Ep. 375: Monthly Tracker – Teacher Results

June 9, 2023

Our own team member and former elementary school teacher, Margo Foster joins the podcast to discuss the results from this month’s teacher survey.

Mike McShane: Hello and welcome back to another edition of EdChoice Chats. This is Mike McShane, Director of National Research at EdChoice, and we have got a very special podcast today. At the end of April and beginning of May, we put a poll in the field surveying America’s teachers. And thankfully 961 of them replied. This is with our partnership with Morning Consult that you have… If you’re a frequent listener to this podcast, you’ve heard about over and over again. But we are doing one of our somewhat less frequent teacher polls and we were thinking to ourselves, who would be a good person to talk about what teachers in America think? Now, I was a teacher for a few years, but that was a very long time ago, I think, I don’t know, Colyn and John were probably eight and nine years old at that time period. So it’s just makes me feel old, just like it happens all the time. 

I hope you all enjoyed the great teen podcast that was there. I decided not to participate in that because it would make me feel just that much older, but the guys did a great job with that and I appreciate it. But we thought who could possibly be better than our wonderful colleague Margo Foster? And Margo was a teacher quite recently and actually left the classroom to join EdChoice, so I think given that she is the person who was in the classroom the most recent on our team at EdChoice, she sort of drew the short straw and is going to join us on the podcast today. So you will hear other familiar voices, John Kristof, Colyn Ritter, who are also participating as usual, but I think the real star of the show, the belle of the ball is Margo. So, Margo, thank you so much for joining us today. 

Margo Foster: Thanks for having me, Mike. I’m excited to be part of this today and excited to get some thoughts out there with you guys, and the best team at EdChoice. 

Mike McShane: And Margo is in true teacher fashion, it’s solving problems, it’s improvising. Margo is actually joining us from her car and yet her car might as well be like a sound studio because at first I saw she was calling in from her car and I was like, “Well, I don’t know how this is going to work.” And the audio’s fantastic. So just like the teacher that you are, solving problems, it’s a wonderful thing to see. So I think I’ll throw the first question to you, Margo, you’ve had a chance to look at our survey. And again, those of you that are interested, you can always go to EdChoice.morningconsultintelligence.com and find the most recent version of our survey and all of the cross tabs and the actual questionnaire, all of that’s available. But maybe just kind of big picture, is there anything that surprised you? I mean, again, sort of taking your own experience of being in the classroom recently we asked a whole battery of questions about everything from wellbeing to thinking about public policy to thinking about practice. So what maybe was most surprising to you? 

Margo Foster: Honestly, Mike, the thing that was the most surprising to me was like a correlation between two things. And I think we highlighted it as one of our greatest findings, but it was the correlation between pessimism in general for teachers to be pessimistic about the profession, but then they are still promoting the profession. I thought that that was interesting how pessimism is going up and promotion is also going up. I don’t know how that is. I don’t know what’s going on there, but I was also a little bit alarmed by some of those numbers as well. 

Mike McShane: So for folks that are listening, we asked this Net Promoter Score question that some of you may be familiar with. You might have gotten it in a survey after you’ve stayed in a hotel or shopped at a Home Depot where we ask people on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend teaching to a friend or a family member? And you basically can create this net score by you take the high numbers and you subtract the low numbers from them. And as Margo pointed out, we see this sort of interesting disconnect where across several dimensions, teachers say that they’re not necessarily happy, but a very large number of them still say, “Hey, you should participate in this.” I don’t know, John or Colyn, did something stand out to either of you? 

Colyn Ritter: Yeah, so we asked teachers a plethora of questions about school safety. This was obviously the first teacher podcast after the tragedy in Nashville. And we asked them about specifically, do you support or oppose your local school district allowing teachers or administrators to carry a firearm in school? And the reason I find it interesting is because when we first asked this question of teachers, which was last summer, immediately following the Uvalde shooting in Texas, about one in five teachers said that they would support a policy allowing them to carry a firearm in school. So flash forward to today, and now we’re seeing 42%. So truly double the amount of teachers have said that they would support carrying a firearm in school compared to roughly a year ago today. So that proportion is doubled, and I thought that was pretty interesting. The proportion is highest amongst charter school teachers. 

