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Survey Finds Teachers 'Dispirited,' Uninvolved in Reform

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Teachers surveyed by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching have offered a dark assessment of the reform movement that confirms, the foundation says, that the teaching force is not only "dispirited'' but "less empowered'' than it was five years ago.

In the survey, which Carnegie officials term the largest ever conducted among teachers, 70 percent said the national reform effort deserved a "C'' or less; 20 percent gave the reform movement a failing grade.

More than half the teachers polled said morale within the profession had substantially declined in the past five years--despite the fact that activity on behalf of education had significantly increased.

The teachers also said, however, that they believed the reform movement had been successful on many fronts, including raising student achievement levels, clarifying goals of schools, and increasing teacher salaries.

The foundation's "Report Card on School Reform: The Teachers Speak'' is based on the responses of 13,500 teachers. The report, released last week, was written by Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation.

Mr. Boyer presents his analysis within the framework of his 1983 study, High School: A Report on Secondary Education in America. The new report updates his earlier call for reforms and notes where improvements have--or have not--been made, from the perspective of teachers.

"Reforms typically have focused on graduation requirements, student achievement, teacher preparation and testing, and monitoring activities,'' Mr. Boyer writes in "Report Card.''

"But in all these matters, as important as they are, teachers have been largely uninvolved,'' he adds. "Teachers have remained dispirited, confronted with working conditions that have left them more responsible, but less empowered.''

Better Learning Environment

Looking at the positive impact of the reform movement, 75 percent of the teachers said that goals at their schools are more clearly defined today than they were five years ago.

Nearly 75 percent also said that expectations for students had risen, and more than half said their principals were playing more of a leadership role.

The 1983 Carnegie report recommended that schools give high priority to language skills, as well as to an expanded core of common learning. The recent survey found that:

  • About 66 percent of the teachers said student achievement had gone up in three areas: mathematics, reading, and writing;
  • More than 80 percent reported an increase in the number of core courses required for graduation;
  • About 75 percent said science and math requirements had increased; and
  • More than half said English requirements had been raised.

"These are impressive gains, but rejoicing should be muted,'' Mr. Boyer writes. "Curriculum reform has been more quantitative than creative and there has been a disturbing tendency to focus on course labels, rather than on content.''

The teachers, for the most part, also noted that a better atmosphere for learning had been created in their schools. For example:

  • 58 percent said their schools were doing a better job in tailoring instruction to student needs;
  • About 75 percent said the use of technology for teaching had improved;
  • About 60 percent said textbooks and other instructional materials had improved; and
  • 42 percent said their classrooms were more orderly.

On the other hand, nearly 40 percent of the teachers said fiscal resources available to their schools had declined.

Mr. Boyer notes that what he terms "shocking inequities'' in school finance have not been seriously addressed over the past five years.

He also comments that despite progress made in the climate for learning, many schools continue to focus on memorization and recall, and that textbooks still control the curriculum.

Use of Tests Growing

The teachers' survey indicates a dramatic growth in the use of testing across the country.

Sixty-three percent of the respondents said their schools were doing more achievement testing as a result of state or district regulations. Half of the teachers said they were more frequently using tests for graduation or promotion.

Mr. Boyer concludes that progress in student assessment has been "marginal at best.'' While some tests are useful, he argues, the tests being used are often crude and "they measure what matters least.''

The 1983 Carnegie report called for a 25 percent increase in teacher salaries by 1986. Mr. Boyer points out that in the past five years salaries have increased an average of 40 percent. And some 26 percent of the teachers reported that career-ladder options had increased at their schools.

But the teachers also said they were encountering more red tape and bureaucracy.

About 60 percent said political interference in education had increased, and 57 percent reported that state regulation of local schools had intensified.

Mr. Boyer blames the emphasis on regulation rather than renewal for the reported decline in teacher morale. More than half of the teachers, for example, said they had more paperwork to do than they did five years ago.

A Failing Grade

Overall, Mr. Boyer contends, the reform movement has earned a failing grade in improving conditions for teachers.

The survey provides these examples:

  • More than 30 percent of the teachers said the size of their classes had increased since 1983.
  • About 80 percent said the time they had to spend with other teachers was the same or less than five years ago.
  • 27 percent said they had less time to prepare for class.
  • 25 percent said there was less private space available to them.
  • About 30 percent said they had less freedom from nonteaching duties, such as cafeteria monitoring.

The reform movement's gains, Mr. Boyer concludes, were won for the most part without teacher involvement. "What is urgently needed--in the next phase of school reform,'' he writes, "is a deep commitment to make teachers partners in renewal at all levels.''

Copies of "Report Card on School Reform'' are available for $5 from the Carnegie Foundation, 5 Ivy Lane, Princeton, N.J. 08540.

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