Deciding Factors

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Most districts trying to reduce teacher turnover and increase the number of well-qualified teachers in their schools have focused on improving hiring and recruitment practices. But research suggests that working conditions and salary levels actually are more on teachers' minds as they decide where to teach and whether to stay or leave.

To learn more about the issue, Education Week conducted the first analysis of teachers' perceptions of working conditions based on the U.S. Department of Education's 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, or SASS--the nation's largest sample survey of administrators and teachers. SASS provides information not contained in any other data set about teacher characteristics and opinions. It is statistically representative at both the national and state levels.

For the Education Week analysis, "high poverty" refers to public schools in which at least half of the students are eligible for federal free or reduced-price lunches. "High minority" refers to public schools in which at least half of the students are nonwhite. And "low poverty" and "low minority" refer to public schools in which 15 percent or fewer of the students are, respectively, eligible for subsidized school meals or are nonwhite.

The analysis found that while teachers from all types of public schools share similar opinions about some aspects of their work environments, those in high-poverty or high-minority schools face much more challenging working conditions.

For example, a majority of teachers in all types of schools are reasonably satisfied with their schools and their administrators. Most teachers "somewhat" or "strongly" agree that staff members in their schools are recognized for a job well done (68 percent), that their schools' administrations are supportive and encouraging (79 percent), that their principals let staff members know what is expected of them (88 percent), and that their principals enforce rules for student conduct (82 percent).

Teachers across all types of schools also believe that routine duties and paperwork interfere with teaching; 71 percent of teachers somewhat or strongly agree with that assessment.

But, in general, teachers in high-poverty and high-minority schools report experiencing more difficult working conditions, as shown by a variety of indicators. Teachers in such settings, who arguably are taking on a harder job, also report less satisfaction with their pay than those in low-poverty or low-minority schools. Some 46 percent of teachers in low-minority and low-poverty schools say they are satisfied with their salaries, compared with about a third of teachers in high-minority and high-poverty schools.

Among the major findings:

STUDENT MISBEHAVIOR

  • Thirty-four percent of teachers in low-minority schools agree that student misbehavior interferes with teaching, compared with more than half the teachers in high-minority schools (52 percent).
  • Twenty-nine percent of teachers in low-minority schools report that student tardiness is a "moderate" or "serious" problem in their schools, compared with more than half the teachers in high-minority schools (54 percent).
  • Student disrespect for teachers is seen as a moderate or serious problem by 38 percent of teachers in low-minority schools, but by 58 percent of teachers in high-minority schools.

SCHOOL SAFETY

  • Teachers in high-poverty schools are more than three times as likely as those in low-poverty schools to report that physical conflicts between students are a moderate or serious problem in their schools (34 percent vs. 11 percent).
  • Teachers in high-poverty schools are more than twice as likely as their counterparts in low-poverty schools to report that robbery and theft are a moderate or serious problem in their schools (21 percent vs. 9 percent).
  • About 13 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools report having been threatened by a student in the past year, compared with 6 percent of teachers in low-poverty schools.
  • Teachers in high-poverty schools are twice as likely as those in low-poverty schools to report that vandalism of school property is a moderate or serious problem in their schools (23 percent vs. 11 percent).

ACCESS TO RESOURCES

  • Eighty-one percent of teachers in low-minority schools say that essential materials and equipment such as textbooks, supplies, and photocopiers are available as needed, compared with 65 percent of teachers in high-minority schools.
  • Similarly, 80 percent of teachers in low-poverty schools agree that such instructional materials are available as needed, compared with 68 percent of their peers in high-poverty schools.

PARENT INVOLVEMENT

  • One of the largest discrepancies between high- and low-poverty schools centers on teachers' perceptions of parental involvement. Lack of parent involvement is seen as a moderate or serious problem by 75 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools, compared with 36 percent of those in low-poverty schools.
  • Similarly, 76 percent of teachers in high-minority schools view lack of parent involvement as a moderate or serious problem, compared with 45 percent of teachers in low-minority schools.

Vol. 22, Issue 17, Page 17-18

Published in Print: January 9, 2003, as Deciding Factors
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