45% of them said that they would be willing to support a policy that allowed them to carry a firearm. Private school and district school teachers were roughly two in five teachers support that policy from private and in public schools. So yeah, I thought that was a pretty big jump. I guess I really wasn’t expecting that large of a jump, but I think it makes sense. It’s about half of parents that support the policy for context. So parents are typically, from what we’ve seen the last couple teachers polls, parents are more accepting of this policy. Teachers have been a little bit more skeptical, but the jump from 21% to 42% I thought was pretty significant and it raised an eyebrow. 

Mike McShane: So then, Margo, I might actually ask you the reverse question. So if that question was what was most surprising for you, I would ask, what was the least surprising finding for you? 

Margo Foster: Yeah, Mike, there were a few things that were not super surprising, but the one that jumped out to me was that according to the survey it says that about half of teachers under 55 had considered leaving the profession. So when you look to the left and right of you, you know like two in four, one in two, that is never surprising because just considering it, there’s a lot of troubles that come with teaching and a lot of frustration that can come with it. So yeah, a lot of people are considering leaving. Now, I would love to see what that means, like how many people have actually left and what that percentage would be like. 

Mike McShane: No, I think that’s very true. It’s always an interesting question, like, well, have you considered leaving? Well, I’ve considered doing a lot of things, but that doesn’t necessarily… I considered playing in the NBA, but I don’t think that was going to really pan out for me. But no, I think it’s a very good point. John or Colyn, did anything… I would say that sort of stood out for you because it didn’t stand out, that it wasn’t surprising, it was something you expected to see? 

John Kristof: For me, something that jumped out as something relatively obvious was a couple questions that we had on teacher preparation. And I guess I’ll preface this by saying that there are a lot of people out there in education research world who are much more of an expert on this topic than me. But I did watch my spouse go through teacher preparation through a transition to teaching program and she had a lot of frustrations through the process and I was kind of watching her go through it. And so I have some priors going into questions about teacher preparation. So one of the questions that we asked was how much did your institution and the curriculum and preparation in the institution prepare you for a variety of the following content? 

So for example, how much were you prepared for teaching in public district schools or private schools or charter schools or online schools? And there’s a few more. Unsurprising to me, teachers were most likely to say that they felt that their teacher preparation prepared them for teaching in public schools. And this makes a lot of sense. I mean, in fairness, most teachers in the country are public school teachers. Now that said, if you live in a choice rich area, as Central Indiana where we live is one of those areas, there are all sorts of non-traditional schooling options. 

And if your teacher preparation program doesn’t account for just changes in what is possible or changes in what expectations might be, I mean, even when you have an open enrollment district and different schools are kind of specializing or kind of marketing themselves in different ways, as you have the case with Indianapolis high schools, there’s a certain level of adaption I think that teacher preparation should be undergoing to kind of adapt to the times. Different relationships with curriculum, different expectations for how much teachers are expected to generate their own curriculum versus working with something that the school has, which is maybe much more the case in a charter school or private school type of situation. 

I guess I should say that in the following question, most teachers still felt that they were prepared to teach in a private setting or a charter setting or something like that, which I’m also not surprised. And I’m sure that most teachers would be just fine transitioning to another setting with some adaption. But that said, there is a very clear distinction that teachers feel that their teacher preparation is very targeted toward teaching in public district settings. So for people in the audience in choice world, it is one thing to provide options for children’s education, but something that will boost diversity of options going forward will also be a system where teachers can do lots of different things. And there are lots of teachers who feel comfortable in lots of different settings and don’t feel funneled into one particular kind of system or expectation. And again, there are a lot of other people who are more experts on this than me. My expertise on this comes from secondhand research and secondhand experience. But our survey responses, I think, reflected both of those. 

