School & District Management

Teachers Weigh in on Pay, Safety, School Choice, and Evaluations in New Survey

By Madeline Will — August 01, 2018 5 min read
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In a year marked by teacher activism and demonstrations, educators are urging policymakers to listen to them. Now, a new survey details teachers’ opinions on more than a dozen education issues.

Educators for Excellence, a group that advocates for teacher leadership, asked a dozen teachers to develop a survey for America’s educators on issues from school choice to union membership to accountability. The survey was conducted online from April 14 through May 6, among a nationally representative sample of 1,000 full-time public school teachers (both from charter schools and traditional public schools). An independent research firm administered the survey.

The 118-page survey has plenty of interesting tidbits. Here are some of the highlights:

Teachers Value Salary Over Pensions

Just over 40 percent of teachers said they would prefer to have a higher salary and a smaller pension, compared to the 26 percent who want the opposite (the rest weren’t sure). And when it comes to pensions, 45 percent of teachers said they’d rather have defined-benefit pension plans, which promise a specific payout to teachers upon retirement determined by a formula. Forty-two percent said they would prefer a defined-contribution plan, which is based on each teacher’s individual investment decisions—such as 401(k) accounts common in the private sector.

That divide is interesting, considering that 85 percent of all teachers are enrolled in defined-benefit pension plans, while only 8 percent of teachers have defined-contribution plans. However, more states, facing underfunded pension systems, are considering transferring new teachers over to hybrid “cash-balance” plans, which include features of both defined-benefit and defined-contribution plans. That was one of the pension reforms Kentucky made this spring that sparked widespread protests among teachers.

Nearly half of teachers said they would be likely to strike for a reduction in their retirement benefits. That was only topped by the 60 percent of teachers who said they would strike over a pay cut.

See also: Teacher Pay: How Salaries, Pensions, and Benefits Work in Schools

Teachers Want More Leadership Roles

The vast majority of teachers said they wish they had more opportunities to further their careers while remaining in the classroom (and they also said those leadership roles should be compensated). Nearly half of teachers—43 percent—said they feel pressure to become an administrator in order to advance in their career.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of teachers said they would be interested in having roles like serving as a peer mentor, an instructional coach, or a lead teacher. The survey found that teachers are equally as interested in these opportunities to further their careers as they are to get more pay.

Teachers Want to Be Heard

Almost all teachers surveyed said they wished there were more opportunities for teachers to influence education policy. “Teachers are the ones who see needs in the classroom, but they are probably the least consulted when it comes to policy decisions,” one respondent said, according to the report.

While most teachers said their perspectives are represented in policy decisions in their schools, 61 percent said they felt represented in district policies, and only 35 percent said they felt represented in policy decisions at the state level. Just a quarter said they feel like their perspective is represented in federal policymaking.

See also: How Many Seats Do Teachers Get on the State Board of Ed.? In Most Places, None

(E4E also asked respondents about their opinion on teachers’ unions and released those results early, before the U.S. Supreme Court decision came down that made it optional for teachers to pay any union fees. The E4E survey found that 80 percent of teachers feel represented in union decision making, and most teachers believe that unions are essential or important.)

School Safety a Concern

Just over 30 percent of teachers said they “often” or “sometimes” fear for their own physical safety while at school. They are most concerned about gun violence or school shootings. (There have been 14 school shootings with injuries or deaths this year, according to Education Week‘s tracking.)

Twenty-nine percent of teachers favor the proposal by President Donald Trump and other politicans to train teachers to carry guns in schools to protect students from armed intruders.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they are concerned about violence against teachers. Federal data show that 5.8 percent of the nation’s teachers were physically attacked by a student, and almost 10 percent were threatened with injury in the 2015-16 school year.

See also: When Students Assault Teachers, Effects Can Be Lasting

Just about half of teachers said their school does a good job of training them on how to address school violence.

Proof of Student Growth Important in Evaluations, Teachers Say

Respondents were asked to pick the three most valuable factors in evaluating teachers’ effectiveness. The majority of teachers said measures of student academic growth over time (like in-class scores tracked from the beginning of the school year to the end), while only 10 percent selected students’ standardized test scores.

Students’ work and classroom observations by administrators and by teachers were other popular choices.

When it comes to factors that are the most valuable in evaluating a school’s effectiveness, teachers again overwhelmingly chose measures of students’ academic growth over time. They also tended to say that measures of school climate and culture, like the number of disciplinary infractions, and feedback from students were valuable factors, too.

Teachers Oppose Most Forms of School Choice

E4E asked teachers for their stances on different types of school choice, including vouchers, charter schools, and tax credits for donations that pay for scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools. The majority of teachers oppose vouchers and charter schools, while 44 percent said they oppose tax credits.

Still, only 6 percent of respondents said they don’t support any form of school choice. Sixty-four percent said they would support school choice if it doesn’t shift funds away from public schools and if it’s equally accessible to all students.

See the survey’s full results here.

Image via Pablo, licensed under Creative Commons

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.