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Most Teachers Support School Reforms, Survey Finds

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An independent national survey of teacher attitudes commissioned by a major life-insurance company has found substantial support among public-school teachers for many of the recent proposals to upgrade their profession.

Eighty-seven percent of the 1,981 public elementary- and secondary-school teachers who participated in the "Metropolitan Life Survey of The American Teacher" said they favored career ladders that provide teachers with greater opportunities to take on more responsibility and pay.

Eighty-four percent of those in the randomly selected national sample said they support changes that would make it easier to remove in-competent teachers; 90 percent endorsed the idea of requiring new graduates to serve apprenticeships before they are certified as teachers; and 84 percent said they favored requiring teachers to take competency tests before certification.

The survey was sponsored by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and conducted by telephone by Louis Harris and Associates Inc. last spring.

Re-testing Question

Fifty-seven percent of the survey participants indicated that they favor periodic re-testing of teachers in their subject matter.

But a survey released this summer by the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, found that 71 percent of the 1,472 members it polled felt standardized tests were inappropriate for teacher-recertification.

A law requiring such testing in Arkansas has provoked a heated confrontation between Governor Bill Clinton, who proposed the law, and the Arkansas Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, which opposes it.

Merit-Pay Issue

Nearly three-fourths of the teachers polled in the Metropolitan Life survey said another controversialel5lconcept--merit pay--could work if a teacher's merit could be judged by an objective standard.

Forty-nine percent agreed that merit pay would help make teachers' salaries more comparable with salaries in other professions, and 39 percent said they agreed merit pay is an effective way of attracting and retaining good teachers in the profession.

The support for merit pay expressed in the Metropolitan Life survey conflicts with the findings of the nea survey.

Seventy percent of the nea members participating in the poll, parts of which were released this summer, said they would oppose working under a merit-pay plan, "given the design and administration of [the] current performance evaluation system."

"The difference seems to be that if you ask teachers in a theoretical sense, 'do you think the most effective teachers should get more money?' they'll say yes," said Nancy Kochuk, an nea spokesman. "But if you specifically ask them, 'If the merit pay plan were instituted in your level, would you support it?' They'd say 'no."'

Ms. Kochuk said the Metropolitan Life survey probably represents the first comprehensive sampling of teacher opinions by an independent organization. The nea regularly publishes surveys of teacher attitudes.

Union Reaction

On June 27, the day the Metropolitan Life survey was released, Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said the survey "should clearly set the record straight on how receptive America's two million-plus teachers are to change."

"If I were a governor," he added, "or a businessman wondering if it's worth putting more resources into education, and I saw these positive responses on the part of a majority of U.S. teachers, I would say this is a system that can really be turned around."

Teacher Profile

According to the Metropolitan Life poll, the typical American teacher is almost 41 years old, with nearly 15 years of experience (two more than the average of the working public as a whole) and has a median income of $30,000.

Compared with the average American worker, teachers are more likely to be married and more likely to have children.

Three-fourths of all teachers are members of unions, with union membership highest in the East (93 percent) and lowest in the South (54 percent), according to the poll.

Seventy-two percent of the survey participants said that teachers' opinions in general have not been given an adequate hearing in the current debate on education.

Virtually all of those surveyed (96 percent) said that they "love to teach," despite the fact that they spend too much time on administrative tasks (72 percent); that they "do not feel respected in today's society" (52 percent); and that they do not believe that their job allows them "the opportunity to earn a decent salary" (63 percent).

Those polled in the Metropolitan Life survey overwhelmingly approved (91 percent) tightening graduation requirements to include more academically demanding subjects.

Seventy-four percent approved of increasing the amount of homework assigned, 95 percent endorsed a renewed emphasis on school discipline and safety, and 92 percent agreed that instruction in computer use and foreign languages should be increased.

For a copy of the report, write to: The American Teacher Survey, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., One Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10010.

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