Only 25 percent of all Michigan educators – and just 20 percent of teachers – would recommend a career in education to a young person they know, according to results released Wednesday from a statewide educator survey conducted last month.
Factors that most negatively affect Michigan educators’ professional satisfaction include lack of support from policymakers and politicians (72%) and lack of respect for the profession (66%), according to the survey of 16,878 educators conducted by Emma White Research LLC from Feb. 4-19.
The survey was fielded by Launch Michigan, a diverse alliance of education, labor, business and philanthropic organizations committed to establishing a shared agenda to ensure all Michigan students receive a best-in-class education.
MEA President Paula Herbart praised the effort to bring educators’ voices into the conversation about public education. The results show educators remain committed to their students but feel underappreciated, overworked, and unsupported.
“I hope that this survey will serve as a guidepost to an education agenda that drives innovation and success while respecting and honoring those who provide it,” Herbart said.
Excessive workload, bureaucracy and paperwork (64%) and better salaries in other fields (60%) were also top concerns cited by respondents, who included teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, counselors, media specialists, other professional ancillary staff, and education support professionals such as paraprofessionals, custodians, bus drivers, and secretaries.
“Teaching is a calling and a noble profession,” one survey participant said in an open-ended response. “The constant criticism from media and politicians is difficult. Not appreciated, valued or respected.”
Nearly 12 percent of those taking the survey say they plan to leave education for a different career over the next two to three years. Another 10 percent plan to retire.
According to researchers’ analysis of the data, important drivers for those who say they plan to leave include class sizes (having larger class sizes predicts leaving), and a number of attitudes and experiences, including feeling constrained rather than empowered in the classroom.
“I can’t emphasize enough the reason I will probably leave the field of education (the only thing I ever wanted to do) is more paperwork, less pay, less support,” one respondent said. “I’ve never before dreaded each day!”
After many years of declining state funding, educators see many priorities for improvement. The top three include reducing class sizes, increasing access to quality pre-school, and providing more funding to areas with the greatest student need.
On the other hand, educators believe standardized testing is not worth the money that the state already spends on it, the survey found. Only one in five educators says the information received from state assessments is worth the cost in time and effort.
One in four administrators feels the same way. Asked about the M-STEP in particular, twice as many educators say it is not useful as say it is useful—and among administrators that ratio is three-to-one.
Launch Michigan’s statewide survey was modeled after a similar educator survey fielded in Tennessee, where a nearly decade-long school improvement effort has yielded some promising results.
Key findings of the Michigan survey, including Tennessee comparisons:
- Educators are relatively positive about climate at their own schools, though not as universally as in Tennessee.
- 77% are “generally satisfied with being a teacher at this school” (87% in Tennessee);
- 64% feel appreciated for the job they are doing (79% in Tennessee);
- Just over half of teachers feel empowered to teach in the way that is best for their students (56%) rather than constrained (31%). In Tennessee, 73% feel empowered and only 13% constrained.
- Educators lean toward negative views on the quality of the professional learning they receive and the fairness and value of the teacher evaluation process. We see big gaps when compared to Tennessee on these issues.
- Just 43% report receiving professional learning suggestions tailored to them (compared to 77% in Tennessee).
- Only half of teachers (47%) say the teacher evaluation process is fair and even fewer (35%) say it has improved their teaching (compared to 77% and 72% in Tennessee).
- The data also reveal gaps in literacy supports – a critically important area, especially as Michigan moves toward implementation of the law requiring retention of 3rdgraders who do not meet literacy benchmarks.
- Nearly a quarter of educators (24%) say their school is not ready to provide any additional support for students who are held back – this rises to over four in ten in certain types of urban districts, especially those with high poverty and low per pupil spending.
- While majorities say their school libraries and classrooms have enough reading material for students, over three in ten do not – particularly in the same high poverty and lower-spending urban districts
- Large majorities of educators say each of the policy solutions presented in the survey would improve schools.
- Reducing class sizes (80% say it would make a “large impact”) and expanding access to high quality pre-school (65%) are the proposals most broadly identified as leading to big improvement in the schools.
- Majorities also say allocating funding based on student need, effective mentoring for early-career teachers and principals, and expanding programs to connect families with social services will have a large impact.
- Although fewer say additional literacy coaches would make a large impact (38%), this may be partly a function of awareness. Where literacy coaches and literacy interventionists are available (43% and 56% respectively say they have access to these supports), over two thirds of educators describe them as helpful.
The survey findings will be used by Launch Michigan to guide a set of policy recommendations it intends to propose to the Governor and state Legislature later this spring.
“This is a very rich set of data that provides Launch Michigan with a good read into the perceptions of front-line educators across the state,” White said. “The results show the passion that educators have for their students and their careers, as well as the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for education policy in this state.”