Waiting to Be Won Over

Teachers Speak on the Profession, Unions, and Reform

Reports & Briefs | May 2, 2008
Related Issue(s): Teacher Quality, Teachers Unions
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American public education is in the midst of intense change, and teachers, in particular, are facing pressure to produce better outcomes for students. As policymakers, teachers unions, and other stakeholders react to changing demands on the nation's public education system, there remains considerable debate about what teachers think and what they want. Too often assumptions define the conversation rather than actual evidence of teachers' views. In an effort to facilitate and inform this conversation, Education Sector and the FDR Group surveyed 1,010 K–12 public school teachers about their views on the teaching profession, teachers unions, and a host of reforms aimed at improving teacher quality.

The survey asks specific questions about the work teachers do and about reform proposals that are currently being debated. It also examines the views of new teachers and veterans. And, when possible, the survey discerns trends by asking some identical questions from a 2003 national survey of K–12 public school teachers and comparing the responses.

This report is organized into four sections. The first highlights key findings about the challenges that teachers see in their profession, including weak evaluation processes and rigid tenure and pay system. The second section describes how teachers feel about a range of reforms aimed at improving their profession, from new evaluation approaches to differential pay proposals. The third section focuses on teachers' opinions about their union and what they feel the union role should be in improving teacher quality. The final section examines some key points of comparison between new teachers, who have been on the job fewer than five years, and veteran teachers, who have been teaching for more than 20 years.

Some key findings from the survey include:

  • Seventy-six percent of teachers say that too many burned-out veteran teachers stay because they don't want to walk away from benefits and service time accrued. And over half (55 percent) say that it's very difficult and time-consuming to remove teachers who shouldn't be in the classroom.
  • Only 26 percent of teachers say that their most recent formal evaluation was useful and effective in helping them to improve their teaching. Seventy-nine percent support strengthening the formal evaluation of probationary teachers. And nearly a third of teachers (32 percent) say that tenured teachers should be evaluated on an annual basis.
  • Teachers are less likely today (than they were in 2003) to support paying teachers more based on test scores. Only half of teachers support the idea to measure teacher effectiveness based on student growth or "value added."
  • Teachers are more likely today (than they were in 2003) to say unions are essential. The jump among new teachers (<5 yrs) who say the unions are essential is especially striking.
  • Teachers say they would support the union taking an active union role in improving teacher evaluation, supporting and mentoring teachers, guiding ineffective teachers out of the profession, and negotiating new/differentiated roles/responsibilities for teachers.

A vigorous debate about how to transform schools and teaching to meet today's challenges and create a profession that people seek to be part of, rather than one where they feel they need protection from unfair and capricious practices, is a vital one. The findings presented in this report, while not the last word, offer guideposts for that conversation.

The Joyce Foundation provided funding for this project. The findings and conclusions are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the foundation.