Last year the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published research that examined how teachers feel about their jobs. In particular, the study compared how public school teachers and private school teachers viewed their jobs and working conditions.
The study, which you can read by clicking on Free To Teach: What teachers say about teaching in public and private schools, uncovers a huge problem in our nation’s public schools. Here’s a passage from the executive summary:
These are eye-opening data for the teaching profession. They show that public school teachers are currently working in a school system that doesn’t provide the best environment for teaching. Teachers are victims of the dysfunctional government school system right alongside their students. Much of the reason government schools produce mediocre results for their students is because the teachers in those schools are hindered from doing their jobs as well as they could and as well as they want to. By listening to teachers in public and private schools, we discover numerous ways in which their working conditions differ — differences that certainly help explain the gap in educational outcomes between public and private schools. Exposing schools to competition, as is the case in the private school sector, is good for learning partly because it’s good for teaching.
Here are some revealing results from the research (response levels are given in the study document):
Private school teachers are more likely to say:
- “I plan to remain in teaching as long as I am able.”
- “I have a great deal of control over selecting textbooks and other instructional materials in my classroom.”
- “I have a great deal of control over selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught in my classroom.”
- “I have a great deal of control over disciplining students in my classroom.”
- “Necessary materials such as textbooks, supplies, and copy machines are available as needed.”
- “I am given the support I need to teach students with special needs.”
Public school teachers are more likely to say:
- “I plan to remain in teaching until I am eligible for retirement”
- “Routine duties and paperwork interfere with my job of teaching.”
- “The level of student misbehavior in this school interferes with my teaching.”
- “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it.”
- “A student has threatened to physically injure me.”
- “A student has physically attacked me.”
The study concludes “Private school teachers consistently report having better working conditions than public school teachers across a wide variety of measurements. Most prominently, private schools provide teachers with more classroom autonomy, a more supportive school climate, and better student discipline. It appears that the dysfunctions of the government school system — long evident in mediocre educational outcomes — are a problem for teachers as well as for students.”
A question I have is this: Since nearly all public school teachers belong to a union and practically no private school teachers belong, what are the teachers unions doing? Don’t the unions care about the working conditions of their members?
Last fall working conditions in USD 259, the Wichita public school district, became an issue when Larry Landwehr, president of United Teachers of Wichita, the union for Wichita public school teachers, addressed the board. In coverage at In Wichita, public school teacher working conditions are an issue, Landwehr specifically cited “current economic conditions that teachers face, the long negotiations, the increased paperwork and workload placed upon educators over the past few years, the decline in academic freedom and professional judgment of the teachers, and the added pressure of meeting AYP.”