Teaching and Learning Conditions

April 6, 2010 | Blog

I’m catching up on education news and blogging after some well-spent time with our family in New York and Vermont last week….

Both successful Phase One Race to the Top (RttT) states — Delaware and Tennessee — plan to conduct a statewide teacher working conditions survey. Was this the secret to each state’s victory? Well, not exactly, as the states of Colorado, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Ohio also built such a survey into their applications. Of course, each of those states were among the 16 Phase One semifinalists. So, maybe there is something there.

Independent of RttT, however, such efforts are in line with President Obama’s recent Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which would require states and districts to collect and report teacher survey data on available professional support and working conditions in schools biennially.

Research has demonstrated a connection between positive teaching and learning conditions, teacher retention, and student achievement.

  • “There is good evidence to show that teachers’ working conditions matter because they have a direct effect on teachers’ thoughts and feelings—their sense of individual professional efficacy, of collective professional efficacy, of job satisfaction; their organizational commitment, levels of stress and burnout, morale, engagement in the school or profession and their pedagogical content knowledge. These internal states are an important factor in what teachers do and have a direct effect in what happens in the classroom, how well students achieve, and their experience of school.” (Leithwood, 2006)
  • “Working conditions emerge as highly predictive of teachers’ stated intentions to remain or leave their schools, with leadership emerging as the most salient dimension. Teachers’ perceptions of their working conditions are also predictive of one-year actual departure rates and student achievement, but the predictive power is far lower…Taken together, the working conditions variables account for 10 to 15 percent of the explained variation in math and reading scores across schools, after controlling for individual and school level characteristics of schools.” (Ladd, 2009)
  • “[O]ur analysis of teacher mobility showed that salary affects mobility patterns less than do working conditions such as facilities, safety and quality of leadership.” (Hanushek and Rivkin, 2007)
  • “…working conditions factors, especially principal support, had more influence on simulated job choice than pay level, implying that money might be better spent to attract, retain or train better principals than to provide higher beginning salaries to teachers in schools with high-poverty or a high proportion of students of color.” (Milanowski et al., 2009)
  • A survey of 2,000 educators from California found that 28 percent of teachers who left the profession before retirement indicated that they would come back if improvements were made to teaching and learning conditions. (Futernick, 2007)

Last week’s press release from the New Teacher Center goes into greater detail:

“Research has shown that understanding and improving teaching and learning conditions results in increased student success, improved teacher efficacy and motivation, higher teacher retention, and better recruitment strategies that bring educators to hard-to-staff schools,” said Ellen Moir, Chief Executive Officer of the New Teacher Center. “In the past, policymakers have not had the data necessary they need to address educators’ working conditions. Our surveys change this by putting valuable information in the hands of people who make important decisions every day that impact our schools and all those who work and learn in them.”

The New Teacher Center (NTC) assists states and school districts in administering the anonymous, web-based Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey. The NTC has a proven track record of successful administration of teaching and learning conditions surveys in 15 states. In addition to working with state stakeholders to design a customized survey, NTC provides analyses and training materials to help all stakeholders understand and use the Teaching and Learning Conditions Survey results for school improvement.

The Teaching & Learning Conditions Survey has the longest history in North Carolina where policymakers at different levels have utilized Survey data in different ways. Local education leaders have used results at the district level to further bond initiatives. At the state level, data was used in rewriting standards for principals and teachers. The Survey initiative has been so expansive that it has supported the creation of additional funding for professional development in low-performing schools. Results also have led to the development of school leadership training which requires administrators to use Survey data in making school-level improvement decisions.

The news article (‘Teacher Surveys Aimed at Swaying Policymakers’) from Education Week‘s Stephen Sawchuk provides additional context:

Despite their differing sample sizes and specific questions, the surveys’ findings about what teachers say they need to be successful are remarkably consistent from instrument to instrument. Some of the top findings: Teachers report that the quality of their schools’ leadership, a say in school decisionmaking, and opportunities to work with their peers affect their own capacity as educators.

1 Comment

  1. Reply

    Liam Goldrick

    April 7, 2010


    A few thoughts from NTC (with insights from Eric Hirsch who directs the Teaching & Learning Conditions initiative):

    1. It is hard. That's exactly what Randi Weingarten said in Stephen Sawchuk’s recent Ed Week article. It's about using the data to drive school improvement conversations and to ensure all educators work in environments that maximize their effectiveness. It will be a challenge as the feds move from blueprint to policy and funding to make sure there are supports and resources to make that happen.

    2. In the 15 states we’ve worked with, there are a ton of examples of:

    a. Positive policy change – North Carolina revamped their evaluation processes, standards for teachers, principals and superintendents, provided principal PD, re-reviewed teacher and principal prep programs, etc., all due to the Survey's findings.

    b. Positive change in districts – NC school sup Jack Hoke in that same Ed Week article addressed issue of time and scheduling in schools. Lowell, MA was just profiled in AFT’s Teacher Magazine and used the data to redesign PD so it is more teacher-driven and focused.

    c. NTC works with state coalitions to ensure stakeholders and policymakers are assisting schools. We have school improvement guides and know many schools have used these to have conversations about improvement with the data. Links to our guide are available at www.ncteachingconditions.org or at www.tellmaryland.org.

    3. Schools with poor working conditions can’t make these changes on their own. Our data show that many schools lack the trust, capacity, etc. to grapple with these issues. We’ve seen many cases where states and districts have helped to facilitate and schools have taken on the challenge.

    It isn't only about the survey, but the survey must be part of an overall initiative to address teaching and learning conditions. You're right that the key part is making sure something happens. There are no guarantees, but by creating tools, building coalitions to implement and own the survey, and our analyses showing the importance for kids and teachers, such an initiative can and has led to real changes in states, districts, and schools.

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