Poll Finds Drop in Teacher Satisfaction With Degree of Control Over Their Jobs

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By Ann Bradley

Despite the increasing national prominence of proposals to give teachers a greater say in setting school policy, a report to be released this week concludes that teachers are much less satisfied than they were three years ago with the degree of control they have over their professional lives.

The study by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching found that 55 percent of teachers surveyed were satisfied with their degree of control over their jobs--a sharp drop from the 75 percent who voiced such satisfaction in Carnegie's 1987 teacher survey.

For example, 71 percent of the teachers responding to the new poll said they were "not at all" or "slightly" involved in setting policies for student promotion and retention. More than one-third reported having slight or no involvement in shaping the curricula at their schools, while 90 percent were not at all or only slightly involved in selecting new teachers.

Only 8 percent were involved "deeply" or "moderately" with evaluating other teachers' performance.

"We've had much discussion about school-based management in recent years," Ernest L. Boyer, president of the foundation, writes in a foreword to The Condition of Teaching, a State-By-State Analysis 1990, "yet our data reveal that when it comes to crucial decisionmaking, teachers often are left out."

The report also suggests a deepening pessimism among teachers about schools' chances of improving the dropout rate.

In what Mr. Boyer calls a "startling" response and "one of the most worrisome national findings" of the study, 39 percent of the teachers surveyed agreed with the statement that "the public schools cannot really expect to graduate more than about 75 percent of all students." In 1987, 21 percent of those surveyed agreed with the statement.

"At a time when a high school diploma represents a barely minimal requisite for economic survival," Mr. Boyer observes, "it's shocking that so many teachers feel certain students are doomed to lives of failure and frustration."

More than half of the teachers surveyed for the 1990 report said their students were seriously deficient in basic skills, and 71 percent said their students wanted to do just enough to get by in school.

Teachers' attitudes toward the national movement to improve education have also become significantly more critical, according to the study, which surveyed 21,389 elementary and secondary public-school teachers nationwide.

In the 1987 survey, 31 percent of the respondents gave a grade of A or B to school reform, while in this year's survey only 18 percent did so. The reform movement was given a C by 54 percent of those surveyed, while 28 percent of the teachers said it had earned a D or F.

Mr. Boyer suggests that those results are evidence that the national reform movement, which began with "great energy and hope," has "begun to stall."

"Momentum has lessened," he writes, "precisely because the most difficult issues, the most vexing problems, have not been adequately addressed--and most especially, perhaps, because teachers have been bypassed in the process."

The state-by-state comparisons, however, present a picture that is more positive in many instances, depending on gains made in individual states. In South Carolina, for example, 41 percent of the teachers surveyed gave reform a grade of B or better, as did 36 percent of the Mississippi teachers surveyed.

When asked to describe how various conditions in their schools have changed since 1983, when the landmark reform report A Nation at Risk was released, 63 percent of the teachers said salaries had improved--up from 58 percent who reported such improvement in 1987.

The new survey also found slight gains in the number of teachers who said inservice education, partnerships with business and industry, money to support innovative ideas, and job security had improved since 1983.

But teachers said special awards programs, teacher recruitment and selection, and the opportunity for summer fellowships had slightly declined since that year. Only 14 percent said "community respect for teachers" had improved, in constrast to 24 percent in 1987.

Teachers overwhelmingly rated salaries and class size as the two most important steps to take to improve the teaching profession, with 55 percent naming salaries and 21 percent class size.

Those choices reflect the dispiriting conditions under which many teachers reported working. Inadequate planning time, overcrowded classrooms, insufficient supplies of textbooks and materials, and low salaries continue to be of major concern to teachers, the survey found.

These conditions, Mr. Boyer warns, must be addressed if the nation expects to "attract and hold outstanding teachers."

The teachers' overriding concern, however, centered on issues of student welfare--an emphasis also apparent in the 1987 survey. (See Education Week, Dec. 14, 1988.)

Eight in 10 respondents to the survey said abused or neglected children, lack of parental support, student apathy, disruptive behavior, and absenteeism were problems at their schools.

Despite the frustrations of teaching, 86 percent of the teachers surveyed said they were satisfied, over all, with their jobs. Almost half reported being more enthusiastic about teaching than when they began their careers.

These feelings were reflected in the amount of time and energy respondents reported devoting to their jobs. For example, 55 percent agreed, or agreed with reservations, that they "tend to subordinate all aspects of my life to my work as a teacher."

When asked how many hours per week, inside and outside school, were spent on their jobs, 32 percent reported working between 45 and 49 hours. One-quarter of the teachers said they worked 50 to 59 hours a week, while 12 percent said they spent more than 60 hours a week working.

In addition to national and state-by-state data, the report contains a selection of comments from 11,000 teachers who provided written observations about their profession.

Copies of the report are available for $12 each from Princeton University Press, 3175 Princeton Pike, Lawrenceville, N.J. 08648. The phone number is (609) 896-1344; discounts are available for bulk orders.

Vol. 10, Issue 1

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