Improving The Quality Of Teaching In America

Improving The Quality Of Teaching In America

At a time when Americans view improving the quality of education as the most pressing issue confronting the nation, an overwhelming majority of the public considers improving the quality of teaching as the most important way to improve public education. A landmark national opinion poll shows the public strongly believes not only that quality teaching is the basic building block of better schools, but also that better teachers are the key to the American dream, particularly for the nation’s most disadvantaged students.


According to the poll, roughly nine out of ten Americans believe the best way to lift student achievement is to ensure a qualified teacher in every classroom. Once the issue of student safety is addressed, the public believes that providing a qualified teacher in every classroom is the most important way to improve education – not standards, textbooks, vouchers, privatization, tests, or school uniforms.


The quality and caliber of teachers was chosen as having the greatest influence on student learning by more than half (56%) of the American people, a choice that was favored over establishing a system of academic standards (29%) or requiring achievement tests in core academic subjects (15%).


When vouchers were pitted as a reform strategy directly against doing what it takes to put a fully qualified teacher in every classroom, the teacher quality agenda won hands down by an 85% to 15% margin. Similarly, doing what it takes to put a qualified teacher in every classroom was preferred over allowing outside for-profit companies to run schools within the public system by a commanding 86% to 14% majority.


America’s Teacher Recruitment Challenges


The nation’s teaching force is at a demographic crossroads. By 2030, schools will need to hire more than 2.5 million teachers to serve growing student enrollments and to replace the considerable number of current teachers expected to retire in coming years.


There is already a need for teachers in a broad range of subject areas, including mathematics, science, bilingual, and special education. Where education officials face high rates of attrition for beginning teachers, such as in urban schools, the recruitment challenge is even greater.


As national, state, and local policymakers consider new initiatives to meet these challenges, understanding the public’s views on teaching is vital. Any proposal, whether designed to expand the pool of prospective teachers, improve the preparation and quality of teacher candidates, strengthen support for novice teachers, or to improve the practice of all teachers at various stages in their careers, will require public support.


What Teachers Give to America


The survey shows that the public knows that teaching gives more back to America than any other profession.


When asked which of eight professions they felt provides the most important benefit to society, the public put teachers first by more than a 3:1 margin over physicians (63% vs. 16%). When the identical question was asked in 2010, fewer people (58%) put teachers over physicians.


Asked about a career they would recommend to a family member, people ranked teaching (40%) a close second to medicine (41%), despite the well-established differences in pay.


Another indicator of the profession’s solid public esteem is that when asked how much influence different people had on their career choices, people placed teachers (25%) in second place behind their parents (49%).


Quality Gap: A Mandate for Focusing on the Disadvantaged


The poll findings demonstrate an awareness of the importance of teacher quality that cuts across all socioeconomic strata. Eighty-three percent of the public strongly agreed that we should ensure that all children, including those who are economically disadvantaged, have teachers who are fully qualified, even if this means spending more money to achieve that.


An identical 83% also felt that we must give a high national priority to recruiting and preparing teachers who can provide quality education for our children, especially those who are in most need to be helped to learn.” Research indicates that unlicensed or underqualified teachers are most likely to be found in economically deprived districts. In the poll, low-income and minority Americans were more likely to rate teachers as unqualified than were non-minorities and higher wage earners. In addition, 39% of Latinos and 41% of African Americans said the problem was very serious and widespread.


At the same time, respondents gave relatively high marks to the teachers in their own communities and states. However, the fact that a 78% to 18% majority favored giving parents specific information at the beginning of the school year on how qualified their child’s teachers are according to state standards required for permanent teachers, suggests that the public takes the teacher quality challenge seriously and wants to be assured that teachers are making the grade.



Time for Teacher Improvement


The survey found significant support for increased spending on two fronts: to ensure qualified teachers, especially in schools serving low-income and minority students, and to pay for extra time spent in the school day and throughout the school year for professional development of teachers. Seventy-one percent agreed with the statement that public schools should pay teachers for longer work days so they have time to keep up with new developments in their fields. Sixty-one percent were in favor of lengthening the school year and providing more time within each school day for professional development of teachers, compared with 35% who were opposed to such measures.


Keys to Improving Teacher Quality


The public believes that teaching requires special training and skills, not simply a good general education. More than three-quarters of the people surveyed said they would oppose allowing people with bachelor’s degrees to become teachers without requiring preparation in the field of education. The survey found strong agreement regarding the value of teacher education (92%), with the public rejecting the notion that good teachers are born and not made by more than 2:1.


Two credentials often considered as highly important: “a strong liberal arts education” and “a master’s degree from an accredited school of education” were only cited as “very important” by 36% of the public.


Teacher unions came off with mixed marks in the study. While a 54% to 36% majority agreed that teacher unions support setting high standards for teachers, a comparable 55% to 31% majority held the view that “teacher unions often stand in the way of real reform.”


The Making of a Teacher


To meet the expected teacher hiring demands, the public favored more stringent teacher licensing standards tied to standards for student performance, better pay, and more opportunities for teachers to learn while practicing.


