Within American public-school teaching generally, the weakening of teacher morale has long been a recognized phenomenon — although not to the degree evident in CCSD’s tops-in-the-nation numbers.
The roots of the whole public-school morale and culture issue received significant light in 1988, when the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) published a report from its Office of Educational Research and Improvement. That report included three revealing surveys of secondary-school teachers’ opinions.
What had led up to those surveys was that, earlier that decade, multiple federally financed studies had already reported differences in academic achievement between public and private secondary schools. The studies had triggered a firestorm by regularly finding the private high schools “more effective at promoting the academic success of their students.”
Thereafter, unique follow-up surveys went to both private and public secondary-school teachers — seeking to identify key differences in the environments within which the public- and the private-school teachers work.
Questionnaires presented teachers with 16 statements designed to elicit their perceptions of their school administrators, their fellow teachers and their students. For each of the statements, the teachers could select one of six responses — strongly disagree, disagree, slightly disagree, slightly agree, agree or strongly agree.
When the report was later compiled, the three “disagreement” responses were combined to indicate disagreement and the three “agreement” responses were combined to indicate agreement.
Principals, School Administration
Eight of the statements sought the teachers’ ratings of hypothetical characterizations of their principals and their school’s administration.
- The principal knows what kind of school he or she wants and has communicated it to the staff.
- This school's administration knows the problems faced by the staff.
- The school administration's behavior toward the staff is supportive and encouraging.
- In this school the teachers and the administration are in close agreement on school discipline policy.
- The principal lets staff members know what is expected of them.
- The principal is interested in innovation and new ideas.
- Necessary materials (e.g., textbooks, supplies, copy machines) are readily available as needed by the staff.
- The principal does a poor job of getting resources for this school.
To summarize, in every instance, selections made by public-school teachers indicated significantly inferior support and performance by their principals and administrations, when compared with how private-school teachers rated their principals’ support and performance.
The NCES report itself simply stated:
The majority of public and private secondary school teachers responded positively on each of these eight statements. Approximately 80 percent of the teachers in each type of private secondary school gave positive responses to each of the eight statements, while 60 to 70 percent of the public secondary school teachers shared these positive attitudes towards their principals and school administration).
Thus, relatively more teachers in public secondary schools expressed dissatisfaction with their principals and school administration (30 to 40 percent versus 15 to 20 percent).
Five of the statements that the teachers were asked to rate for applicability had to do with how they saw their fellow teachers:
- Most of my colleagues share my beliefs and values about what the central mission of the school should be.
- There is a great deal of cooperative effort among staff members.
- Staff members maintain high standards of performance for themselves.
- This school seems like a big family, everyone is so close and cordial.
- Staff members in this school generally don't have much school spirit.
This link opens a PDF of the resulting NCES table.
Again, public-school teachers reported significantly lower collegiality, cooperativeness and standards of performance than did private-school teachers.
At least three-quarters of all private secondary school teachers expressed positive attitudes towards their fellow teachers on each of these five items, with especially high levels of satisfaction concerning high standards of performance and cooperative efforts among staff (93 and 88 percent, respectively). Again, these findings were consistent across the types of private schools.
By way of comparison, two-thirds to three-quarters of the public school secondary teachers had positive opinions with regard to high standards of performance, cooperative effort and shared sense of school mission; but significantly fewer public school teachers gave good ratings on school spirit and sense of familial bond among the school staff (53 and 41 percent, respectively).
The remaining three questions concerned teachers’ attitudes regarding the effect of disruptive student behavior on the classroom teaching environment:
- The level of student misbehavior (e.g., noise, horseplay or fighting in the halls, cafeteria or student lounge) and/or drug or alcohol use in this school interferes with my teaching.
- The amount of student tardiness and class cutting in this school interferes with my teaching.
- The attitudes and habits my students bring to my class greatly reduce their chances for academic success.
If this link is clicked, a PDF of the relevant NCES table will open.
What NCES said was:
The positive attitudes that private secondary school teachers have towards their principals, school administrators, and fellow teachers carry over to their students, as well. Only one-third indicated that students' attitudes reduce their chances for academic success, and about one-sixth expressed concerns over student misbehavior, substance abuse, tardiness, and class cutting. These results are consistent in each of the private school types.
In stark contrast, over one-half of the public secondary school teachers indicated that students' attitudes, tardiness, and class cutting have adverse effect on the classroom environment and the students' chance for academic success, and 38 percent indicated that student misbehavior, substance abuse or both interfere with their teaching.
The three surveys clearly present a prima facie case that, generally speaking, greater job dissatisfaction and lower morale exist among public-sector secondary school teachers, as compared with their colleagues teaching in the private sector.
But what would be the underlying reason for this? What factors, if any, in the public-school model make it so often a negative for teachers — as well as, so frequently, the academic achievement of students?
Link to Part 4: The institutional reasons why public-school teachers face systemic obstacles and burdens that their private-school colleagues do not.