EdMedia Commons Archive

Five Questions For … Education Sector’s Sarah Rosenberg, On Teachers, Unions, and Fast-Moving Reforms

Education Sector policy analyst Sarah Rosenberg spoke with EWA about Trending Toward Reform, a national survey that asked more than 1,100 public schoolteachers their thoughts on a variety of areas related to evaluations, compensation and the role of unions. (Rosenberg co-authored the report with Elena Silva, former senior policy analyst at Education Sector who recently joined the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.)

1. On some of the survey questions, you got vastly different responses from newer teachers (those with fewer than five years’ experience) and teachers with more than 20 years’ experience. To what do you attribute that gap?

We’re definitely seeing differences between the newcomers and the veterans. The percentage of veteran teachers who said they were likely to support easing state certification requirements dropped to 34 percent in 2011 from 45 percent in 2007. That’s significant. It wouldn’t be a big leap to say that veterans are trying to save their jobs from new teachers who might be coming in.

But in some ways the bigger story are the points of similarity we saw among the two groups. For example, both newcomers and veterans are pretty resistant to using test scores to measure teacher effectiveness. They also came down similarly on other ways to attract teachers to the profession – both groups supported more time for lesson planning during the day, and making it easier to leave and return to the profession without losing retirement benefits.

2. What do the survey results suggest about how teachers view the union role in professional accountability?

We do know teachers want the union to help simplify the process for removing ineffective teachers. When ineffective teachers are in the classroom, other teachers pick up the slack. If it’s the ninth-grade teacher who is weak, then the 10th-grade teacher has to teach two years in one. We saw some indications in the survey that teachers are anxious about their jobs and want to secure them, but they also want to ensure the best teachers are in the classroom. Those are reasonable expectations to have at the same time.

3. More than three-fourths of the teachers described their most recent evaluation as being taken seriously by administrators, fair and relevant. But a much smaller percentage – 38 percent of newcomers and 29 percent of veterans — thought the evaluation was useful and effective at helping them improve their performance. Why the disconnect?

I think that we saw a clear indication that teachers believe the evaluation process has gotten better since 2007. We asked same question in 2007 and over that course in time we’ve seen big increases in the percentage of teachers who are likely to describe their evaluation as useful and effective. Still, 35 percent still describe it as well intentioned but not particularly helpful. That’s where we need to see the most improvement. I think that districts and principals are taking evaluations more seriously. But it’s not just about filling out the form accurately, and paying attention to what’s happening in the classroom. It’s also about providing feedback teaches can use and following up to make sure it’s being implemented.

4. Were there any surprises in the survey results?

We asked a question about the meaning of tenure, whether it was just a formality or if it was a meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness. We saw a meaningful decrease in those who saw it as a formality – to 63 percent from 69 percent in 2007. At the same time, we saw a corresponding increase in those who said it was a meaningful measure of teacher effectiveness – to 28 percent from 23 percent in 2007. We know, based on the research by the National Council on Teacher Quality, among others, that there’s been a lot of tenure reform across the country. It’s too soon to say that’s why teachers see tenure as more meaningful, but I think it’s an encouraging trend.

5. What’s the bottom-line message here for to unions?

Teachers want unions to continue to protect them. Without unions, teachers feel they would be vulnerable to districts misusing their powers. But teachers also want unions to step into the ring and engage in reform. They see reform coming. There have been many policy shifts in terms of evaluations and tenure, curriculum and the Common Core, and others. Teachers want unions at the table fighting for their interests, and making sure reforms are implemented in a way that’s fair to teachers and ensures teachers can do their best work.

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.