Most public schoolteachers give low marks to the education reforms of the 1980s and nearly half complain about not having enough control over school policies, according to a nationwide survey released yesterday.
The 21,389 teachers who responded to a survey by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching generally held a dim view of the educational progress made since the landmark report, "A Nation at Risk," was issued by a national commission in 1983.
The new survey found teacher attitudes about the reforms -- which included upgrading graduation requirements, teacher salaries and teacher standards -- were less favorable than in 1987, when the foundation posed a similar question.
In the foreword to the 1990 survey, Carnegie president Ernest L. Boyer wrote:
"Overall, the school reform movement began with great energy and hope. Progress has been made, but I have the uncomfortable feeling that, nationally, the effort has begun to stall . . . perhaps, because teachers have been bypassed in the process."
The foundation reported that 82 percent of the teachers graded recent education reforms as a C or less.
In 1987, 69 percent gave the same low marks to the reforms while 31 percent said they deserved a B or better, compared with 18 percent in this year's survey.
The foundation described its latest survey as accurate within 1 percentage point.
Written comments from teachers in the report indicated that lack of funding and boldness have hindered reforms. A secondary schoolteacher from Maine said "a revolution of thinking" was needed.
Wrote a teacher from Idaho: "The education reform movement has certainly put education 'on the front burner.' Unfortunately, 'no water,' that is little money, has been added; so the result has been a scorched pot!"
The reforms were rated the highest in two southern states that got an early start on improving their dismal school systems. In South Carolina, 41 percent graded the changes a B or better, while 36 percent did so in Mississippi.
Nationwide, teachers said the biggest improvements have come in their salaries and continuing education programs designed to brush up their skills or knowledge.
The survey also found that more teachers believe that the reforms, which state governments have mandated since 1983, have resulted in increased state regulation and "political interference" in local schools. This year, 56 percent complained of such interference, up from 49 percent in 1987. And 60 percent cited more state regulation, compared with 46 percent three years ago.
Boyer said the finding that more teachers feel they have less control over school policies was "especially disturbing" in light of a trend toward school-based management, under which a principal shares decision-making authority with teachers and, sometimes, parents.
Asked if satisfied with "your control over your professional life," 45 percent of teachers said they were not, compared with 25 percent who said so in 1987. Larger percentages said they were involved "slightly" or "not at all" in student promotion policies (71 percent), budgeting (80 percent) and hiring new teachers (90 percent).
"Education takes place in the classroom. Teachers are education," a secondary schoolteacher from Indiana remarked. "There are too many people making decisions for teachers who never see a student."
The portrait teachers drew of themselves is one of dedicated, selfless professionals. They reported spending about $250 of their own money for supplies in the first half of the last school year, and 69 percent said they devoted at least 45 hours a week to work.
But most of the teachers did not favor two changes, proposed in the 1983 report but implemented in only a few places, that would require them to work harder. Only 37 percent said a longer school year was important, and 26 percent deemed a longer school day a priority.
In the United States, the typical academic year lasts 180 days, fewer than in other industrialized nations whose students have outperformed Americans on recent international tests.