To the Editor:
Your article “Teacher Polls Look to Sway Policymakers” (March 31, 2010) illuminates the importance of the school workplace in the equation for improving student outcomes. Holding state, district, and school leaders accountable for creating work and learning systems that genuinely contribute to teacher and student performance is a profound idea (albeit a blinding glimpse of the obvious) whose time has come.
The Obama administration’s proposal that states collect and report information about school factors such as teachers’ perceptions of their working conditions, advanced in its blueprint for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, could be seen as an innovation, given the current lack of attention to the school workplace. But I encourage the administration to think beyond its plan and seek a higher vision.
There is evidence that working conditions affect teacher, leader, and school performance. In fact, workplace factors are powerful drivers of student outcomes and often have a greater impact on growth than does a student’s socioeconomic status. It’s been shown that these factors can account for approximately 30 percent of student gains.
Teacher-survey data must do more than inform policy. They can and must inform principals’ decisionmaking process and become a source for actionable intelligence that profoundly impacts student achievement.
But the current discourse overlooks a critical element: the analytical rigor needed to link survey results to student outcomes. Such a “turbocharged” analysis could isolate the drivers of student growth that have the greatest impact on achievement. Armed with this knowledge, school leaders would be better equipped to decide how to leverage diminishing dollars, resources, and time to improve their work and learning systems.
Reporting teacher-survey results without this analysis renders the information benign at best—confirming what is already known, while adding another layer of paperwork to an already overworked profession.
Chief Performance Officer
School Performance by Design
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2010 edition of Education Week as Teacher-Survey Results: Meaning Needs Analysis