EdMedia Commons Archive

Five Questions For … Harris Interactive’s Dana Markow on the MetLife Teacher Survey, Job Satisfaction, and the Economy

The new “MetLife Survey of the American Teacher: Teachers, Parents and the Economy,” focuses on teacher satisfaction, the economy’s impact on education, and parental involvement in education. EWA spoke with Dana Markow, vice president of youth and education research at Harris Interactive, about significant changes in perceptions about the public school environment.

1. There seems to be no shortage of studies and reports on the state of public schools. What sets apart the “American Teacher”?

I think it’s unique for the length of the timeline of the series – it’s been conducted annually since 1984. There’s also the fact that in addition to teachers’ voices, we also bring in other stakeholders at the same time. This year we included parents and students. In past years we’ve included principals, and in the year we looked at teacher training we brought in deans of schools of education. To be able to have that consistent voice of the teacher and other constituencies in public education, is unique and an important contribution

2. Teacher satisfaction has dropped sharply, to 44 percent from 59 percent since 2009. That’s the lowest level in 20 years, and it reverses a lengthy upward tick. What are teachers’ chief concerns?

We regularly take the pulse on teacher satisfaction. This year we were focusing on parental engagement, and economic impact, and we looked at teacher satisfaction through those twin lenses to figure out what could be seen.

Our findings told us that there wasn’t much demographic difference among teachers with higher vs. lower job satisfaction. Their years of experience, the grades they taught, the proportion of low-income students in their classes – none of these factors really stood out. What we did find consistently was that teachers with higher job satisfactions were at schools doing a better job of engaging parents with a specific plan for linking that to student learning.

In 2006, we did explore with a more in-depth analysis about what were predictors of teacher satisfaction. That year, it was related to things like they felt qualified to teach their classes, they felt they had enough time for planning and grading, and there were opportunities for involvement in team building and problem solving.

3. How much did economic factors, such as the recession, influence the results of the survey?

I don’t think people will necessarily be surprised that the survey results confirm there have been deep cuts within education budgets. But when you see how many teachers and schools have been affected, when you hear it in the context at the local level – whether they’re having layoffs or discussions with their unions about changes to their salaries and benefits – you start to build a national picture.

At the same time, there are other factors, and not just the state of the economy, that impact teacher satisfaction. If you look back to the data from 1987 (the year of the stock market crash), teacher satisfaction was actually on an upward trend.

What is potentially a reflection of the economic downtown is the significant jump in the percentage of teachers worried about job security. In 2006, just 8 percent of teachers didn’t feel their jobs were secure. On this year’s survey, that percentage was 34 percent.

4. The survey showed the economic downturn is clearly affecting the school environment, from delayed maintenance on facilities to more students coming to class worried about whether a parent might lose a job. What do the results tell us about the school-family relationship?

An important part of the message of the survey is that schools don’t exist in isolation. When you talk to teachers, they tell you about many things that happen outside their classrooms. Two-thirds of the teachers said the number of students needing health and social support services had increased in the previous year, and 35 percent of teachers said more of their students were coming to school hungry. That’s why parent engagement is so important, so that schools can help involve parents that need help properly supporting their children’s education at home.

5. What was most surprising to you in these results?

Certainly the drop in teacher satisfaction was surprising.  I’ve been working on the survey since 1999, and I’ve seen the number plateau, but I didn’t expect to see it drop so dramatically.

It was also really interesting to look at parent engagement, which is improving but remains a challenge for many schools. Parents at schools with high engagement reported their schools were doing a better job at involving them in the decision-making process, and there was more engagement with teachers, principals, and other parents. That gives you a sense of a school that has successfully integrated the different stakeholders.

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