The slump in the economy, coupled with the acrimonious discourse over how much weight test results and seniority should be given in determining a teacher’s worth, have conspired to bring morale among the nation’s teachers to its lowest point in more than 20 years, according to a survey of teachers, parents and students released on Wednesday.
More than half of teachers expressed at least some reservation about their jobs, their highest level of dissatisfaction since 1989, the survey found. Also, roughly one in three said they were likely to leave the profession in the next five years, citing concerns over job security, as well as the effects of increased class size and deep cuts to services and programs. Just three years ago, the rate was one in four.
The results, released in the annual MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, expose some of the insecurities fostered by the high-stakes pressure to evaluate teachers at a time of shrinking resources. About 40 percent of the teachers and parents surveyed said they were pessimistic that levels of student achievement would increase in the coming years, despite the focus on test scores as a primary measure of quality of a teacher’s work.
Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonpartisan advocacy group in Washington, said the push for evaluations, punctuated by a national movement to curb the power of unions, had fostered an unsettling cultural shift.
“It’s easy to see why teachers feel put upon, when you consider the rhetoric around the need to measure their effectiveness — just as it’s easy to see why they would internalize it as a perception that teachers are generally ineffective, even if it’s not what the debate is about at all,” Ms. Jacobs said.
More than 75 percent of the teachers surveyed said the schools where they teach had undergone budget cuts last year, and about as many of them said the cuts included layoffs — of teachers and others, like school aides and counselors. Roughly one in three teachers said their schools lost arts, music and foreign language programs. A similar proportion noted that technology and materials used in the schools had not been kept up to date to meet students’ needs.
“The fixation on testing has been a negative turn of events when the things that engage kids in schools are all being cut,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers.
The survey, in its 28th year, showed similar attitudes among teachers working in poor and stable neighborhoods; in schools serving large numbers of immigrant students who are not proficient in English, as well as native speakers from middle-class backgrounds. The race and ethnicity of the students, and length of a teacher’s experience, had little bearing on the results.
Nonetheless, teachers in urban schools and in schools with a large proportion of minority students tended to be less satisfied about their jobs.
Teachers with high job satisfaction were more likely to feel secure in their jobs, and to have more opportunities for professional development, more time to prepare their lessons and greater parental involvement in their schools, the survey found.
Parental engagement has increased over the past 25 years, according to the survey, but remains a challenge: parent participation declines during the high school years.