The Destruction of a Profession


Public Agenda’s portrait of the teaching profession

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

How would you feel if you found out, the moment you were going into surgery, that 40% of surgeons were “disheartened” about their own work?

How would you feel about it if you had no right to choose your own surgeon?

That’s how parents ought to feel about public schools.

“You don’t want somebody operating on you if they’re resentful about having to do it.” I heard somebody say that last week. It’s as good a case against the current movement toward socialized medicine as I’ve heard anybody make in just fifteen words. The legislation Congress is moving right now already anticipates huge cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors. And rest assured that more of the same will be on the way if the bill actually passes.

That’s the way it always goes when you socialize a service. In spite of the lavish promises made to them, the people who provide the service inevitably get the shaft. Well, OK, everybody (except the politicians and bureaucrats) gets the shaft. But the service providers get it first and worst.

The good news is, we still have a chance to avoid destroying the medical profession this way.

The bad news is, a big new teacher survey from Public Agenda shows we’ve already done it to the teaching profession.

The report is bursting at the seams with horrible, horrible data about the state of the teaching profession, and I encourage you to read it for yourself. But here are a few highlihgts.

A large plurality of teachers fall into the “disheartened” category:

Members of that group, which accounts for 40 percent of K-12 teachers in the United States, tend to have been teaching longer and are older than the Idealists, and more than half teach in low-income schools. They are more likely to voice high levels of frustration about the school administration, disorder in the classroom, and the undue focus on testing…

A considerable degree of bitterness characterized the Disheartened in comparison to the other groups: Twice as many spoke of likely burnout as did the Contented and Idealists. Only two-fifths strongly agreed that “there is nothing I’d rather be doing” than teaching, compared with nearly two-thirds of the Contented and nearly half of the Idealists.

Think it doesn’t make a difference in the classroom? Think again – a shocking number of disheartened teachers think that teaching makes no difference:

Beliefs about their students and student potential also differed notably, with potentially significant implications for efforts to reshape the profession. A 22-percentage-point difference separated the Idealists and the Disheartened (88 percent to 66 percent) in their faith that good teachers can make a difference in student learning. Idealists strongly believe that teachers shape student effort (75 percent), whereas just 50 percent of the Disheartened believed that. Only one-third of the more disillusioned teachers were very confident in their students’ learning abilities, compared with nearly half among the other groups (48 percent of the Contented and 45 percent of the Idealists).

How do you suppose those attitudes affect their teaching?

“Potentially significant implications for efforts to reshape the profession.” No kidding. More than three quarters of all teachers are either “disheartened” or else “contented” – i.e. not interested in making the system any better than the lousy mediocrity it is now.

Delving through the data tables, here’s another intriguing tidbit I found. Given a choice between “I am able to create high quality lesson plans” and “I am not able to do this as much as I would like because of limited planning time,” the Contented teachers were 30 points more likely than Disheartened teachers to say they could create quality lesson plans (72% v. 52%). No shocker there. But a surprising number of Idealist teachers gave their own lesson plans a negative review – 38% say they can’t create high qualiy lesson plans as much as they’d like, while 60% say they can.

Do you suppose Contented teachers and Idealist teachers have different standards for what counts as a “high quality” lesson plan?

Which kind do you want teaching your kids?

Too bad you don’t get a choice. Government will decide which teacher will build (or destroy) your child’s future.

Unless, of course, you’re one of the ones lucky enough to have a choice.

It’s interesting that Public Agenda only surveyed teachers working in the government monopoly system. You can only find that out by wading deep into the weeds of the methodology section. In the body of the report, they just describe their survey population as “teachers.” Apparently government teachers are the only kind that count.

As it happens, federal survey data show that teachers in private schools are much, much happier with their jobs on a wide variety of measurements. That’s because, according to the same data, they’re free to teach – unlike the government monopoly, private schools give teachers autonomy in the classroom. Of course, they’re only able to do this because they’re also allowed to hold teachers accountable for results. But the much larger satisfaction figures for private school teachers – including much higher satisfaction with their school administrators! – show that this is an accountability model that works.

4 Responses to The Destruction of a Profession

  1. matthewladner says:

    Great post!

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Yeah, I thought you’d get a kick out of it, given that you’ve been banging this drum for a while now.

  3. Dave Saba says:

    Using a little thing called ‘math’ which appears to be rarely used in education, ABCTE likes to see what the stats mean in real people. So based on 3.4 million teachers:

    “That means there are 1.3 million disgruntled people teaching in the United States which means that 22 million students are adversely affected by a teacher who is not happy in their job.”

  4. donna marie says:

    I SAT NEXT TO A WOMAN ON A PLANE WHOSE MOTHER WAS A PRINCIPAL. She told me that most of the teachers wind up with depression and on anti-depressants. A pharmacist told me about 10 years ago, before we started to see commercials for depression, that more teachers are on anti-depressants than any other profession. I live in Arizona. It is Dec. 2011 right now. The average starting salary for teachers here right now–which is public information, as you can look up a district and find their salary schedule on the district’s website—the average starting salary is about $33,000 and you will get almost a $1000 raise every year. That’s 20 years to $53,000. That is why you go to college–to earn that income and help children become professionals hopefully–with professional incomes—not that of a teacher. Teaching is more like being a nun in the Peace Corp. Call it as you ‘feel’ it. If everyone would try teaching 5th grade for a year or two–perhaps they would have a new perspective on how difficult the job is in this day and age.

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