Regis Shields was asked to participate in a media call for the recently published report, “The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy.” The following is a summary of her remarks.
I would like to address two major findings in the survey. I think these particular findings provide more than an opportunity, these findings create an urgency and a mandate for changing the way we think about the teaching profession and education overall.
The two findings are:
Let’s start with the finding that teachers are likely to leave the profession. To understand the opportunity within this finding, we need to dig a bit below the surface. We need to understand who is leaving and why.
The economy is offering critical opportunities to address the “why” indicated in the survey through attracting and retaining highly effective teachers. This will require overhauling the compensation and career pathway structure for teachers in at least three different ways.
So where is the opportunity to do this in an economic downturn? It’s in reallocating resources and looking to current investments that don’t contribute to student achievement. In the compensation system itself there are plenty of opportunities to reinvest. A large portion (in some districts, up to 30%) of teacher salaries are invested in experience, which does not have a strong correlation to student achievement, and 10-20% is invested in master’s degrees and other education achievement, which also does not have a strong correlation.
Now let’s turn to the finding that 43% of teachers are pessimistic that the level of student achievement will increase in the next five years. The report seems to tie this finding – this pessimism – to budget cuts. I am not so sure that this is completely the case but let’s address it.
Budget cuts and layoffs can be demoralizing in any profession or business. It is important to understand the decision behind the cut, and that requires transparency and communication. Remember, the decision to make a specific cut is made in order to “save” something. Understanding the tradeoffs districts make can take help turn pessimism into a clear picture of reality.
But I think another contributor to the pessimism is the understanding that the system is broken. We have a system that is focused equally on inputs and outcomes. What if we focused mainly on outcomes (with accountability) and provided flexibility around inputs? The lack of flexibility has resulted in a one-teacher-one-classroom model continuing to be the status quo despite evidence indicating we need to evolve. This change in perspective will require all stakeholders (the state, unions, etc.) to understand how they contribute to the status quo and rethink the way they operate.
To view the entire survey and previous ones in the American Teacher series, click here.