Margo Foster: John, you bring up a good point. I actually was lucky enough to be graduating my teacher accreditation program during COVID in 2020. And I remember we almost didn’t graduate because they weren’t able to bend the rules and try to figure out things so that we could continue on into the world of education as we were needing teachers who were dropping left and right when COVID started. And it was an interesting time. I remember sitting on the couch with my mom and literally looking at her in the eye and being like, “Am I graduating this year? Are they going to allow me to continue because now I’m teaching online instead of in person?” And there were times where it was about a 70% shot that I was not going to graduate that year. Yeah, I think we can see some more flexibility in the way that teachers are being prepared for the classroom. 

Mike McShane: So the last question which I’ll start, maybe I’ll throw out, Margo, to you first and then everybody can kind of chime in on is just the sort of one big takeaway. If you could only share one finding from the survey with teachers that you know, what is that one thing that you would share? Margo, I’ll throw it to you first and then John and Colyn, if you want to jump in afterwards, that’d be great. 

Margo Foster: So this one was a hard one for me to go through all of the information, it’s also good and to point out a few things, but I think the biggest one that I wanted to point out was how teachers view school and how parents view school and what the purpose of K-12 education looks like. And what I’m looking at is grades K through eight specifically, parents were believing that core academic subjects was the most important thing and teachers have that listed as their third most important thing. I think that just goes to show how choice and choice rich environments would benefit both teachers and parents because you find that once you get in the right school system, your views are going to align. You’re going to have a better opportunity for your child because you agree with what’s going on in that school. 

And vice versa, teachers will be happier because they’re teaching according to what their priorities are and they’re teaching to the parents who believe that that is the priority of education. That was the one that I was looking at the most, but we had quite a few where teachers and parents were just slightly misaligned and it just goes to prove that choice rich environments will ultimately be something that benefits all people involved in education. So I thought that that was interesting. 

John Kristof: Something that I’m always drawn to, and this trend does not change much from teacher survey to teacher survey, but I’m always drawn to it, the difference in Net Promoter Scores. Margo touched on this net promoter question earlier. Something that’s worth noting is how a teacher’s likelihood of promoting the profession seems to be heavily correlated to whether they teach in a district school or not. So just to relay some of the numbers, we basically put these people into three categories. If you say on a scale of 1 to 10, you’re like a 9 or a 10 of likelihood of recommending the teaching profession, then we consider you like a promoter 9 or 10. If you’re a 7 or 8, we consider you just kind of passive. And if you’re like a 0 or 6, we consider that a detractor, which seems like pretty standard for this type of question. 

If you gave a six to a hotel, they’re probably not super happy with that response, to carry over Mike’s analogy from earlier. So district school teachers, 29% are promoters and 50% are detractors. And so that you don’t have to pull out your phone and do the basic math, that means that district school teachers are 21 percentage points less likely to be a promoter as opposed to a detractor. In comparison, private school teachers are 34 percentage points more likely to be a promoter compared to a detractor. Charter school teachers 42 percentage points more likely to be a promoter than a detractor. These are 50, 60 point swings on how basically positive you would be about the teaching profession when sharing it with your friends or family just depending on where you teach. And I think perhaps a lot of people who are very supportive of the public school system might assume that there’s some demographic variable here over public school teaching is harder, so of course there’s less likely to be a promoter because it’s more specialized skill or whatever. 

I’m just kind of carrying through these arguments in my head. And when I look at the cross tabs for this question, I’m really not sure that that’s true, that that’s exactly the case. For example, suburban teachers are actually more likely to be a detractor than teachers in urban settings. And when you just kind of look at demographics, high poverty areas, high disadvantaged areas tend to be concentrated in urban areas and that tends to be where the high cost of education is. Those people are still more likely to promote the teaching profession than people in suburban settings. So what that tells me is it doesn’t really have anything to do with the student population and that making a difference, in addition to that, a lot of charter schools, a lot more than people expect, specialize in serving disadvantaged populations. 