More than eight out of ten said they would strengthen state teacher licensing standards rather than lower them. The public also particularly supported providing stronger mentoring for new teachers using able veteran teachers to offer them guidance and support (92%).


A federally sponsored loan forgiveness program for prospective teachers who agree to work in disadvantaged schools received a 68% approval rating. The public also overwhelmingly favored attracting more people currently working in other fields to teacher preparation (76%) and paying higher salaries to those who teach science or math (64%) – two areas experiencing shortages. However, the public was extremely skeptical about quick fixes to meet expected shortages, such as bypassing teacher education by letting bachelor’s degree recipients become teachers without proper training (76% opposed vs. 22% in favor), or lowering state licensing requirements for teachers (83% opposed vs. 14% in favor).


The Issue of Pay


Although teaching provides many rewards, teachers are generally paid less than individuals with comparable credentials in other professions. However, teacher salaries range widely, depending on the city or state.


Nearly eight out of ten people said teachers’ salaries should be raised over the next ten years as a way to get more qualified teachers into the schools. Seven in ten felt that teachers were “just adequately paid” or “inadequately paid.” Only a third believed teachers’ pay should be tied to test scores. All but a small percentage said that having a competent, caring, and qualified teacher should be a national goal even if it means spending more money to achieve that end.


High Standards Supported for All Students


The public also believes that public education remains the key to the American dream. The results showed a firm rejection of a “Bell Curve” approach to student performance. More than 67% of respondents felt “strongly” or “somewhat strongly” that most children are capable of learning demanding academic subject matter and should be required to meet the same academic standards. Minorities (78% for Latinos and 72% for African Americans) were more likely than their white counterparts to feel “strongly” or “somewhat strongly” about the need for rigorous academic standards for all children. More than 61% said that hard work primarily determines a student’s academic performance, while only about 18% said that natural ability determines it.


Teachers Still Face Formidable Classroom Challenges


The public cited a whole roster of problems in the public schools that are “very serious and widespread”: 67% viewed “student drug use” as a major problem in the schools; 66% cited “school violence,” a reflection of deep apprehension over the threat of guns and other weapons widely available to children today; 65% saw “student drinking” as a serious problem; 58% cited “lack of parental involvement” as a major deficit in today’s educational environment; 57% believed that “teenage pregnancy” is a serious problem; Thirty-five percent scored large classes as a “very serious and widespread” problem; 27% rated “poor-quality teachers” that way; 29% the “lack of choice about what school a child can attend”; 33% “out-of-date subject matter.”


Essential Profession


Teaching is a complex, intellectually demanding profession. This section will help you learn about why people teach, what teachers like and don’t like about their jobs, what Americans think about the profession of teaching, what teachers might expect to be paid, and where teachers are needed. For a more personal look at what it’s like to teach, read some profiles of teachers in the field. To learn more about the teaching profession, consult our helpful resources.


Why People Teach


Some teachers say they teach because of a desire to help children learn and grow and to make a contribution to society. Others say they have a sense of commitment to the community or the nation, an intellectual fascination with a particular discipline (like math or history), or that they have been inspired by one of their own teachers.


What Americans Think about Teaching


Just as teachers believe in their work, the American public believes in the value of good teachers. Once the issue of school safety is addressed, Americans believe that providing a qualified teacher in every classroom is the most important way to improve education today. The survey also shows that the public knows that teaching gives back more to America than any other profession.



Teachers’ Likes


Most teachers like what they do. According to information compiled from the national surveys, teachers expressed some of the following satisfactions and dissatisfactions, saying they:


– Appreciate that the average teacher salary has risen steadily over the past four decades


– Rank their schools’ physical surroundings as “good” or “excellent”


– Believe that schools support and encourage strong relations between students and teachers


– Rate the relationship between themselves and their students as “good” or “excellent”


– Believe that, generally speaking, they are recognized for their expertise


Teachers’ Dislikes


Despite a general sense of job satisfaction, however, many teachers point to a number of conditions that can make their jobs difficult. These include:


– The presence of social problems, such as drug and alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy


– Lack of preparation in classroom management


– Not enough time for planning and professional development


– Not enough time to prepare lessons or confer with other teachers


– Not enough involvement in curriculum and school management decisions


Where Teachers Are Needed


Individuals thinking of becoming teachers would do well to prepare to teach in areas where there is a critical need. There is a consistent shortage of qualified teachers in rural and urban areas, as well as shortages of special education, bilingual education, math, and science teachers.


How To Learn More


One of the best ways to learn about teaching is through exposure to the profession. For instance, volunteering in a local school, participating in internships or jobs in summer schools or camps, or talking to current teachers about the “ins and outs” of the profession can provide a good understanding of the challenges and rewards of working with children.


Summing Up


The report provides an unusually in-depth view of the public’s attitudes toward teaching, school improvement, and equal educational opportunity. The consensus that emerges from the findings is the need to place primary emphasis in school reform on teacher quality. The desire to keep the guarantee of a free public education for every child was affirmed by a nearly unanimous 97% of those surveyed in the poll as well. In the end, most Americans believe that the promise of top-quality education can be achieved in the public schools, but only if we recruit, train, and develop a teaching corps capable of doing the job.



Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.



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