Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Free to Teach

Sometimes teachers feel like no one is listening. Well, this week someone said "We hear you." The US Dept. of Ed asked teachers about their jobs. The folks at The Friedman Foundation made a picture out of the puzzle pieces of information and give us "Free to Teach: What America's Teachers Say About Teaching in Public and Private Schools".

Study co-author Greg Forster via Jay Greene's blog:

"We found that the government school system is not providing the best environment for teaching. Public school teachers fare worse than private school teachers on virtually every measurement – sometimes by large margins. They have less autonomy in the classroom, less influence over school policy, less ability to keep order, less support from administrators and peers, and less safety. So it’s not surprising that they also have less job satisfaction on a variety of measures.
Which of the two sources of influence – politics or parents – do you think is more focused on demanding that schools provide better teaching?
Parents and teachers are traditionally thought of as antagonists. And no wonder – under the current system, parents have no effective control over their children’s education other than what they can extract from their teachers by pestering and nagging them. The status quo is designed to force parents and teachers into an antagonistic relationship."
Here's the link to the .pdf copy of "Free to Teach: What America's Teachers Say About Teaching in Public and Private Schools".

A couple of snips from the study.
  • Private school teachers are more likely to teach in urban environments (39 percent v. 29 percent) while public school teachers are more likely to teach in rural environments (22 percent versus 11 percent).
  • But the claims attributed to “teachers” actually come from self-appointed spokesmen, not from a nationally representative sample of teachers. What if we asked teachers nationwide how things actually worked in their schools, and found out that their testimony tended to confirm what the reformers claimed?
  • The most striking difference between the public and private sectors is the disparity in school size. Public schools have, on average, over twice the number of enrolled students, 804 students per school versus 385 in private schools.
  • This salary difference sheds a different light on the subsequent findings in this study. As the remaining tables show, working conditions for teachers are superior in private schools across a wide variety of measurements. While these are observational data and we cannot perform a statistical analysis to determine causation, the data lend themselves to the hypothesis that public school salaries are higher partly to compensate for the inferior working conditions teachers endure in public schools.
  • Public school teachers report working a total of 52 hours per week and teaching for 27 of those hours, while private school teachers report working a total of 48 hours and teaching for 26 of those.
  • Public school teachers are twice as likely as private school teachers to agree that “I sometimes feel it is a waste of time to try to do my best as a teacher” (17 percent versus 9 percent).
  • The remarkable observation that private school teachers are 26 percentage points more likely to strongly agree that they have all the textbooks and supplies they need is all the more surprising given that private schools make do with much less spending than public schools. The average private school tuition is $6,600, compared to over $10,000 per student spent in public schools. Yet private schools do a radically better job of equipping their teachers.
  • Popular myth has it that the private school sector is a redoubt of racial privilege, while public schools are the only hope for breaking down racial barriers. In fact, while desegregation efforts have repeatedly failed to reduce actual levels of segregation in public schools, the empirical evidence has consistently shown that private school vouchers succeed in providing a less segregated school environment. Vouchers are also the education reform that has the best empirical track record at improving educational outcomes for minority students.


N.S. Allen said...

Most of this just isn’t news. I’m pretty sure anyone familiar with the public school system would have guessed that private schools are smaller, more fulfilling teaching environments, better-equipped, and so on.

But the conclusion the Friedman Foundation draws from this data just don’t follow. In particular, the way in which the Foundation’s report ignores the social make-up of the schools’ student bodies glaringly undermines its arguments.

The report makes the observation that private schools’ performance isn’t better because its students are more talented – students given vouchers by lottery improve, as well. Such results, however, tell us only that the individual student isn’t the issue. They don’t rule out social forces that affect a school’s students and, aggregated together, have a serious effect.

To put that in concrete terms, a private school can take a handful of kids from poor, broken, or non-English-speaking homes and cope. Similarly, impoverished students who are moved to majority middle-class, public schools do significantly better than they did in majority poor schools, regardless of the schools’ funding levels. But what would happen if we took a class full of poor kids and completely replaced a private school’s class with them?

The Foundation’s data doesn’t suggest that such an experiment would go better than it does in the public schools, which get to deal with every instance of social breakdown out there, and I expect the safe money would be on it turning into a disaster.

And that’s my problem with school choice advocates. I never see any of them taking the ultimate issues seriously. How many students can hope to benefit directly from school choice? If school choice programs really do improve the public schools, how much? In short, can faux-privatization take us all the way to where we need to go?

Given that the nations outperforming us educationally aren’t bastions of privatization, school choice advocates have a heavy burden to meet, in discussing these issues.

And, thus far, I haven't even seen one engage on them.

din819go said...

Nick -- one of the challenges with choice is Nashville has never had a level playing field. Yes, there are magnets, enhanced options, open enrollment, etc. There are tons of choices. However, these is no transportation.

Without MNPS combining its buses with MNPS families have very few options for transportion to get the choice schools.

I believe if transportation was not an issue we would see enough movement to shut down truly failing schools in this city. I doubt anyone has the backbone to try.

Unions are no help as they won't lift a finger to improve the schools which have been failing its student population for years.

If teachers truly believe students can learn regardless of their circumstances...I bet amazing things in our schools would happen. We see it in pockets. It takes a strong principal and teachers united to do what is best for the students.

THis is one reason so many (not all) charters are successful and public schools are not. Public schools have too many teachers that work the contract. They arrive at school just before they have to and exit after the last child. They are not receptive to kids seeking them out for help. Hell, how many public schools have mandatory study halls for students? Very, very few. The school day is not designed for students and teachers to interact during the day -- forget the teachers being available before and after school -- which would be a huge help. Oh yeah, transportation plays a role here, too.

Until we have true choice in Nashville with the transportation system in place to make this happen we won't know what will happen.

I just know if people have options many continue to leave the public schools or pull out of private schools and homeschool to avoid the default schools. Something is not right in our city.

I disagree about the quality of students. All children are curious and eager to learn. Something happens at school (maybe more so than at home) that stops this curiosity cold. I put that on the system and teachers. I have seen it happen at HF, at Meigs and at the default schools. It is truly sad to watch. Adults should know better but they were probably treated the same way. to break the cycle...