Sunday, February 24, 2013

Job satisfaction for teachers at record low

Teachers are increasingly dissatisfied with their jobs, with budget cuts, larger classroom sizes and increased levels of stress all contributing to the problem, according to a nationwide survey released Thursday.

The annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher shows the lowest level of job satisfaction among teachers since the group began the survey in 1985.

According to the survey, which was conducted toward the end of 2012, teacher satisfaction has declined 23 percentage points from four years earlier, and is down 5 percentage points from 2011.

"We've seen a continuous decline in teacher satisfaction," Dana Markow, vice president of youth and education research for pollster Harris Interactive, told the Huffington Post's Joy Resmovits. Harris Interactive conducted the poll for MetLife.

The survey shows that half (51 percent) of teachers report feeling under great stress several days a week, which is an increase of 15 percentage points over 1985.

The least satisfied teachers are those who work in schools that have slashed budgets, and who have less time for collaboration with peers and professional development than teachers at other schools.

The poll found that 86 percent of teachers and 78 percent of principals reported their schools face budgeting problems, and 73 percent of teachers and 72 percent of principals said it's hard to engage their communities to improve public schools.

"When teacher dissatisfaction is at a 25-year high, school leaders have to stop ignoring the red flags and start listening to and working with teachers to figure out what they and their students need to succeed," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers union. "How many more surveys and polls do we need before we give teachers the tools, resources and support to help their kids, especially with today’s greater challenges and accountability?"

The survey does not break down responses by state, but it's no secret that teachers in Wisconsin have been under stress. Many joined massive protests at the Capitol in 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker introduced Act 10 — his bill that stripped collective bargaining rights from most public employees.

The combination of diminished bargaining rights and reduced funds for education in Walker's first biennial budget led to increased employee benefit payments, a wave of teacher retirements and also put many school districts under financial pressure.

The combination of that, plus increasing demands for school and teacher accountability, led one teacher in Whitefish Bay to tearfully tell her school board last week that she is resigning. In a widely shared story on Whitefish Bay Now, high school math teacher Christine Kiefer was quoted saying:"I love teaching kids and I love the kids' families and I love my colleagues and I love Whitefish Bay, but I cannot wait any longer. I can't stay at a job that sacrifices all my time for my own family — at least two hours every school night and between six to 12 hours every weekend — time after the bell rings, time that produces such good results when there is no good faith effort on the part of the district to pay what I am worth, to pay me what you would probably have to pay an equivalent replacement for me."

In the article, a Whitefish Bay School Board member told Kiefer they have little power to improve matters because so many key decisions are made at the state level. Two years ago, the article said, the state cut the district's funding by $2 million.

"Our hands are tied," School Board Member Cheryl Maranto said. "I know the reason we are surviving is because of what happened to your pay and benefits."


Anonymous said...

The showdown in Wisconsin over fringe benefits for public employees boils down to one number: 74.2. That's how many cents the public pays Milwaukee public-school teachers and other employees for retirement and health benefits for every dollar they receive in salary. The corresponding rate for employees of private firms is 24.3 cents.

Gov. Scott Walker's proposal would bring public-employee benefits closer in line with those of workers in the private sector. And to prevent benefits from reaching sky-high levels in the future, he wants to restrict collective-bargaining rights.

The average Milwaukee public-school teacher salary is $56,500, but with benefits the total package is $100,005, according to the manager of financial planning for Milwaukee public schools. ...

What these numbers ultimately prove is the excessive power of collective bargaining. The teachers' main pension plan is set by the state legislature, but under the pressure of local bargaining, the employees' contribution is often pushed onto the taxpayers. In addition, collective bargaining led the Milwaukee public school district to add a supplemental pension plan—again with no employee contribution. Finally, the employees' contribution (or lack thereof) to the cost of health insurance is also collectively bargained.

As the costs of pensions and insurance escalate, the governor's proposal to restrict collective bargaining to salaries—not benefits—seems entirely reasonable.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous states about costs of pensions and insurance escalating is what a "typical" Republican believes--its their own ideology. Teachers are the "backbone" of our society. They are the leaders who mold and make the leaders of tomorrow. Private corporations is a better word for private firms. The corporation head hierarchy make millions while only giving out 24.3 cents to their employees--that is if that number is accurate.
Bottom line, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Walker lacks education, himself--only a high school graduate. Why would he care what happens to teachers? He is a puppet controlled by the so-called private firms!

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Anonymous said...

Actually, there are two big surprises here. The biggest is that the alleged drop in teacher job satisfaction is bogus -- and based on dubious polling by Metlife.

