanding, among other things, the following:
- An increase in security and/or police presence in highly visible and well-trafficked areas
- The installation of fully functioning metal detectors; until that can be accomplished, all students shall be scanned with handheld electronic devices which detect weapons
- Written instructions for student-removal procedures, distributed to all staff
- Fully functioning security cameras
Unfortunately, it appears we are going around in circles on security issues two years after the George Floyd protests caused school districts across the country to reevaluate their use of police and security personnel. The National Education Association education justice group still highlights those local unions “supporting the movement for police-free schools.”
The American Psychological Association wants schools to reduce zero-tolerance policies, suspensions, and school hardening strategies.
A senior research fellow at The Sentencing Project lamented at The 74 that no states are using federal emergency relief funds to reduce the presence of police inside schools.
With violent incidents getting more attention, we may be in the midst of yet another pendulum swing that began with school shootings in the 1990s, leading to the federal Cops in Schools program.
“Let’s give parents a little peace of mind that their kids are safe when they get on that school bus and head off to learn. Let’s give teachers a hand in maintaining order in their classrooms,” said then-Senator Joseph Biden in 2001 while calling for a multiyear appropriation for the program.
And so it goes. When there is violence in the schools, we demand more security. When security officers commit violence, we want to get rid of them.
Restorative justice methods have been offered as a means to square this circle. The best definition I have seen related to school settings is this one: “In sum, restorative justice helps a student to own what she/he did, make it right for those hurt or affected, and involve the community in helping both the victim and the offender. Restorative justice acknowledges that those who do wrong need healing as well.”
It certainly sounds superior to police beating on a kid. But things just aren’t that simple, as this recent case from New Haven, Connecticut, shows.
Paul Vercillo is a teacher who was arrested and put on leave after a surveillance video captured him apparently pushing a student into a locker. The student was belligerent and threatening, and it sounds on its face like a situation that physically got out of hand, but no one was hurt.
However, read Vercillo’s own side of the story, as told to the New Haven Independent. It should be noted that his version of the physical altercation is still under dispute, but his explanation of how he was expected to deal with the student should give us all pause.
“Being assertive doesn’t work,” Vercillo said. “You cannot win that battle. You can’t force them to do anything. The only thing you can do is ask and ask nicely.”
Vercillo had been trained in restorative justice. So when three students disrupted a lesson by throwing things and using their cell phones, he kept them after class.
“He had their four chairs arranged in a circle, a ‘restorative’ circle,” the Independent story explains. “Based on the restorative justice training, he said, he sought to ‘get them to understand what they did was wrong’ and ‘amend’ the behavior — with apologies, help with cleaning the room.”
The response of one student to this was, according to Vercillo, a flipped desk, shouted profanities, and threats of violence, resulting in Vercillo calling 911.
That doesn’t mean restorative justice isn’t effective; it means it isn’t always effective.
No one wants a cop around—unless you need one. Then you want one more than anything. If there’s a way to keep police out of schools without ceding school safety to that small handful of students who see an opportunity for mayhem, we haven’t found it yet.
This piece was originally published in Education Intelligence Agency’s Intercepts blog.
Non-test-based pathways to high school graduation raise concerns among accountability hawks as being low in rigor, subject to diminished standards, and susceptible to gaming. The concern is that diplomas conferred through these pathways do not truly demonstrate an individual’s readiness for college or career and thus that widening their use could devalue high school diplomas writ large. A recent working paper compares the college and workforce outcomes of Maryland students who graduated based on alternative criteria to test these very concerns.
The standard diploma pathway in the Old Line State requires passing scores on exit exams in algebra, biology, and English. Students who do not pass one or more of the exams after two tries are eligible for an alternative graduation pathway called the Bridge Plan for Academic Validation (Bridge). It allows students to demonstrate acquisition of basic skills and standards for graduating through projects and work portfolios. Importantly, Bridge students receive the same diploma as the students who pass the exams, so employers and college admissions officers don’t see any difference. Teachers help Bridge students design their project, identifying which standards need additional work based on incorrect exam answers. The projects are judged by a district review board, but the specific expectations are subjective and local boards may apply “qualitatively different criteria.” Eligible students are also allowed unlimited retakes and can keep trying to pass the exit exams as they pursue the Bridge option.
