Bruno: Teacher Dissatisfaction Is Mostly About The Economy
The most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher has been much-discussed in education circles, but I think commentators are trying too hard to fit the results into their preferred education reform narratives.
The survey itself indicates strongly that the faltering economy is the biggest culprit behind the decline in teacher morale, but everybody seems to be downplaying that explanation while pointing the finger elsewhere: at bad teachers, at "reform", or at their least favorite policy makers.
Read on for my take on Hess, Ravitch, Cody, and what it all means.
First, Rick Hess hand waves away the precipitous drop in teachers "very satisfied" with their jobs - from 62% to 44% since 2008 - on the grounds that some of the dissatisfied teachers are probably also the least effective, and we should be ushering them out of the profession anyway. However, the top line numbers mask the fact that the decline in job satisfaction seems to have occurred broadly, and this suggests that it is unlikely that the burden of dissatisfaction is falling exclusively - or even primarily - on the least competent teachers.
Then, Diane Ravitch briefly acknowledges the importance of the Great Recession, but then proceeds to direct most of her ire toward education reformers, claiming that "[i]t cannot be accidental that the sharp drop in teacher morale coincides with the efforts...to end teacher tenure and seniority." In a somewhat similar vein, after making a compelling case that economic conditions are battering the teaching profession Anthony Cody makes a dubious pivot toward blaming NCLB and Arne Duncan. His justification? Simply that "it must be noted that this 70.5% increase in teachers planning to leave the profession has occurred between 2009 and 2011, on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's watch."
It's hard to believe, however, that these correlations are evidence of much causation. If education reform had begun in earnest in 2008, then it might be plausible that reform had caused the post-2008 decline in teacher satisfaction. In fact, however, NCLB was signed into law at the very beginning of 2002, and the reform wars have been waged rigorously at the policy level since then. Nevertheless, between 2001 and 2008 the overall percentage of teachers satisfied with their job actually ticked ever-so-slightly up, from 92% to 94%. The number of teachers very satisfied with their job rose 10 points in that time.
Additionally, the "70.5% increase in teachers planning to leave the profession" Anthony refers to warrants some context. He arrives at that troubling statistic by noting the increase in such teachers from 17% to 29% from 2009-2011. What should also be noted is that the 17% in 2009 was unusually low by historical standards and corresponded to the weakest labor market in 25 years. The 12-point increase, therefore, merely brought the level of teachers planning to leave up to the norm in recent history. (The number was 27% in 2006.)
Finally, if the education reform movement since 2008 is to blame for falling job satisfaction, then we should probably see a corresponding rise in the number of teachers who believe they are not treated as professionals. In fact, that number has risen only very slightly since 2006, from 17% to 21%.
So while Arne Duncan did, in fact appear on the national stage at about the same time that teacher satisfaction began to plummet, this probably was, to use Diane's term, "accidental", because 2008 was not the beginning of the reform movement and the subsequent few years were also a period of severe economic hardship for state and local budgets. As the survey itself says, since 2006 the number of teachers who feel their job is insecure has more than quadrupled, from 8% to 34%.
This is more or less exactly what we would expect during a period of school closures, consolidations, and layoffs. These economic impacts on teacher uncertainty are likely magnified by the fact that teachers today are less experienced on average than they have been historically, and thus enjoy fewer seniority protections than they have in the past. Explanations based on the current state of education reform are probably neither necessary nor justified by the evidence. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)