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

Reports & Briefs | July 10, 2012
Photo of graphics from the Teacher Survey

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 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.

Trending Toward Reform shows how teachers’ thinking has evolved on some reform issues. It repeats questions from Education Sector’s 2007 survey Waiting to Be Won Over  and a 2003 Public Agenda survey on these same issues. Our findings show continued strong support for teachers unions. But teachers also want more from their unions.

Other key findings from the survey reveal:

  • 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. 

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