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Survey: Educators Voices Must Be Heard in Reform Debate

By Cynthia McCabe

March 3, 2010 -- Higher salaries are important, but not as crucial as supportive leadership, teachers said in overwhelming numbers in a survey released today by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic Inc.

A partner in the principal's office ranked highly, followed by time to collaborate and quality curriculum, according to the 40,000 teachers polled by Harris Interactive for the Primary Sources report. When it comes to assessing student achievement, respondents said they value multiple measures such as class assignment performance and participation.

Due to the size and scope of the study, the resulting report allows for analysis of teachers' views by grade taught, urbanicity, income-level, years of experience and more. The report also provides an in-depth look at state-by-state data, revealing significant differences in teacher views from one state to another.

Such findings are especially significant now -- as federal officials and lawmakers prepare to take up reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and release competitive School Improvement Grant money in the "Race to the Top" initiative. They underscore the necessity of educators' voices being included in the national debate on school reform, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said.

"School improvement cannot be imposed from on-high without input from educators, but instead must have the full support of classroom teachers," Van Roekel said. "The results reiterate what our members tell us: teachers have sound ideas for school improvement, and they are eager to help students succeed."

He called the report "one more piece of evidence of the need to be front and center in the dialogue," adding that "policymakers in Washington, D.C., and across the country would do well to take these findings to heart.”

The importance of bringing teacher voices to conversations around education reform also was underscored in the most recent MetLife Survey of the American Teacher in which two-thirds of teachers said they felt teachers were not adequately heard in the debate on education.

The Gates Foundation/Scholastic Inc. survey, which was conducted by phone and on the web from mid-March to mid-June 2009, identifies five solutions to address the challenges facing schools today and to help ensure that all students achieve at their highest levels:  establish clear standards that are common across states, use multiple measures to evaluate student performance, innovate to reach today's students, accurately measure teacher performance and provide non-monetary rewards, and bridge school and home to raise student achievement.

"Primary Sources tells us that teachers see a need for stronger curriculum that relates to the real world, clear academic standards from grade to grade and reliable data on student learning," said Vicki L. Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "The survey tells us that what's good for students and student achievement is good for teachers too -- in fact, it's what they want."

NEA's 3.2 million members are constantly examining ways to close achivement gaps, reduce dropout rates and better serve underperfoming schools. To that end, more than 30 teams of teachers, administration and school board representatives are meeting in New York City tomorrow at an NEA summit on priority schools, where the results of this survey will inform next steps to improving those schools most in need.


Read the full Primary Sources report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Scholastic Inc.

Learn more about how educators are advancing reform through NEA's Priority Schools Campaign