Sour apples for teachers, survey shows
Educators: Lack of control, class sizes most vexing issues
Results from the 2013 Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning (TELL) Colorado survey of educators show many District 51 teachers felt earlier this year they did not have control over decision-making in the classroom, reasonable class sizes or evaluations that accurately identify who is effective at their job.
The 97-question survey is offered every two years and sponsored by the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado League of Charter Schools, the American Federation of Teachers and Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office. Teachers took the survey this year between Feb. 6 through March 11.
Survey questions ask teachers to strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with statements ranging from “teachers have reasonable class sizes” to “parents/guardians know what is going on in this school.” Questions cover 11 categories, including school leadership, professional development, community support, managing students and how well new teachers receive support.
Statewide, 33,200 teachers completed the survey, a turnout of 54.5 percent. Twelve hundred District 51 teachers completed the survey this year, a completion rate of 84 percent.
RESULTS VARY BY SCHOOL
District 51 teachers were more likely than their statewide peers to say parents and community members do not support teachers, by a margin of seven percentage points. Thirty-five percent of district teachers said parents aren’t doing enough to support teachers and 34 percent said community members do not support teachers.
Title I schools Clifton, Dos Rios and Rocky Mountain elementary schools were the most likely to get a poor rating for parent support, while 100 percent of teachers at Loma and Scenic elementary schools said parents do support teachers. East Middle School teachers were the most likely to say community support for teachers is lacking, while all New Emerson and Grande River Virtual Academy teachers said they have community support.
While 52 percent of District 51 teachers said they have reasonable class sizes, the range of responses on class size tipped from all but 13 percent of Lincoln Orchard Mesa Elementary teachers saying they have unreasonable class sizes to just 17 percent of teachers at Dos Rios Elementary calling class sizes unreasonable.
District 51 teachers also had wide variances in the categories of school atmosphere and support from administration and fellow teachers. A third of District 51 teachers surveyed said there is not an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect at their school, one percentage point ahead of the state average. Mutual trust and respect are high among teachers at the Career Center, Dual Immersion Academy, Grande River Virtual Academy, Loma Elementary, Pear Park Elementary, Scenic Elementary, West Middle School and Wingate Elementary.
But more than four out five of teachers at two schools disagreed with the statement: Fruita Middle School (82 percent) and Tope Elementary (81 percent). Fruita Middle School also had the district’s highest rate of teachers who said leadership in their school is ineffective (just 35 percent called it effective). Tope placed third in that category, just behind Broadway Elementary with 54 percent calling school leadership ineffective.
Tope’s principal during the time of the survey, Jeannie Dunn, retired over the summer and has been replaced by Carrie Bollinger. Fruita Middle School’s principal, Brig Leane, now in his third year at the school, is one of six to eight District 51 principals, according to District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz, who made an action plan for improving leadership and morale as a response to TELL survey results and shared the plan with his boss and the school’s teachers. Schultz said TELL results have prompted frequent check-ins by district executives at schools that indicated problems and additional supports for principals and staff ranging from coaching to increased oversight from directors.
“They were all taken seriously,” he said of the TELL results.
Darren Cook, president of local teachers union Mesa Valley Education Association, said the results and any changes taken to address issues that come through in the results need to be addressed as quickly as possible.
“We need to make substantive changes in some of our school climates because the climate directly correlates with student performance. It may not show up in the first year, but it will show up,” Cook said.
The schools most likely to praise their leadership as effective are Dual Immersion Academy (100 percent agree), Loma Elementary (94 percent), and Nisley Elementary (91 percent). All teachers surveyed at seven schools said their leadership consistently supports them: Dual Immersion, Gateway School, Grande River Virtual Academy, Loma, New Emerson, Pear Park Elementary and Scenic Elementary.
LACK OF AUTONOMY
One of the statements District 51 teachers took most issue with was “teachers have autonomy to make decisions about instructional delivery.” Fifty-four percent of District 51 teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, compared to 26 percent of Colorado teachers surveyed. Fewer than seven out of 10 district teachers agreed that curriculum meets student needs.
Cook said the curriculum and autonomy scores are likely linked. The district rolled out a unified curriculum in 2011 that included teaching guides that suggested which units should be taught when in certain subjects. The goal was to make it easier for students transferring between schools to learn the same lessons at any school and allow the district to provide the “what” to teach while teachers provided the “how” to teach it, according to Cook. However, he said, not all principals made that clear.
Schultz said the guidelines are supposed to be tools for a teacher, not rigid mandates. He added some teachers may be feeling overwhelmed due to many state mandates that have been layered onto school systems in the last half-decade, including transitioning standardized tests, a new “grading” system for schools that makes them write a plan to improve or continue succeeding, and new academic standards.
“We need to find more resources to do more professional development when you’re dealing with that amount of change because that’s how you clarify the confusion,” Schultz said.
District 51 teachers were also more likely than teachers statewide to disagree that teacher evaluations accurately identify effectiveness. The evaluations used this spring have been replaced in 2013-14 with new evaluations because this is Colorado’s first year with new teacher and principal evaluation systems that require evaluations every year, base half of a teacher’s evaluation score on student test growth and, if a teacher is evaluated for two consecutive years as “ineffective,” could remove them for tenured status.
The old system allowed principals to set up their own guidelines for evaluating a teacher and scored them on a pass/fail basis, according to Schultz. The new evaluations operate on a rubric of items to check for and can rate a teacher in one of four levels.