Analysts, led by University of Maryland’s Jane Arnold Lincove, follow four cohorts of students in the Maryland Longitudinal Data System from eighth grade through high school, then one year out after their on-time graduation. They are looking only at students eligible for Bridge (roughly 37,000 in their sample) and divide them into three mutually exclusive groups: (1) “bridgers,” who completed the Bridge program and graduated high school; (2) “test passers,” who retook the exam and graduated; and (3) “non-completers,” who failed to complete high school despite all the options. They want to see if students who complete Bridge acquire similar skills as those who pass the retest and if Bridge completers have superior skills and abilities to students who fail to complete high school.
Given that selection is an issue, Lincove and her team make use of a rich set of observable characteristics including race/ethnicity, gender, free lunch eligibility (FRL), special education and English language learner status, homeless status, and eligibility for Title I supports. They also control for eighth-grade indicators of academic and behavioral outcomes, including middle school test scores in math, English Language Arts, and science, as well as attendance and suspensions. They use an approach whereby they match students within cells. For example, in each cell group, they include students who attended the same high school in the same district and share the same gender, race/ethnicity, and FRL status. They also have similar failing exam scores and a similar number of failed exams. They also match on motivation to graduate by only comparing students who appear in the data in the fall of their senior year (that is, those who persisted through all of high school and did not drop out) and at least attempted to pass the three required exams.
Compared to students who graduate by retaking and passing exit exams, bridgers have lower college enrollment—they are six percentage points less likely to attend any college—but they have similar employment outcomes. That is, bridgers and test passers are employed at similar rates after high school. Relative to wages, bridgers who are employed and not in college earn 11.7 percent less in wages than similar noncollege attendees who passed the algebra exam in particular. They find no wage differences for biology and English exam passers and no differences in any of the subjects for students who are working and attending college.
Next, analysts look at all the students who completed Bridge, compared to students who did not complete high school. They find that bridgers are much better off in terms of postsecondary and labor-force opportunities, such that bridgers in any subject are more likely to attend college by six to nine percentage points, which is mostly driven by two-year college attendance. Bridgers are also more likely to be employed, by seven to nine percentage points, if not enrolled in college.
For all noncollege students, bridging in the subject of biology is associated with 26 percent wage increase, and bridging in the subject of English is associated with a 19 percent wage increase over students who did not graduate from high school.
Lincove and her team add valuable data to the picture of these alternative, portfolio-style graduation pathways. The bottom line is that those who graduate in this manner are somewhat disadvantaged in college access, compared to those who eventually pass exit exams but are substantially more advantaged in both college and workforce outcomes than those students who fail to complete high school—at least as measured one year after high school graduation. This makes sense, as the negative consequences of dropping out of high school are well known. Some students need different kinds of support to remain attached to school and achieve some valuable level of completion before we let them go. Having at-risk students complete nonstandardized pathways is clearly preferable to them dropping out, so programs like Bridge may need to be a part of our last-line-of-defense supports.
SOURCE: Jane Arnold Lincove, Catherine Mata, and Kalena E. Cortes, “A Bridge to Graduation: Post-Secondary Effects of an Alternative Pathway for Students Who Fail High School Exit Exams,” retrieved from Annenberg Institute at Brown University (February 2022).
While not as rapidly embraced as its math and ELA cousins, which have great merit, a new set of science standards has slowly gained traction in a majority of states. And although we at Fordhamthe , they and their close approximations are becoming the norm. If states are going to adopt these standards and stick with them, then it makes sense for schools and districts to align their instructional materials and teaching practices to them. A recent research brief from tackles the important next step by evaluating the efficacy of one particular set of materials.
WestEd’s team conducted a controlled trial of thephysical science curriculum, developed by scientists at the University of California–Berkeley in collaboration with Amplify Education. Data came from fifteen schools in three districts across two states during the 2019–20 school year. The districts varied in size and served diverse student groups. The researchers paired schools based on their demographic characteristics and prior student performance on state math and ELA tests and then randomly assigned schools, within each pair, to the treatment or the comparison group. The study included eight schools in the treatment group and seven in the comparison group, with a total of twenty-eight teachers and 1,780 students (the original sample was larger but, unfortunately, had to be limited to classes that completed the curriculum prior to pandemic closures).
