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Teachers share their views on how to improve education

Multiple measures of student performance, more school innovation among their suggestions

Teachers also said administrative support, not more money, motivate them to succeed.

Teachers say administrative support, not more money, will motivate them to succeed.

In one of the largest national surveys of public school teachers, thousands of educators agreed that today’s students aren’t college-ready when they graduate from high school. Teachers’ suggestions for solving this problem include clear, common standards; multiple measures of student performance; and greater innovation, including differentiated instruction and more use of digital resources.

The survey, titled “Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on America’s Schools,” was commissioned by Scholastic Inc. and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted by Harris Interactive. More than 40,000 public school teachers in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade participated, and the results were released March 3.

The survey focused on the state of American education, the challenges facing students, and the tools and resources teachers need to face those challenges. Teachers gave honest opinions on issues such as student achievement, performance pay, technology use, and administrative support—and some of their answers might surprise school leaders.

“Teachers are a critical part of preparing our children for the future, and their voices are an essential addition to the national debate on education,” said Margery Mayer, president of Scholastic Education, during a webcast to discuss the survey results.

The survey reveals that, while teachers have high expectations for their students, they overwhelmingly agree that too many students are leaving unprepared for success beyond high school.

Teachers were nearly unanimous in saying that a high school diploma is not enough for today’s students. Ninety-three percent of teachers said schools must prepare students for more than high school graduation; at the same time, 9 in 10 teachers said not all of their students could leave high school prepared to succeed in a two- or four-year college.

Also, only 16 percent of teachers “agree strongly” that students enter their classroom prepared for on-grade-level work.

“A lot of teachers find it difficult when student enter the classroom unprepared for their grade level,” said Andrew Liss, a seventh-grade teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Edison, N.J., “because that means you have to take your foot off of the accelerator and stop and sometimes reverse. However, it’s part of a teacher’s job to differentiate instruction and help those who fall behind.”

“Even though states have standards, that doesn’t mean every school’s curriculum will be aligned with those standards,” said Cate Dossetti, a teacher at Fresno High School in California. “It also comes down to: Are you teaching children vital skills, like critical thinking, that they can take with them throughout life, or are you teaching them a finite fact to know in order to fill in the correct bubble on a standardized test?”

Other survey findings debunk several commonly held myths about teachers’ views.

For example, the survey found that while higher salaries are important, teachers said they are less important than a supportive leader. Fewer than half of teachers (45 percent) said higher salaries are absolutely essential for retaining good teachers. More teachers said it’s essential to have supportive leadership (68 percent), time to collaborate (54 percent), and high-quality curriculum (49 percent).

“Let’s be honest,” said Dossetti, “no amount of money will ever compensate for wanting to go to work that day. For me, it’s usually about how we support each other, how our administration supports us, and how much time is left for collaboration. And while extra money is great, right now performance pay doesn’t yet know how to measure what makes a great-performing teacher; it’s not just about standardized test grades—it’s about how your students grow [from] day to day in all aspects of life.”

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Comments:

  1. lindam

    March 4, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Hopefully federal and state lawmakers will pay attention to this survey. This is the information needed for reforming NCLB….so in addition to pointing your lswmakers toward these results, send a strong message to each and every one of them that teachers MUST be at the table in the NCLB reauthorization discussions. A realtiy check in terms of formulas/statitstics/programmed results is long overdue.

  2. lindam

    March 4, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    Hopefully federal and state lawmakers will pay attention to this survey. This is the information needed for reforming NCLB….so in addition to pointing your lswmakers toward these results, send a strong message to each and every one of them that teachers MUST be at the table in the NCLB reauthorization discussions. A realtiy check in terms of formulas/statitstics/programmed results is long overdue.

  3. thekingster

    March 4, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    As I read this article, I think, “Who on earth received this survey?” It certainly didn’t happen for ANY teachers in my school (or district) for that matter. Once again, I read minutiae about “student engagement” and “pay doesn’t matter”.

    What?

    When will anyone acknowledge that the problem with student engagement is with THE STUDENTS? Wake up, America! You can’t fire us all.

  4. thekingster

    March 4, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    As I read this article, I think, “Who on earth received this survey?” It certainly didn’t happen for ANY teachers in my school (or district) for that matter. Once again, I read minutiae about “student engagement” and “pay doesn’t matter”.

    What?

    When will anyone acknowledge that the problem with student engagement is with THE STUDENTS? Wake up, America! You can’t fire us all.

  5. pcreasy

    March 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I’m getting these students in college and wonder if anyone has suggestions on how to reach them?

    I teach online. Two-thirds of my current online Intro to Anthropology seem to have overlooked the link that takes them to assignments and quizzes, although most of those are definitely working on their reading and being involved in the discussions. I email early “Welcome” announcements that detail (briefly) to what, exactly, they’ll need to pay attention. I send weekly grade reports. This problem (their failing to do assignments and quizzes) is new this year (4th year of teaching same class).

    Help?! Ideas? Maybe something out of K-12 with which I may not be familiar?

    Thank you! :-)

  6. pcreasy

    March 4, 2010 at 4:12 pm

    I’m getting these students in college and wonder if anyone has suggestions on how to reach them?

    I teach online. Two-thirds of my current online Intro to Anthropology seem to have overlooked the link that takes them to assignments and quizzes, although most of those are definitely working on their reading and being involved in the discussions. I email early “Welcome” announcements that detail (briefly) to what, exactly, they’ll need to pay attention. I send weekly grade reports. This problem (their failing to do assignments and quizzes) is new this year (4th year of teaching same class).

    Help?! Ideas? Maybe something out of K-12 with which I may not be familiar?

