Teachers share their views on how to improve education

From staff and wire reports
March 3rd, 2010

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.”