Data does not reflect claims of teacher unrest

Terry Stoops Contributing columnist

February 11, 2014

We have heard it time and time again. Teachers are demoralized, depressed, and dissatisfied. If lawmakers do not do something fast, then thousands of teachers will leave the state or the profession.

A January 2014 report by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank based in Washington, D.C., tells a different story. CAP researchers Ulrich Boser and Robert Hanna contend that the conventional wisdom is wrong. “In fact, teachers are far more autonomous — and far more satisfied — than most people believe,” they write.

Boser and Hanna examined the 2011-12 Schools and Staffing Survey to assess educational autonomy in the teacher work force. Every four years, the National Center for Education Statistics distributes Schools and Staffing Survey questionnaires to collect working conditions data from public elementary and secondary school personnel nationwide.

Nationally, teachers who responded to the survey report that they have a great deal of control over classroom curriculum, instruction, assessment, and management. North Carolina respondents agreed.

For example, 48 percent of North Carolina’s surveyed teachers say that they have “moderate” or a “great deal” of control over the selection of textbooks and instructional materials. Nearly 56 percent of teachers agreed that they have significant control over selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught. A whopping 90 percent of our state’s respondents stated that they had the freedom to select teaching techniques in their classroom. Similarly, over 92 percent of teachers reported that they controlled a significant amount of student evaluation and grading.

To gauge levels of satisfaction with the teaching profession, Boser and Hanna cited three separate teacher surveys. In a survey published this year by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, nine out of 10 teachers reported that they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with teaching. The 2012 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that a slightly smaller percentage, 82 percent, were satisfied with their chosen profession.

K-12 teachers also had the second-highest score on the 2013 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. According to Gallup, “The nation’s teachers score higher than almost all occupational groups on life evaluations plus four of the other five areas of well-being — including emotional health, healthy behaviors, basic access, and physical health.”

While none of the above surveys provides state-level data, North Carolina and a handful of other states separately track teacher working conditions. The New Teacher Center administers the North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey every two years. In 2012, 86 percent of the state’s teachers completed the survey.

The vast majority of respondents were very satisfied with various aspects of their working conditions. Teachers overwhelmingly agreed that they enjoy considerable support from the community and school administrators. Additionally, they were very satisfied with leadership opportunities, professional development, and instructional support offered by their school and district.

If the Teacher Working Conditions Survey is any indication, North Carolina’s teachers are content. That is not to say that our state’s teachers are deliriously happy or that teachers’ responses will not change. Teachers have legitimate concerns about compensation, Common Core state standards, and systemic reforms initiated by the N.C. General Assembly.

I suspect that legislators plan to address these and many other concerns in the upcoming session. But teachers do themselves a disservice by allowing public school advocacy groups and the media to depict the North Carolina teaching work force as an angry mob. The angry mob narrative is consistent with the political goals of the Left, but it is not an accurate representation of what teachers themselves have said about their chosen profession.

Terry Stoops is director of research and education studies at the John Locke Foundation.