    Thank you! :-)

  7. corinnegregory

    March 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    The challenge with “teaching” is that it assumes you have students that are ready, wiling and prepared to learn. When repeated studies show that 20/30/40% or more of teaching time is spent managing student behavior and classroom discipline, there’s a HUGE drain on productive teaching/learning time that isn’t affected by teacher pay, standards, assessments, NCLB, or even what type of curriculum we provide.

    And, it isn’t about MORE MONEY either. Until we get to a point where we realize everything in education is affected by this issue, we’ll continue to throw more resources and money at the “problems” of education and wonder why we aren’t making progress.

    – Corinne Gregory
    http://www.corinnegregory.com

  8. corinnegregory

    March 5, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    The challenge with “teaching” is that it assumes you have students that are ready, wiling and prepared to learn. When repeated studies show that 20/30/40% or more of teaching time is spent managing student behavior and classroom discipline, there’s a HUGE drain on productive teaching/learning time that isn’t affected by teacher pay, standards, assessments, NCLB, or even what type of curriculum we provide.

    And, it isn’t about MORE MONEY either. Until we get to a point where we realize everything in education is affected by this issue, we’ll continue to throw more resources and money at the “problems” of education and wonder why we aren’t making progress.

    – Corinne Gregory
    http://www.corinnegregory.com

  9. moodman

    March 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Yes indeed, when WILL people understand the old proverb “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”

    I am a teacher, but I am not a surrogate parent. Yet, the very same parents who are sending us maladjusted children who don’t even care are the ones who are calling for our firing. Well, I think its time to look at parents, and quit blaming the teachers for what Johnny can’t do. How about asking WHY Johnny WON’T do!

  10. moodman

    March 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm

    Yes indeed, when WILL people understand the old proverb “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”

    I am a teacher, but I am not a surrogate parent. Yet, the very same parents who are sending us maladjusted children who don’t even care are the ones who are calling for our firing. Well, I think its time to look at parents, and quit blaming the teachers for what Johnny can’t do. How about asking WHY Johnny WON’T do!

  11. ncchristine

    March 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I teach high school science. We do many labs and hands on activities–just like other science classrooms around the US. I find that there are deifintely more students engaged when we are working on these types of activities as opposed to lecture–no matter how brief. I try to learn about the kids and mention something they did in the ballgame or ask about their hobby–whatever and I feel we have a good rapport–I enjoy working with these students BUT really I feel it takes more and more each year to just get their attention. The number of kids who just want to pass amazes me. They do not seem to care about making A’s and our state has a scholarship that pays tuition for any student graduating with at least a B average.
    Further, I think that the people who think raising standards means adding Calculus to everyone’s graduation requirement are very wrong. Yes we need loads of advancced classes AVAILABLE for high school students but these classes should not be mandatory. I have friends who are quite brilliant, have great jobs, pay taxes and they either did not take calculus or all they remember about it is how to spell it.
    Improve education by providing challenging opportunities for all students—sometimes the challenging opportunity could be a woodworking class, Also some kids need to work and are not ready for college–vocational education is something we should not look down on. One vocational high school centrally located or a couple classes at each area high school and the kids could be enrolled at the program of their choice. AUUUGH & ramble & preach to the choir…

  12. ncchristine

    March 9, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    I teach high school science. We do many labs and hands on activities–just like other science classrooms around the US. I find that there are deifintely more students engaged when we are working on these types of activities as opposed to lecture–no matter how brief. I try to learn about the kids and mention something they did in the ballgame or ask about their hobby–whatever and I feel we have a good rapport–I enjoy working with these students BUT really I feel it takes more and more each year to just get their attention. The number of kids who just want to pass amazes me. They do not seem to care about making A’s and our state has a scholarship that pays tuition for any student graduating with at least a B average.
    Further, I think that the people who think raising standards means adding Calculus to everyone’s graduation requirement are very wrong. Yes we need loads of advancced classes AVAILABLE for high school students but these classes should not be mandatory. I have friends who are quite brilliant, have great jobs, pay taxes and they either did not take calculus or all they remember about it is how to spell it.
    Improve education by providing challenging opportunities for all students—sometimes the challenging opportunity could be a woodworking class, Also some kids need to work and are not ready for college–vocational education is something we should not look down on. One vocational high school centrally located or a couple classes at each area high school and the kids could be enrolled at the program of their choice. AUUUGH & ramble & preach to the choir…

  13. bschulz

    March 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with most of the sentiments in these comments. As teachers, we’ve had much training on “engaging” students, etc. and try to follow through, however, it’s always the same students that are not “engaged” and thus have low scores. It may be due to demographic issues, parenting issues, etc. but until we can get a handle on why students don’t care about grades or learning, we’ll be struggling to catch the “children left behind”.

    Has anyone done the research to find out from the students why they are not engaged or not willing to learn? We cannot pour our knowledge into the kids… they have to put it into their own heads. We can guide them, try to motivate them, test them, etc. but they are the ones who in the end determine who learns or not. But what’s keeping them from learning? Let’s ask them…..

  14. bschulz

    March 13, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I agree with most of the sentiments in these comments. As teachers, we’ve had much training on “engaging” students, etc. and try to follow through, however, it’s always the same students that are not “engaged” and thus have low scores. It may be due to demographic issues, parenting issues, etc. but until we can get a handle on why students don’t care about grades or learning, we’ll be struggling to catch the “children left behind”.

    Has anyone done the research to find out from the students why they are not engaged or not willing to learn? We cannot pour our knowledge into the kids… they have to put it into their own heads. We can guide them, try to motivate them, test them, etc. but they are the ones who in the end determine who learns or not. But what’s keeping them from learning? Let’s ask them…..