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Study of public and private school teachers reveals sharp differences

Last week the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published research that examines 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?

A bigger question is why we continue to pour increasing resources into a system where the workers feel so negatively about their jobs when an alternative is available. Government monopolies like the public school system rarely do a good job. We need to give Kansas parents a choice as to where to send their children, and we need to give Kansas teachers better places to work. The government school system has had plenty of time and huge amounts of money at their disposal. Widespread school choice in Kansas deserves a chance to correct this dismal situation.

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12 Comments

  1. public school proponent May 29, 2009

    Apples to oranges, you cannot compare the two unless you make both follow the same guidelines.

    Private schools and pick and choose their students. They can deny entry to anyone. The public schools must allow all, many who are very unwilling to be there and many more who arrive just needing a shelter.

    Private schools can eject any student who does not follow their rules, public schools must find ways to encourage and inspire those who are less than ideal students.

  2. kimpot54 May 29, 2009

    Public school proponent accepts the current situation that keeps our public schools and teachers from doing their jobs: that we can make no judgments about and impose no standards for behavior. That is just crap! “Cultural differences” in behavior should not mean that we accept all behavior no matter how disruptive it is for other students. Public ed supporters use this as a crutch for doing a poor job for our kids and society. If we had a voucher or tax credit system, each school could impose standards for behavior that are conducive to learning. Each time a student was expelled from his/her school of choice for bad behavior, the parent would be forced to go shopping for another school. When that student reached the end of the line–no more schools to choose from, since he/she has been ejected from all of them–maybe, just maybe that parent would be forced to take responsibility for that child’s behavior. Poverty should not be an excuse for bad behavior, just as wealth should not an excuse for being indulged. Public ed in its current form is doomed. It has been run into the ground by liberals who are more concerned about job security for adults–no matter how bad the working environment–than they are about educating children.

  3. public school proponent May 29, 2009

    I do NOT accept what we have. Not at ALL. but you can NOT compare private and public schools.

    Vouchers are not the answer. How many do you know who can pay the extra???

    Or, look at my situation. Both my children have graduated and gone on to further their education but they had to take different paths.

    1. My son was born with a physical disability that a private school, besides not having the capability of helping him, would NOT have. It would not have been cost effective. He graduated and continued on through college and was not a discipline problem. Whether I could pay or not, private school was not an option.

    My second child swept through school with honors, again no discipline problem but if vouchers would have been active then, I would have HAD to send her to the private school because all you would have found at the public school would have been those not accepted for either discipline problems, special needs, or children from families that could not have afforded the money beyond the vouchers to send their children to private school.

    Please look at the big picture, not the small part you wish for.

    Maybe, here in Wichita, there would be a private school that would accept and work with a disabled child but not in most communities!

    YES, our public schools MUST change but again, vouchers are not the answer.

  4. Oldphart May 29, 2009

    “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?” The teachers union came about to protect the members from overbearing employers who pointed fingers and blamed teachers for the woes of the system. If the school system had discipline, was focused on better education, and let the teachers do their job, the demand for private schools would not be what it is. The Wichita School System should try spending their money on supplies for teachers that are doing their best with what they have. Then the teachers would not be asking students to “donate” supplies like paper, markers, and items used daily. Money could be saved by reducing the behemoth infrastructure that has become the administration. Get back to KISS.

  5. public school proponent May 29, 2009

    The problem with public schools is something that’s very hard to change. It’s the Parents, stupid.

    Look at the students who fail or cause problems, it starts at home.

  6. dan eyler May 29, 2009

    Its always the same old excuse for public schools. All the troubled students that the public schools have to take on. Although I think there is some validity to this I have know doubt that most of that can easily be corrected with a strict behavior code of conduct. There sits the issue. Unecceptable behavior is allowed and excuses are made. Children, even those who have learning problems can meet a standard of behavior if established from day one til graduation. Instead the teachers unions are focused on what’s in it for them. Public schools for the most part are a mess and getting worse.

  7. kimpot54 May 29, 2009

    Once again, psp, you accept the status quo and assume that we can make no changes. A voucher or tax credit system would result in special needs schools springing up like flowers in a garden. We have a facility right here in Wichita, Heartspring. If it could serve more students with a broader range of needs, it would. It’s called the entrepreneurial spirit, and it would come alive in our K-12 schools. Traditional schools, schools for children with dyslexia, schools that indulge a child’s every whim, schools that specialize in educating children growing up in poverty… lots of schools would become available to everyone. The cost of ALL K-12 education would decrease with competition, although special needs children would surely get a larger voucher than those without learning problems or physical disabilities. AND good schools would stay in business, because parents who have chosen bad schools for their children initially would vote with their feet putting those schools out of business. Teachers could form charter schools, where they become their own bosses and choose curricula–just like teachers in private schools do today. And as far as bad parents are concerned… we as a society have created bad parents with our culture of generational poverty (thank you LBJ), acceptance of out of wedlock births (children raising children), and our general distaste for making judgments about the behavior of anyone–including indulgent parents. Whatever floats your boat is only OK when it doesn’t hurt the rest of society. There are 2 thing that keep us from changing the system: The adults who guarantee their job security by perpetuating it, and the people that system has educated to believe we have no other choice.

  8. craig gabel May 29, 2009

    psp my children will all attend private school, even if we have to live in a shack, even if I have to work 2 jobs, even if I have to skip meals or forgo the use of cigarettes
    even if I have to where DAV clothes, or have holes in my shoes and socks, that’s what my children’s education an future mean to me. Now you tell me how many people can afford to send their children to private school. P.S. My daughter has a learning disability and 2 of her class mates are nothing short of challenged.
    100% of her class passed the State tests
    for math and reading, compared to 68% for USD 259. The government talks about “no child left behind” private schools live it.

  9. craig gabel May 29, 2009

    Keeping kids in school should be our #1 priority. Most parents that don’t finish high school present an attitude to their children that finishing high school is no big deal “after all look at me I’m doing OK and I never finished”. So this generation of high school dropouts breeds the next generation of high school drop outs. I should know my father dropped out. After I had to stay late a few times in high school he was quick to let me know “one more time and I will take you out of school to work at the farm till you’re 18” No man truly wants to be shown up by his son, and me graduating drove a wedge between us. But nothing compared to me being accepted as a State Scholar and eligible for grants to WSU. None of which I could receive without proof of his income, which he withheld.
    Don’t let the same tired arguments hide the solution. PSP if most kids went to private school that costs just $4000 per student per year just think what the State could do for the kids that stayed in public school with the $9000 per student savings, (what is that $300 million savings). But OMG your union would be out of business.

  10. Kathy May 30, 2009

    Public School Proponent — I certainly do not accept your suggestion that special needs students would be neglected in a voucher system. I homeschool BECAUSE my oldest son has autism and the school could not provide the one-on-one instruction that he most needed. They were required to use “inclusion” that involved pulling him in and out of a regular ed class all day. I know MANY people with special needs who send their kids to private school or homeschool because the public schools weren’t doing a good job with their kids. Private schools DO work with special needs. kids. Choice benefits everyone not just “honor” students.. Your argument is not supported by facts.

  11. […] examine whether the union is really in their best interests. While not specific to Wichita, my post Study of public and private school teachers reveals sharp differences reports on the extreme dissatisfaction public school teachers have with their working conditions. […]

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