Gates Survey: Teachers Must Be Heard on School Reform

By Cynthia McCabe

March 3, 2010 — Higher salaries are important, but not as crucial as supportive leadership, teachers said in overwhelming numbers in a survey released today by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic Inc.

A partner in the principal’s office ranked highly, followed by time to collaborate and quality curriculum, according to the 40,000 teachers polled by Harris Interactive for the Primary Sources report. When it comes to assessing student achievement, respondents said they value multiple measures such as class assignment performance and participation.

Due to the size and scope of the study, the resulting report allows for analysis of teachers’ views by grade taught, urbanicity, income-level, years of experience and more. The report also provides an in-depth look at state-by-state data, revealing significant differences in teacher views from one state to another.

Such findings are especially significant now – as federal officials and lawmakers prepare to take up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and release competitive School Improvement Grant money in the “Race to the Top” initiative. They underscore the necessity of educators’ voices being included in the national debate on school reform, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said.

“School improvement cannot be imposed from on-high without input from educators, but instead must have the full support of classroom teachers,” Van Roekel said. “The results reiterate what our members tell us: teachers have sound ideas for school improvement, and they are eager to help students succeed.”

He called the report “one more piece of evidence of the need to be front and center in the dialogue,” adding that “policymakers in Washington, D.C., and across the country would do well to take these findings to heart.”

The importance of bringing teacher voices to conversations around education reform also was underscored in the most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher in which two-thirds of teachers said they felt teachers were not adequately heard in the debate on education.

The Gates Foundation/Scholastic Inc. survey, which was conducted by phone and on the web from mid-March to mid-June 2009, identifies five solutions to address the challenges facing schools today and to help ensure that all students achieve at their highest levels:  establish clear standards that are common across states, use multiple measures to evaluate student performance, innovate to reach today’s students, accurately measure teacher performance and provide non-monetary rewards, and bridge school and home to raise student achievement.

Primary Sources tells us that teachers see a need for stronger curriculum that relates to the real world, clear academic standards from grade to grade and reliable data on student learning,” said Vicki L. Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “The survey tells us that what’s good for students and student achievement is good for teachers too — in fact, it’s what they want.”

NEA’s 3.2 million members are constantly examining ways to close achivement gaps, reduce dropout rates and better serve underperfoming schools. To that end, more than 30 teams of teachers, administration and school board representatives are meeting in New York City tomorrow at an NEA summit on priority schools, where the results of this survey will inform next steps to improving those schools most in need.

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    03/04/10 – Beth C.

    I watched a comedy show a few years ago on education. It was supposed to be a serious round table discussion on education, but the comedy was there. The national Teacher of the Year was present and the chair barely her any time to speak and when she did, others would often interrupt and talk over her. Halfway through she leaned back and gave up, just watching them. Everybody who was not a teacher knew how to fix American education. The one outstanding educator in the room … was ignored. I smile every time I remember — then want to spit.

    03/04/10 – Danny

    I believe our leaders and Mr. Duncan have been out of the classroom too long and need some reminders of what it is like to teach at schools that don’t have the resources.

  • I agree with this more today than I did in 2010. I was in a school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin supposedly in “transformation”, but the last time I was there the morale was even worse (I resigned for reasons too numerous too mention except one later – it was like a morgue. All responsibility had essentially been put on teachers and chairs to turn the school around. Oh, but there was a group- CAmbium- a very nice group of people, especially one woman, they were flown in from Florida -of all places ?to help teach students to test better. At first, I was so excited about this transformational mode, but when things actually got worse, perhaps the grades went up on standardized tests, but there was chaos in the hallways, I had a weapon in my room and no administrator even showed up; the collborative meetings for the most part were met by disgust by most teachers who hid their feeligs by correcting homework but some were quite outspoken, some went along to keep their jobs I guess, and i BEGan TO wonder was I a teacher or a secretary with all the extra paperwork and 50 kids in a class and no aides? That was the main reason I went – no support and not really teaching, except when I had a chance and staying until midnight to correct papers. I hung on for the students, but when it became clear that nothing really was changing except superficially – that indeed students weren’t really learning more, perhaps some testing better, I thought why not people from Wisconsin leading collaborating just one day instead of people from Florida (I heard Cambium was also into publishing, but i need to check tht out) a week unless TEACHERS decided we needed more time together- thus I came to the conclusion we need people in jobs here- Wisconsin! – former teachers with collective bargaining gone. Hmm and wouldn’t these people have a bigger stake in their own community? I’m still pondering this. And guess what, the WKCE tests the Cambium people pulled students out of class to prep for are being replaced by harder tests this new school year. I’m sure they were well meaning individuals, but while teachers were literally working 24/7 to keep up with work these people woudl come in nice and suntanned perhaps 3 days a week, and I guess teach to the test. They never helped in my classroom with 50 students. AGain, I don’t mean to demean them or any higher powers , but shouldn’t teachers- the real professionals in the classroom have a VOICE in this? When all else fails, that may be sometime, perhaps it will happen. I truly hope so for the sake or all our students! AC Wisconsin