Education Sector just released a new survey, Waiting to be Won Over, by Farkas Duffett Research--a top-notch policy research firm that's done great work for Fordham in the past (and is working on a teacher survey of our own, due out later this year). It looks at teachers' views about various reform ideas and includes some interesting (and generally depressing) trend data. The top-line findings are that unions are ascendant (54 percent of teachers view them as "absolutely essential" vs. 46 percent in 2003) and that merit pay (at least via test scores) has taken a bit of a beating (support is down four points to 34 percent).
Still, there are plenty of findings to hearten reformers, including strong support for "hardship pay" for individuals willing to serve in tough schools (8 in ten teachers support it) and, at least among newcomers, extra pay for shortage subjects like math and science (almost two-thirds of newbies support that).
These data are illuminating, and no doubt the survey's authors are correct that "independent public opinion research that investigates what teachers think about various issues is a necessary contribution to the national conversation on education policy and reform."
Still, as Rick Hess would say if he had a blog (Rick, no one reads books anymore), the views of current teachers (even new ones) shouldn't be the last word on how tomorrow's teachers might react to various workplace reforms. The point of merit pay, for instance, isn't primarily to motivate teachers who are already in the classroom (who understandably gripe about being "incentivized" by the carrot of more money) but to motivate potential teachers, currently in college or another field, who might give public education a try if they viewed it as less bureaucratic and more performance-minded than most do today. And at a time when close to fifty percent of our teachers are nearing retirement age, it's those potential teachers we should worry most about.