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Teachers Give Parents, National Tests Low Marks on Survey

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Given the results of a recent survey, it's no wonder that teachers and parents sometimes keep one another at arm's length.

Parents got lower grades than local school boards on the fourth annual Phi Delta Kappa poll of teachers' attitudes toward the public schools. Just 18 percent of the 714 respondents to the mail survey, conducted last spring, gave parents A's or B's for their efforts to bring up their children. School boards, in contrast, received high marks from 35 percent of the respondents.

The survey, published in the November issue of Phi Delta Kappan, the magazine of the Bloomington, Ind.-based professional organization, has a margin of error of 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level.

Teachers--who have complained in past Kappan surveys about a lack of interest and support from parents--expressed little faith that parents would take their side if they reported that a child was misbehaving in class. Fewer than half the respondents, or 41 percent, said parents would back them, while 50 percent thought parents would believe their children.

Teachers also were at sharp odds with the general public on the issue of whether there's too much emphasis on achievement testing in schools.

Forty-six percent of teachers said there was, while only 20 percent of the members of the general public who responded to a Kappan poll earlier this year agreed. In fact, 28 percent of the members of the public said there was not enough focus on tests.

An overwhelming majority, 69 percent, of the teachers surveyed were opposed to President Clinton's call for new national tests in reading and math, while 57 percent of the public favored the plan.

For more information, call Carol Langdon at Phi Delta Kappa at (800) 766-1156.

In Minneapolis, the teachers' contract that took effect this fall includes a "fresh start" action plan for handling low-performing schools.

The language draws on a resolution approved this year by the American Federation of Teachers' executive council. The AFT statement calls for intervention policies to be grounded in high academic standards and be based on solid research, and for "all stakeholders" to understand the criteria used to identify failing schools.

The contract also contains an extensive peer-review system that involves teachers in helping one another with professional-development plans and incentives for teachers to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

An "accountability framework" in the document spells out responsibilities and standards for teachers, schools, the district, the school board, and even students and their families.

Schools that meet or exceed their own and the district's goals can apply to receive performance-based pay. The union and district also signed an agreement to create a system to pay teachers for developing skills the district needs, said Louise Sundin, the president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

"We're trying to change the look and nature and the use of the contract," Ms. Sundin said. "It's almost more of an operational manual."

It may not be as sophisticated as Shakespeare or as challenging as Chaucer, but most high school students have difficulty understanding information in the daily newspaper, a recent study has found. More than two-thirds of high school seniors say it is hard to grasp information on the front page of the newspaper, but about half can easily read the sports pages, according to findings released last month by Touchstone Applied Science Associates.

The Brewster, N.Y., publisher of standardized reading tests has analyzed the degree of reading difficulty of the nation's top daily newspapers for nearly two decades.

The front page and editorial sections of the newspapers tend to be tougher to read than other sections of the papers, and even more demanding than the average high school textbook, the latest study says. The sports section is somewhat easier to read.

Based on a scale, developed by the publisher, that measures student reading ability according to the difficulty of the text, the hardest sections of the newspaper are beyond the reading ability of up to 70 percent of high school seniors.

High school teachers can find help creating challenging curricula for topics from puritanism to the civil rights movement using a new interactive Web site.

The National Humanities Center, a Raleigh, N.C.-based independent institute for advanced study in the humanities, provides on-line curriculum-enrichment services for history and literature teachers.

TeacherServe will provide assistance and content, based on the needs of the teachers who use the Internet site. It will feature essays by leading experts, links to related sources, and teaching suggestions for various topics

The site, designed by scholars from Duke University in Durham, N.C., the University of Delaware in Newark, and Queens College in New York City and master high school teachers, is underwritten by the Lilly Endowment.

The site's first instructional guide, "Divining America: Religion and the National Culture," is available at www.nhc.rtp.nc/us:8080/tserve/tserve.htm.

Teams of teachers, administrators, and parents who create projects to improve K-12 education by using interactive computing will soon have a new source of grants to finance their efforts.

America Online Inc., the Virginia-based provider of Internet connections, has announced it is creating an interactive-education-grants initiative. The venture is to be run by the newly formed AOL Foundation, also based in Dulles.

"This is a matter of trying to seek out and find innovative ideas [using] the medium to support education," Steve Sigmund, a company spokesman, said.

The one-time grants, worth up to $7,500 each, are to be awarded for the first time next spring. The cash grants are to be supplemented by assistance and training, including on-line support, for the recipients.

Those eligible for the grants might include teachers using on-line resources as part of a history curriculum or a community group providing job training via the Internet, Mr. Sigmund said. Reaching disadvantaged children and communities is to be a primary focus of the project.

More information is available from Jill Stephens, Corporate Outreach Director, America Online, 22000 AOL Way, Dulles, VA 20166; (703) 265-1342.

--ANN BRADLEY, KATHLEEN KENNEDY MANZO, & MILLICENT LAWTON inclass@epe.org

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