Teachers appear to be changing their minds about how they should be hired, assessed, paid and dismissed. This merits attention because we cannot have good schools if teachers are not happy with their compensation and working conditions.
Two new surveys show that teachers, particularly those new to the profession, are friendly to several proposed reforms. The American Federation of Teachers has even endorsed the equivalent of a lawyer’s bar exam for education school graduates.
It’s possible that nothing may come of this. A surge in non-teacher jobs for those with teacher skills or a sharp drop in teacher retirement benefits could leave school districts still scrounging for people with the skill and energy to raise student achievement. But teachers seem to be leaning toward new ways of supporting their work.
The education-policy group Teach Plus looked at teachers with 10 or fewer years of experience compared with those with 11 or more years. The think tank Education Sector compared teachers with fewer than five years experience with those with more than 20 years. Teach Plus used an online poll of 1,015 self-selected teachers, less reliable than the Education Sector’s random sample of 1,100 teachers.
Seventy-one percent of the less experienced Teach Plus group said student academic growth should be part of their evaluations, while just 41 percent of the more experienced group had that view. Both Education Sector groups were more supportive of test scores being used in assessments than I think they would have been a decade ago. Fifty-six percent of newer teachers and 50 percent of older ones in the Education Sector survey said it was an excellent or good idea to measure teacher effectiveness using student growth models.
Sixty percent of the newer Teach Plus survey teachers said they were interested in changing “compensation and tenure systems.” Just 20 percent of the older teachers had that view. The Education Sector survey teachers appeared more supportive of moving in that direction: Ninety-one percent of the newer teachers and 75 percent of the older ones supported unions taking a role in simplifying the process of removing ineffective teachers.
Liana Heitin’s Education Week story, where I first read of the surveys, notes that University of Pennsylvania scholar Richard M. Ingersoll expressed doubt that younger teachers’ interest in reform would last. Once they see new ideas wither and die, they will grow more skeptical, like their older colleagues, he said. But even older teachers seem interested in some of the suggested changes, the surveys show.
A remarkable sign of changing attitudes was a proposal by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten that was revealed by my colleague Lyndsey Layton. Weingarten, citing the work of a union task force, wants to have a challenging test of each teacher’s knowledge of their subject and of teaching, like a bar exam, at the end of education school. Weingarten called for a year in clinical practice as a student teacher before any new instructor gets her own class.
Weingarten also said education schools should not admit students with less than a B average in college courses, in tune with overseas success in making teaching more prestigious. Getting education schools to comply will be difficult, but the better ones might be inspired by her suggestion.
Some people who want schools to be better think teacher unions are standing in the way. I don’t. I have been writing for 30 years about great teachers with proven success at raising achievement. Not one has ever suggested that unions hindered their efforts.
But that is not the same as saying the unions have worked hard to make all teachers more successful in the classroom. They are doing that more now. Many of their members seem inclined to support it.
To read previous columns by Jay Mathews, go to washingtonpost.com/jaymathews.