For Release: New Education Sector Survey Examines Teacher Attitudes Toward Unions, Education Reform

Published on July 10, 2012 in K-12 Education, Teacher Quality, Teachers Unions

Washington, D.C. – Over the past decade, teachers have seen changes in both their conditions of employment—from pay to retirement benefits—and their practice. Far too often, these policies have been made by people who talk about teachers, rather than talking to them. 

Last fall, Education Sector surveyed a nationally representative random sample of more than 1,100 K-12 public school teachers. The results of that survey are published in a new Education Sector report, Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession. Co-authors Sarah Rosenberg and Elena Silva look at teacher attitudes on a variety of teacher-centered reforms, including new approaches to evaluation, pay, and tenure, and the role of unions in pushing for or against these reforms.

The 2011 survey repeats questions from Education Sector’s 2007 survey Waiting to Be Won Over and a 2003 Public Agenda survey on these same issues. So Trending Toward Reform shows how teachers’ thinking has evolved on some reform issues.

The findings show continued strong support for teachers unions. Compared with earlier years, teachers say their union plays an important role in protecting jobs and addressing working conditions.

But teachers want more from their unions. In 2007, 52 percent of teachers said their union should “stick to bread and butter issues” rather than focusing on reform; today, just 42 percent of teachers feel that way. At the same time, the number of teachers who want their union to put more focus on reform has risen from 32 percent to 43 percent. As one example, 75 percent of teachers surveyed said that unions should play a role in simplifying the process to remove ineffective teachers—up from 63 percent in 2007.  

Other key findings from the survey reveal that:

  • Teachers think evaluations are improving. In 2011, 78 percent said their most recent evaluation was done carefully and taken seriously by their school administration.
  • Three out of four teachers—76 percent—say that the criteria used in their evaluation were fair.
  • Teachers are warming to the idea that assessing student knowledge growth may be a good way to measure teacher effectiveness, with 54 percent of 2011 teachers agreeing. This compares with 49 percent in 2007.
  • Teachers are still opposed to including student test scores as one component of differentiated pay, with just 35 percent supporting that idea.
  • Teachers do support differentiated pay for teachers who work in tough neighborhoods with low-performing schools (83 percent support). Teachers also support differentiated pay for teachers who have earned National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification or for those who teach hard-to-fill subjects.

Read Trending Toward Reform: Teachers Speak on Unions and the Future of the Profession.

Use this infographic to illustrate the complicated relationship between teachers and unions on the issue of school reform. 

Education Sector is an independent think tank that challenges conventional thinking in education policy. We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization committed to achieving measurable impact in education, both through improving existing reform initiatives and by developing new, innovative solutions to our nation’s most pressing education problems.

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