Stand by Me: What Teachers Really Think about Unions, Merit Pay, and Other Professional Matters

Steve Farkas, Ann Duffett, and Jean Johnson, Public Agenda
May 3, 2003

This new report from Public Agenda is based on a national mail survey of 1,345 public-school teachers, plus focus groups and interviews. (The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation was one of the project's funders and we'll have more to say about its provocative findings in a future Gadfly.) The report provides up-to-date teacher views on a wide variety of topics - some of them heartening, others discouraging, and more than a few confused, contradictory, even schizophrenic. Of course, that may well describe the state of U.S. teachers vis-??-vis a number of contemporary issues and institutions. Like the blind men's elephant, readers are apt to use these data to come to very different conclusions. Of particular interest to me, the survey sample, for the first time in Public Agenda's long history of teacher studies, was split between newcomers to the field (fewer than 5 years of experience) and veterans (more than 20 years in the classroom). Some of the attitudinal differences between these two subsets are striking, with the newer/younger teachers notably more open to a number of contentious policy reforms - and a lot less enamored of (or attached to) their unions. Whether such variations represent true differences between two population cohorts cannot be known from a one-time survey, since it's possible the newcomers will become more like the veterans as they age. But it's also possible that a number of reforms would be more acceptable to teachers if they were phased in, or made optional, such that teachers who see them as pluses - or at least possibilities - could sign up for them while those who cling to the old arrangements are left alone. You can download a copy at http://www.publicagenda.org/aboutpa/pdf/stand_by_me.pdf, or call 212-686-6610 to order a printed copy for $10.

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