The second is that, notwithstanding the sketchy survey methodology, American educators are actually quite positive about their chosen profession.

Let’s start with the teachers. After five years of budget cuts, large policy changes (including landmark reforms of how teachers are evaluated) and an increasingly vitriolic national education debate, most teachers still like their jobs.

Perhaps the reason why is alien to our chattering and advocacy class, but it's pretty straightforward: Despite its frustrations, teaching is amazing work. For starters, you get to work with kids. If that’s not enough, you also are not stuck behind a desk, and you’re also doing some of the most meaningful work one can do.

So why were union officials -- and some education writers -- so negative about the latest results?

The main reason is that the much-touted data point about teacher satisfaction is, to put it politely, fundamentally flawed. Metlife asks about job satisfaction in different ways in different years. In 2008 and 2009 they asked teachers, “How satisfied would you say you are with teaching as a career?”

The survey didn’t ask about satisfaction in 2010, but in 2011 and 2012 teachers were asked, “How satisfied would you say you are with your job as a teacher in the public schools?”

Veteran pollster and polling expert Mark Blumenthal, who is now the polling editor for The Huffington Post, says they are different questions and that “presenting the two questions on a single trend line is questionable.”

Anonymous said...

He’s being polite, too. What Metlife did would be akin to asking a soldier on a tough deployment how he likes his job vs. asking him how he likes his career in the armed forces -- and claiming that it was the same question.

“The apparently dramatic drop in ‘job satisfaction’ since 2009 could be an artifact of the change in wording, yet the authors of the report make no allowance for that possibility” says Blumenthal.

So Weingarten, Van Roekel, and a credulous education press (“U.S. teachers’ job satisfaction craters,” blared The Washington Post) were responding to a five-year “trend” based on two different questions.

To be fair, you have to hunt in the text underneath a table buried in the middle of the report to see what’s going on. The report itself highlights the 23-percentage-point decline in job satisfaction since 2008 in its executive summary, and Metlife touted the same finding in its marketing materials sent to the media. So I asked Dana Markow, who leads the MetLife research for the national polling firm Harris Interactive, if it was really accurate to say there was a 23-point drop based on these questions?

After gamely defending the Metlife approach, she acknowledged, “It is unknowable as to what the result would be if the same question was asked.”

She’s right. When asked about career satisfaction in 2009, 59 percent of teachers said they were “very satisfied.” The next time the satisfaction question was asked, in 2011 -- this time focused on about job satisfaction -- only 44 percent said so. Perhaps things got bad; you can’t know. But in 1985 and 1986, the question was also changed -- again from asking about career to asking about job. What happened? Those saying they were “very satisfied” fell 11 points. It’s reasonable to infer, both as a matter of survey methodology and also common sense, that the wording does matter.

So, returning to teachers, what do the data really show?

The percentage of teachers saying they were “very satisfied” with their “jobs” fell to 39 percent from 44 percent last year. That’s a decline, but hardly a crater. And those teachers did not shift from very satisfied to “dissatisfied.” Rather, they still say they’re satisfied -- just not “very satisfied,” the highest level a respondent could indicate in the survey.

In fact, only 17 percent of teachers say they are dissatisfied overall, according to this year’s survey (actually a very slight decline in dissatisfaction from last year, something you’ll search in vain for in any of the coverage of the survey).

This doesn’t mean teachers aren’t facing real problems. The survey is full of information about those challenges. It also offers some clues as to why teachers are frustrated (budget cuts are a big culprit). Still, given how difficult the last few years have been in this economy, most occupations would be proud of an 82 percent overall job satisfaction number.

Surveys like the Metlife one are Rorschach tests for advocates, who see and seize on whatever nugget might bolster their agendas. That’s Advocacy 101, and Van Roekel and Weingarten aren’t analysts or public intellectuals -- they’re lobbyists. But the poor-mouthing of good news about teachers is more than a tactic; it’s a symptom of education’s counterproductive grievance culture.

Instead of highlighting positive trends in teaching, union leaders and various advocates would rather stoke resentment. We’ve all heard the litany: “Low pay! Too much testing! No respect!” There is some truth to all of that, but it’s only part of the story. An enviable level of job satisfaction is another. We hear about a “war on teachers” but, ironically, their self-avowed champions talk the job down as much as any critic.

It’s a self-defeating strategy. We can’t hide from the problems, but we might consider spending a little more time talking about the good aspects of teaching if we want to make education a more attractive career option. If Metlife really wants to help with that effort, it can do its small part by playing its survey straighter next year.

Anonymous said...
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Vicki said...

Thank you, Anonymous, for revealing the duplicitous methodology of the MetLife survey.

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