Friday, March 16, 2012

Scholastic/Gates study: Teachers are happy workaholics

Today's Washington Post features the summary conclusions of a study conducted by Scholastic and the Gates Foundation, which include the news that educators work a lot, educator don't mind being evaluated, and educators are "satisfied" in their jobs.

I know, I know: This study was funded by the Gates Foundation, so rest assured that I'm not taking the results too seriously -- especially the conclusion that a majority of teachers -- 89 percent, the study reports -- are "very satisfied or satisfied in their jobs." I'd love to see the poll question that led to this outcome. Did it ask, for example, "Would you say that you are very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisified or very dissatisfied to have a job?"

I think I'd rather have a neutral arbiter of such matters conducting the survey, and asking more detailed questions to get to real data.

At any rate, here's what the Post's summary -- written by a representative of Scholastic -- offers:

Teaching is a much talked about yet often misunderstood profession. Educators frequently hear well-meaning comments from parents and friends like “It must be so sweet to spend your days with children” or “How wonderful to be done for the day by three o’clock.” Are they serious?

Teaching is joyous, but it is also hard work! It is fast-paced, multi-faceted, and complex. I should know. I spent many years as a teacher and it is the hardest and most satisfying work I’ve ever done.

A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week!

Let's be honest: That's too low to be real. Which means that the study may have included teachers of half-day kindergartens, lowering the average somewhat.

What teacher in South Carolina doesn't spend at least 12 hours a day on their job, whether it's at the workplace or at home after hours?

These numbers are indicative of teachers’ dedication to the profession and their willingness to go above and beyond to meet students’ needs. It never was, and certainly isn’t now, a bell-to-bell job.

Sweet sentiment, but it contributes to the hackneyed and offensive notion that education is the field of missionaries and martyrs, devoted to the cause, squeezing out every drop of life's blood to do what's right and good, never seeking nor expecting an honestly competitive salary because, after all, who can put a value on sparking the love of learning in a dear child?

This, dear reader, is a crock. True, no one comes to teaching to get rich. But the reason why educators work such long hours for such low pay isn't because they harbor masochistic tendencies. It's because there are too few of them hired to work in their chosen field. Cut class sizes by half, and you'll find educators better able to perform in the classroom, and working shorter, less-stressful days.

But that would require doubling the education workforce, wouldn't it? Which costs money. Hence, we have not as many educators as we need, and those doing the job work 12-hour days.

The 7.5 hours in the classroom are just the starting point. On average, teachers are at school an additional 90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average. As one Kentucky teacher surveyed put it, “Our work is never done. We take grading home, stay late, answer phone calls constantly, and lay awake thinking about how to change things to meet student needs.”

Our work is never done.

Enlarge the education workforce, and our work could get done -- better and more efficiently.

The 10,000 teachers surveyed in Primary Sources 2012 convey a very real portrait of the challenges and joys of the teaching profession. They share their thoughtful, nuanced views on both their daily practice and critical issues at the heart of education reform. Here are some more key findings:

* Teachers are seeing the effects of joblessness and a difficult economy on their students’ families and in the classroom. Fifty six percent of teachers who have been teaching in the same school for five years or more are seeing more students living in poverty, and 49% are seeing more students coming to school hungry.

Suggestion: The Gates Foundation, upon reaching this particular conclusion, might actually serve the public good by donating a sizable portion of its vast wealth to addressing the immediate needs of these impoverished students, and to hiring more educators to serve in public classrooms, and by improving the compensations and benefits afforded to those educators.

It's easy to point out problems; it takes a little money to fix them -- and I mean the folding kind, not the jingling kind.

* Teachers welcome and are even eager for more frequent evaluation of their practice. Again and again, teachers spoke of the need for feedback on their practice in order to become the best teachers they can be. Plus, they are open to hearing from a variety of sources including principals, peers and parents - and students!

No doubt of it. No one wakes up each morning saying to themselves, I hope I can fall short of the standard I reached yesterday -- and escape notice of it.

But let's cut even a millimeter below the surface of this trite bit of data. Yes, educators welcome evaluation. But they don't want to have their livelihoods -- their jobs, their opportunities for advancement and achievement, their lifetime earning potential -- threatened by the evaluations of uninformed, unqualified, uncredential evaluators who may or may not have an agenda. And while no one should fear constructive criticism from any source, even from students, no one wants their livelihood to be jeopardized by a popularity rating that superficial student scores represent, or to be tied to student test scores.

Educators govern their own performance; they cannot control the performance of a student on a single standardized test, administered on a single day.

This is too important an issue to leave unaddressed. Educators deserve to have their views considered indepth, not merely to be represented by a happy, hollow declaration: "Teachers welcome and are even eager for more frequent evaluation of their practice."

The Gates Foundation has enough money to do better than this.

* Challenges facing students are significant and growing. 46 percent of veteran teachers say they are seeing fewer students prepared for challenging work than when they began teaching in their current schools. The percentage of children who struggle with reading and math is increasing at all socio-economic levels.

I reckon the Gates Foundation has just spent a chunk of money to learn that No Child Left Behind has left a lot of children behind.

If the Gates Foundation had been listening to educators in 2002, the year that NCLB was implemented, it might have learned collected this same information a decade sooner. Somebody took their eye off the ball, but it wasn't the educators who were suddenly subject to a 1,100-page federal law imposing a death spiral on public schools.

* The majority of teachers are satisfied in their jobs: Eighty nine percent of teachers are either very satisfied or satisfied in their jobs. They also share their reasons for satisfaction and for frustration, and identified the kinds of resources teachers need to be as successful as they can be.

Notice how the sugar and salt were blended evenly in this conclusion: Nine out of ten teachers love their jobs! But they also get frustrated, and they tell us why...

I have no doubt that nine out of 10 teachers are satisfied to have their jobs. But that's very different from asking if they're satisfied with their jobs, and I'd feel more confident in the results, as stated earlier, if the questions were asked by a neutral party and not an organization with a decided philosophical bent.


  1. I wish I had a worthy comment here, but you're line about this being a "CROCK" pretty much sums it all up.

  2. In contrast to Gates, the recent Commentary by Dick Riley that you covered here emphasizes a finding from the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy that teacher satisfaction had decreased over the last two years to the lowest point in 20 years. That survey, which has run annually since 1984 also shows more teachers are planning to the leave the profession and feeling their jobs are insecure. Three of the findings clustered give a good sense of the growth in teacher disatisfaction:

    -- Teacher job satisfaction has dropped 15 points since 2009, from 59% who were very satisfied to 44% who are very satisfied, the lowest level in over 20 years.

    -- The percentage of teachers who say they are very or fairly likely to leave the profession has increased by 12 points since 2009, from 17% to 29%.

    -- The percentage of teachers who do not feel their job is secure has grown since 2006 from eight percent to 34%.

    Here's the link to the full report, which has an executive summary and findings upfront.