That’s certainly true in Indianapolis where in the IPS district boundaries, charter schools serve a higher percentage of disadvantaged youth than the public schools do, even in the urban core of Indianapolis. So we didn’t narrow down the survey to those people, but when you’re talking about a 50 or 60 point swing, it’s not student population and the cross tabs, I think don’t bear that out. There’s something going on with the difference of teaching in a private or charter school setting versus a district school setting that I think should be explored. And maybe if you’re a teacher, obviously there’s a lot of financial incentive to remain in a district setting because of a pension system. Our colleague, Marty Lueken, has done a lot of work on that. But if you feel like you’re kind of stuck, maybe if you’re in a choice rich area, consider the other kinds of schools that are in your area. Can’t make a guarantee, but perhaps you might feel better about your position in another type of school. Just something to consider. 

Colyn Ritter: So the thing that I take away and what I love about the fact that we do these teacher, teen and parent surveys is being able to compare differences and similarities to how they answer each of these questions. And we do have some questions that overlap over all three surveys, which I think is one of the things I go to the quickest when I’m looking at these. So we asked teachers this month in this way of, how well do you feel your school addresses the following amongst its students? We asked teachers and we asked each group about four things each month, and it’s mental health, guns, bullying and violent behaviors. So very prevalent and important topics in schools beyond just the actual schooling experience, but kind of the things that factor into a kid’s experience, a teacher’s experience, parents’ experiences when they’re thinking about what they want to out of the school or where they’re sending their kids. 

When people were envisioning the idea of school, how to deal with guns and mental health was probably not at the top of their list of big worries, but here we are today where it is. So I’m going to focus in on mental health and 44% of teachers say that they believe their school handles mental health effectively for its students. And I look at it as 56% of teachers say that their school is not handling mental health well. And to me, that’s a significant chunk. And for comparison, parents are at 49% feel their school is addressing it effectively. So roughly half. Teens are much less optimistic about how their school handles it. They’re at 34%. So roughly one in three teens think their school’s handling it well. I’m really interested, I haven’t had a chance yet, but I’m going to dive into the cross tabs for this and kind of see where it’s lagging. 

We do have some in the initial report and we break it out by the grade at which the teacher’s teaching. So we have elementary, middle school, and high school. And elementary and high school are lagging behind teachers overall when it comes to how many would say that their school handles mental health effectively, high school only 40%. So two in five teachers believe that their school’s handling it well. And I think that, I mean, the mental health crisis is one of the biggest problems that we are facing now and it’s going to continue to be an obstacle in the future, especially for teens. And it’s playing a role here for teachers as well. And that to me is just another example of choice has blown up in 2023 and it’s been around, but it’s had a very big year in terms of advancing in legislatures and across the country and more states have adopted it. 

And it’s kind of under the pretense that if a school is not meeting the academic needs of a student, then that student deserves options. And I believe mental health should exist in the same breath. If a school is not doing enough to support the mental health of your child, then that student deserves options. And these results from the teachers showing that more than half the majority of teachers believe that their school not effectively handling mental health just kind of shows that this is a serious problem and it’s not being handled as well as it should. Parents are most optimistic, but to me, I put a little bit more weight into the teachers and students’ observations of the school considering they’re just a little bit closer than the parents. But the parents’ opinion is significant too. And they’re not convinced either. It’s about a coin flip whether parents think their school’s doing well with mental health. So yeah, that was my biggest takeaway and I’m hoping to see these increase in the future. But it’s really interesting to see the comparisons between parents, teachers, and teens here and teachers are not convinced. 

Mike McShane: Well, Colyn, John, thank you so much for your participation as usual and a special thank you to Margo. I hope that this is not the one and only time that you participate in this podcast and we’ll bring you in for not just teacher related questions, but for general purpose as well. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today and thanks everybody for listening. And I can’t not forget… I can’t not forget? I think I turned myself around on that one. I don’t want to forget to thank Jacob Vinson, our wonderful podcast producer who puts this all together and I look forward to chatting with all of you again. We’ll have a new poll out shortly, our general population poll that you’ve come to know and love. You can always check out the resources, EdChoice.morningconsultintelligence.com, and I look forward to talking to all of you again on another edition of EdChoice Chats.