Parent Power Gives Teachers Freedom to Teach

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA’s latest Perspective carries my article reviewing evidence suggesting that, where parents are in charge of education, teachers are free to teach. The data come from a study of federal teacher surveys that I did with Christian D’Andrea in 2009, but they are of fresh interest in light of the recent crisis over accountability in education reform.

Government power over schooling harms teachers in many ways. It takes away their control over what and how they teach:

On accountability, we found private school teachers were much more likely to say they have a great deal of influence on performance standards for students (40 percent versus 18 percent), curriculum (47 percent versus 22 percent), and discipline policy (25 percent versus 13 percent). They were also more likely to have a great deal of control over selection of textbooks and instructional materials (53 percent versus 32 percent) and content, topics, and skills to be taught (60 percent versus 36 percent).

It also saddles teachers with a legal and regulatory environment that prevents them from keeping order:

Shockingly, we found public school teachers were four times more likely than private school teachers to say student violence was a problem on at least a monthly basis (48 percent versus 12 percent). That means about half of public school teachers are being asked to work in an environment where violence is a regular problem. Nearly one in five public school teachers had been physically threatened by a student, compared to only one in 20 private school teachers (18 percent versus 5 percent). Nearly one in 10 public school teachers had been physically attacked by a student, three times the rate in private schools (9 percent versus 3 percent).

Where student violence is a problem on some days, student disorder is a problem every day. Sure enough, we found public school teachers were much more likely to report that student misbehavior (37 percent versus 21 percent) or tardiness and class cutting (33 percent versus 17 percent) disrupt their classes. One in eight public school teachers reported that physical conflicts among students occurred every day; only one in 50 private school teachers said the same (12 percent versus 2 percent). How are teachers supposed to teach?

The institutional environment is undermined by government control in other ways, too, undercutting teachers’ relationships with peers and school leaders:

Where parents are in charge, the school is free to be itself, and that cultivates a strong spirit. Private school teachers were much more likely to strongly agree that there is a great deal of cooperation between staff members (60 percent versus 41 percent), that their colleagues shared their values and understanding of the core mission of the school (63 percent versus 38 percent), and that their fellow teachers consistently enforced school rules (42 percent versus 29 percent).

These intangible factors affect how schools manage their more material affairs. Private schools almost always have smaller budgets than public schools. Yet somehow private school teachers were more likely to strongly agree they had all the textbooks and supplies they needed (67 percent versus 41 percent). They were also more likely to strongly agree they got all the support they needed to teach special needs students (72 percent versus 64 percent). And although their class sizes were only moderately smaller, private school teachers were much more likely to strongly agree that they were satisfied with their class sizes (61 percent versus 34 percent).

Sure enough, teachers who are accountable to parents are a lot happier than teachers who are accountable to government. Check it out and let me know what you think!

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