Teachers in the treatment group implemented the ASMS curriculum and received a total of twenty-four hours of training from the Berkeley developers. The curriculum package includes a digital platform for students and teachers, along with materials for hands-on activities, that being an important element of NGSS. Students interact with physical materials and within a digital workspace that provides access to custom-written science articles, simulations, and design tools. The lessons follow an instructional sequence meant to build students’ proficiencies with NGSS performance expectations over time, and the study comprised two ASMS units: the structure and properties of matter and chemical reactions. Teachers in the comparison group taught the same units aligned to the same NGSS-influenced standards but used a variety of non-ASMS curricula that included off-the-shelf and district-created permutations. Student learning was measured using an assessment developed by the WestEd team that focused on thearticulated in the NGSS. Curriculum use and details on instruction were measured using weekly teacher logs and a final survey.
Results show that treatment students scored 7.3 percent higher on the assessment than did students in the comparison schools. The results were similar across gender and racial and ethnic groups and for students with different prior math and literacy achievement. The estimated effect size of 0.36 is equivalent to the average student in the treatment schools improving a massive fourteen percentile points (moving from fiftieth to sixty-fourth percentile) relative to the average student in the comparison schools. Treatment group teachers reported high levels of positive engagement and satisfaction: More than 80 percent agreed that they and their students benefited from using ASMS curricular materials, 88 percent reported that ASMS supported them in engaging students in science discourse, and 54 percent reported that using ASMS changed the way they taught science. Unfortunately, an analysis of differences between the instruction given in treatment and comparison classrooms was not complete in time to be included in this publication.
Experience tells us that, and attention to curricular quality is a welcome development. The more rigorous analyses of student outcomes via various curricula, the better.
SOURCE: Christopher J. Harris, Mingyu Feng, Robert Murphy, and Daisy W. Rutstein,(San Francisco, CA: WestEd, January 2022).
- “Mayor Adams’s decision to expand New York’s gifted-and-talented programs incorporates some concerns of critics while maintaining the focus on merit and accelerated learning.” —City Journal
- Kentucky might soon see its first charter schools, thanks to Republicans overriding the governor’s veto on a historic charter funding bill. —WFPL
- “Louisiana’s bold move to overhaul high school career and technical education.” —Rick Hess and Hayley Sanon
- “How much money do high school graduates make? Indiana digs into the numbers.” —Chalkbeat Indiana
- “How to curb the culture war.” —Comment.org
- Florida rejects math textbooks because of their alignment to the Common Core. —Business Insider
- Parent Nation, by Dana Suskind, describes how we can build social and policy structures that help parents from all income backgrounds with their youngest children. —Emily Oster
- During the pandemic, students’ screentime increased by 17 percent. Perhaps that’s partially behind widespread increases in misbehavior. —Education Week
- Sal Khan shares his insights for boosting math performance, addressing teacher fatigue, and tackling accountability. —Education Week
On this week’s Education Gadfly Show podcast, Jing Liu, Assistant Professor in Education Policy at the University of Maryland College Park and author of our latest study, Imperfect Attendance: Toward a fairer measure of student absenteeism, joins Mike Petrilli to discuss its findings, the notion of “attendance value-added,” and how improving school safety could help keep kids in class. Then, on the Research Minute, Amber Northern looks at what happened when Massachusetts labeled half its students as “advanced” in mathematics.
- Jing Liu’s study: Imperfect Attendance: Toward a fairer measure of student absenteeism.
- The study Mike referenced that also examined “attendance value-added”: C. Kirabo Jackson, et al., “School effects on socioemotional development, school-based arrests, and educational attainment,” American Economic Review: Insights 2, no. 4 (2020): 491–508.
- The study that Amber reviewed on the Research Minute: Christopher Avery & Joshua Goodman, “Ability signals and rigorous coursework: Evidence from AP Calculus participation” Economics of Education Review (June 2022).
- Amber’s previous research review of an ability-signaling intervention: “How students react to news of their AP potential.”
Have ideas or feedback on our podcast? Send them to our podcast producer Pedro Enamorado at [email protected].