Published Online: March 23, 2011

Survey: Teachers Concerned About Resources for Students With Diverse Learning Needs

A large majority of U.S. teachers believe that schools are not doing enough to prepare students with diverse learning needs for success after high school, according to a nationwide survey released today.

Fully 91 percent of the public school teachers interviewed for this year’s annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher said that strengthening programs and resources to help “diverse learners”—defined as students with low-income status, limited fluency in English, or learning disabilities—become college- and career-ready should be a priority in education. More than half of the teachers (59 percent) indicated it should be one of schools’ highest priorities. None of the other education reform strategies presented in the survey received as great a consensus among teachers.

The survey is the second in a two-part report on “Preparing Students for College and Careers” published this year by MetLife Inc. (MetLife Foundation provides grant funding to Education Week Teacher, specifically supporting its capacity to engage teachers interactively as a professional community.) The first part, published earlier this month, explores views on the urgency and components of preparing students to be college- and career-ready. The second part focuses on differences in students’ learning needs.

The findings in each section are based on interviews conducted by Harris Interactive with 1,000 middle and high school teachers, 2,002 students, 580 parents, and 301 executives from Fortune 1000 companies.

Significantly, while a majority of the parents surveyed (57 percent) also said that improving programs and resources to help students with diverse learning needs become college- and career-ready should be among the top priorities in education, only 31 percent of the business executives agreed. The executives tended to place a higher priority on giving schools the ability to remove ineffective teachers and measuring teachers’ effectiveness in large part on the basis of student growth.

The teachers’ responses, meanwhile, corroborate a much-noted finding from the 2008 MetLife Survey, in which almost half of the educators polled said that the learning abilities of their students were so varied that they didn’t feel they could teach them effectively.

Varied Needs, Varied Expectations

Asked in the current survey to identify specific resources or initiatives that would have a “major impact” on their abilities to address students’ varied learning needs, the teachers most consistently pointed to opportunities for collaborative instruction (65 percent); access to interactive, personalized learning programs (64 percent); better tools for understanding students learning strengths and needs (63 percent); and instructional strategies for working with English-language learners (62 percent).

On the whole, the teachers were less enthusiastic about the potential impact of having access to a learning expert to help assess students’ needs or acquiring more knowledge about neuroscience and brain development.

Overall, 61 percent of the teachers said they believe they currently are able to differentiate their instruction to address their students’ diverse learning abilities. However, that percentage was considerably lower among math teachers (46 percent) and teachers who work in schools that don’t have a high proportion of graduates who attend college (50 percent).

The students surveyed gave their teachers an average grade of a B-plus on accommodating students’ distinct needs and abilities in their instruction. Students who have considered dropping out of school or who do not expect to go beyond high school, however, tended to give their instructors much lower grades in this area. By the same token, according to the survey, students who indicated that they receive a satisfactory level of individual attention from their teachers were less likely to have considered dropping out and more likely to plan on getting a college degree.

The survey found that, among students with diverse learning needs, low income students and students who had been told by a teacher or other adult that they have a learning problem or disabilities were the least likely say their needs are being well-served by their schools. In addition, by high school age, the boys surveyed tended to have lower educational expectations than the girls, the survey shows.

—Anthony Rebora

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