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Hart Research Poll of Teachers and Principals

Despite the greater demands being made on their schools, two Albert Shanker Institute-supported polls find that teachers and principals strongly support efforts to hold students to rigorous academic standards and see standards-based reform resulting in beneficial changes at their schools.

In asking teachers and principals about their views the poll referred to “a new approach to education” that for any given school “may mean new academic standards, changes in curriculum, regular state or district testing of students based on the standards, and accountability measures with consequences for students, faculty and/or the school as a whole.”

Nearly three-quarters of a national sample of teachers who are members of the American Federation of Teachers (73 percent) and more than nine out of 10 principals in a four state sample (92 percent) favor the push to raise standards to improve student achievement, the polls show. Teachers’ support for higher standards cuts across the racial and economic lines of the students they teach. Even teachers in schools deemed low performing back standards in similar numbers.

Teachers perceive the effect of the standards to be more positive the longer they work with them. Three-quarters of the teachers (74 percent) who had worked with standards for at least six years say the standards have had a positive impact on their school, compared to 62 percent of the teachers who had used standards for three years or less. Support was also especially high among older teachers, elementary school teachers, and urban teachers.

Educators believe that standards-based reform is changing education in their schools. More than two-thirds of teachers (68 percent) say standards have changed the way education is carried out at their school a great deal or a fair amount, compared to only eight percent who say that very little has changed at their school. More than two-thirds (67 percent) of teachers say this change is positive. Principals are even more approving of standards-based reform. Four out of five principals say standards have been a positive development (86 percent).

A related result is that educators also believe the standards movement has made positive changes in schools. Teachers believe that their schools are doing better than they were nearly a decade ago. Among teachers, those rating their
schools excellent or good have increased from 57 percent in 1991 to 77 percent in 1999. The percent saying that their school is not so good or poor dropped from 13 percent in 1991 to only five percent in 1999.

“The polls show that the standards movement has enlisted the support of teachers and principals in all kinds of schools, even those with the biggest problems,” said Sandra Feldman, President of the million-member American Federation of Teachers. “It’s encouraging to see that they are out there trying to meet the challenge these new demands set for them,” she said.

IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED IN IMPLEMENTATION

While their support is strong for rigorous standards and the changes they lead to, educators continue to have questions about how standards-based reform is being carried out. Seven out of 10 teachers (71 percent) and two-thirds of principals (67 percent) say that standards are the right approach but that improvements are needed in the way states and schools implement them. More than a third of teachers (36 percent) and nearly three out of 10 principals (28 percent) say that standards are being implemented too quickly.

“Now we must shift our focus to giving students and teachers the right kind of supports to make these initiatives work,” said Ms. Feldman.

A major concern remains the testing that accompanies standards. Even educators supportive of high standards express concern that tests remain too narrowly focused and require preparation that diverts student attention from mastering the rich academic content standards are designed to help them achieve.

Nearly all teachers and principals report that their schools are being judged specifically on test results, especially in determining poor performance. More than half (55 percent) of teachers agree that focusing on tests has resulted in a curriculum that is too narrow and omits important areas. More than three in five (63 percent) teachers say that too much time is spent on test preparation and that cuts into other classroom teaching. Nearly two out of five (39 percent) of teachers and principals (36 percent) say that testing is too frequent.

TIME SHORTAGE STANDS OUT

Another obstacle to implementing standards is a lack of time. The poll shows that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of teachers are “just somewhat” or “not that satisfied” about “having enough time to meet all their professional responsibilities.” Almost all (96 percent) of teachers say they spend additional time at school after or before school hours and two out of five (39 percent) of them work at another job either during the school year or over the summer. Just 35 percent are satisfied that they have enough time to meet professional responsibilities and four in five (80 percent) favor more paid professional development time “to meet with other faculty members to discuss curriculum, lessons, tests and how to best help students,” even when this means lengthening the school day or school year. “These teachers want more time for the kind of rich professional development that comes from sharing knowledge and expertise with colleagues,” said Eugenia Kemble, the Institute’s Executive Director.

POSITIVE CHANGES COME WITH HIGHER STANDARDS

Four out of five teachers (80 percent) say their schools are using standards, and nearly half of all teachers (46 percent) report that their school has been using standards for four years or longer.

Teachers and principals agree that standards have had a positive effect on curricula, teaching quality, professional development, teacher motivation, and student achievement. About two-thirds of teachers (67 percent) say their school
has made progress in meeting the educational needs of students with only one in 10 saying it has fallen behind.

Virtually all principals and teachers say the curriculum is closely aligned with standards. Seven out of 10 teachers (71 percent) think that the standards agenda has helped to better focus the attention of administrators and faculty on the core mission of educating students.

SETTING THE RIGHT STANDARDS

As schools continue to raise the bar for student knowledge and skills, more teachers support their level of difficulty but a sizable group still has concerns. Half of teachers (51 percent) say standards are about right and only three in 10 say they are too low. Five years ago, half of teachers (51 percent) reported that standards were too low and four in 10 (43 percent) said they were about right.

While it remains low, the percentage of teachers saying standards are too high increased nearly fourfold from 4 percent in 1994 to 14 percent in 1999.

SUPPORT FOR OTHER REFORMS

The polls also asked educators which other reforms would be most effective in addition to standards. Their lists of those they would find to be “very effective” include: Smaller class size – 88 percent of teachers, 78 percent of principals Clear discipline policy – 83 percent of teachers, 84 percent of principals Reading programs – 82 percent of teachers, 83 percent of principals A curriculum aligned with standards – 70 percent of teachers, 84 percent of principals Higher teacher salaries – 64 percent of teachers, 71 percent of principals

“The list of reforms teachers most desire show how they are putting students’ needs first,” Feldman said.

The poll was conducted by the Washington-based polling firm Peter D. Hart Research Associates and surveyed 825 principals and 1,075 K-12 teachers who are members of the American Federation of Teachers (with over-samples of Florida, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas). Margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.5 percent for principals and 4.4 percent for teachers.

The Albert Shanker Institute was founded in 1998 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to three themes – children’s education, unions as advocates for quality, and freedom of association as a centerpiece of democracy. Its mission is to generate ideas and foster candid exchange related to these themes. The Institute’s board is composed of business representatives, labor leaders, academics, educators and public policy analysts.

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