Convergence and Contradictions in Teachers' Perceptions of Policy Reform Ideas

Learning Point Associates & Public Agenda
Jane Goggshall, Amber Ott, & Molly Lasagna
January 2010 

What happens when teachers and policymakers don’t see eye to eye? On issues like performance pay, standardized tests, teacher tenure, and termination, there is a rift between what many teachers and decision-makers think, and this report argues that addressing it is necessary if there’s any hope to build enough support and legitimacy to truly change the teaching profession. 

The third release from the Retaining Teacher Talent study, this report presents survey data from 890 public school teachers and six focus groups, and highlights where teachers’ opinions parallel or depart from what policymakers and researchers think. Where they are at odds is perhaps most interesting. The vast majority of teachers (92 percent) say that student engagement in coursework is an excellent or good measure of their effectiveness; meanwhile, only 56 percent say standardized test scores are a good or excellent indicator of teacher success. (In fact, “too much testing” was the most frequently cited drawback of teaching, ahead of discipline problems and low salary.)

This general antipathy among teachers toward testing, as well as toward eliminating teacher tenure (only nine percent view it as a “very effective” way to improve teacher quality), performance pay tied to test scores (just eight percent), and terminating poor performers (34 percent), threaten to undermine national and statewide efforts to improve the performance of the students who need it most.

What policies do teachers rally behind? Smaller class sizes, reducing student discipline problems, and professional development. While the report correctly points out that research on nearly all education reforms is thin, it misses the mark when it laments that ideas advanced by Race to the Top, the Teacher Incentive Fund, etc. don’t represent the most popular ideas to teachers (since when does popularity mean good policy?) and suggests that policymakers take teachers’ advice (sometimes that’s okay, but what about when teachers thwart reform?)

In Ohio, teachers are lucky. Some favorite policies (smaller class size, professional development) are currently en vogue, and the more controversial reforms that made teachers in this survey bristle haven’t really been brought to the table, at least not yet. Still, those caring about future education reform in the Buckeye State might want to familiarize themselves with teachers’ perceptions on key issues. Read it here.

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