February 2, 2021

On the Eve of Dr. Cardona's Confirmation Hearing, Survey of America’s Teachers Highlights Roadmap for Recovery and Transformation

Feb. 2 (New York) — Educators for Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization, today released results from the 2021 edition of Voices from the Classroom, the most comprehensive national survey of public school teachers designed by teachers.

“Leaders need to listen to teachers’ experiences now more than ever,” said Leton Hall, a sixth grade science teacher and E4E-New York member. “This survey shows teachers’ roadmap to address pandemic-related challenges and the work needed to build an education system that will provide lasting improvement for students, families and teachers.”

"The survey shows that teachers are fighting an epidemic of under-engagement and learning loss," said Lovelyn Marquez-Prueher, a secondary English language arts staff developer and E4E-Los Angeles member. "Teachers want guidance on how to keep students engaged during distance learning and we need curricula that match student needs." 

“As we look toward a return to the classroom, we have the opportunity to make a better, more equitable education system,” said Irene Post, elementary and middle bilingual education teacher and E4E-Chicago member. “We don’t just need recovery, we need meaningful change—and this survey leverages the expertise of teachers from across the country to provide guidance for decision-makers.”     

“We continue to invest in this survey because we need policymakers to invest in listening to those who experience our education system daily—teachers, students and parents,” said Sydney Morris, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of E4E. “We're encouraged that classroom experience is valued in the Biden administration and call on the Department of Education and Congress to meet with teachers to create a pathway toward recovery and transformation.” 

“The impact of this pandemic on student learning and social-emotional development will be felt for decades,” said Evan Stone, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of E4E. “We need all of our leaders to not only prioritize recovering from a historic loss in learning time, but to seize the challenge of this moment, work closely with those in the classroom, and reimagine education to make it more equitable and effective for students and teachers alike.”

Below are key findings from the survey. Visit e4e.org/teachersurvey for the full report and detailed results, including a closer look at the following subgroups: school type, school population served, teacher age, and teacher race/ethnicity.   

KEY FINDINGS

  1. Understand the Need. To address an alarming decrease in student engagement and a lack of support for students, teachers seek guidance and data.
  2. Teach What Works. Teachers want changes in content, curricula, grading and assessments to provide an excellent education during the pandemic and in the future.
  3. Reach Every Student. Schools are not regularly meeting the needs of vulnerable student populations, and the trend is apparent in curricula, staffing and professional support.
  4. Dismantle Institutional Racism. Teachers are concerned about systemic racism, but in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the related protests, few report receiving any guidance or discussing racial justice and equity with colleagues and/or students.
  5. Rebuild and Reimagine Education. There are some benefits to distance learning that can be carried forward, and in order to return to the classroom permanently, schools need to implement both health and safety measures and programmatic changes.
  6. Make Teaching Sustainable. While teachers face additional concerns and demands during the pandemic, their retention risk may not be as despairing as previous reports.
  7. Support Teachers to Lead. Local education leadership has not sought teachers’ input, provided them with helpful assistance and resources or effectively managed the demands for distance learning and physically reopening schools.
  8. Protect Our Students and Profession. As the pandemic has impacted the economy, financial health is a concern, and teachers are open to innovative approaches that will ensure minimal layoffs and protect the most-vulnerable student populations.

METHODOLOGY

The Voices from the Classroom 2021 survey questionnaire was developed by 12 Educators for Excellence teacher members from across the United States. The instrument was written and administered by Gotham Research Group, an independent research firm, and conducted online from Dec. 1 through Dec. 14, 2020, among a nationally representative sample of 800 full-time public school teachers. The margin of error is ±3.5 percentage points for the full survey sample and higher among subgroups or questions not asked of the full sample. 

SURVEY HIGHLIGHTS

To address an alarming decrease in student engagement and a lack of support for students, teachers seek guidance and data.

  • Across all student demographics, grades and school types, more than half of the teachers report student learning (61%), student completion rates of homework and/or assignments (60%), student participation/engagement during class (57%) and student attendance (56%) is worse than before the pandemic. About one-fourth report it is “about the same as before” for each item.
  • Four in 10 teachers claim both technology or reliable internet access and limited access to a conducive learning environment have been “very serious” obstacles for their students. This increases to almost half of all teachers in schools with a majority of low-income students, students of color or English Learners.

  • Given these obstacles, it is no surprise that when rating the importance for federal funding investments, 81% of teachers identified providing all students free universal high-speed internet access as “critically important” or “important.”

  • Out of a set of professional development options, 42% of teachers prefer to receive strategies and tools to keep students engaged in distance learning or in socially distanced classrooms. This was favored over tools to help parents support students’ distance learning (20%), tools to adapt curricula for online learning (19%) and tools to provide students with additional social-emotional support (16%).

  • The majority of teachers think it is “critically important” to collect data on whether students have reliable and consistent access to food and shelter (79%), whether students have consistent access to high-speed internet and technology (67%) and whether students have a caregiver available to support remote learning (57%).

Teachers want changes in content, curricula, grading and assessments to provide an excellent education during the pandemic and in the future.

  • While 32% of teachers prefer to cover about the same amount of content during this school year, nearly half (49%) prefer to cover less.
  • Only half of all teachers report the curricula to be high quality and well-aligned to learning standards. This decreases for teachers in schools with a majority of low-income students (44%), students of color (41%) and English Learners (33%).

  • Distance learning has made the challenges with curricula even more acute, as only 31% of teachers report their curricula are easy to adapt for distance learning. Similarly, only 35% think their curricula include high-quality formative assessments to measure student learning.

  • Many teachers (62%) prefer to keep the grade promotion and graduation criteria the same this year, with students not meeting the criteria grouped together and given additional support.  

  • For standardized assessments, 68% of all teachers agree that they should be used to identify which students and student groups are falling behind and need more resources and support. 

  • While 61% agree that standardized assessments should be used to inform instruction, only 40% agree that the results should be used to inform promotion or course placements for students this year.

  • About a quarter of teachers (27%) agree the results should be included in teacher evaluations or school ratings this year. Charter school teachers (54%) and teachers of color (43%) are more supportive of using the results in teacher evaluations or school ratings.

  • Teachers are nearly divided on whether the federal government should continue (47%) or postpone (53%) requiring states to administer assessments and report data this school year. Only 11% prefer the federal government to continue requiring states to administer assessments, report data, and hold the districts and schools accountable for student results as usual.

Schools are not regularly meeting the needs of vulnerable student populations, and the trend is apparent in curricula, staffing and professional support. 

  • Schools are not meeting the needs of vulnerable students, with only 30% of teachers claiming their school “often” meets the needs of homeless students and foster youth, followed closely by LGBTQ+ students (31%), students are not native speakers of English (33%), students with physical disabilities (40%), students with learning disabilities (42%), students from low-income households (45%) and students of color (52%).
  • When it comes to the curricula used in their schools, 41% of teachers report their curricula are accessible, appropriate and engaging for all learners. Only 35% claim that their curricula are culturally relevant for their student population.

  • Although research shows that students benefit academically and socially from seeing teachers who look like themselves and reflect their experiences, just 31% of teachers “strongly agree” that the staff at their school reflects the diversity of their student population.

  • Just 28% of teachers report that “all” of the teachers in their school receive training to recognize and address racial/ethnic and other forms of bias and their impact on students, while a mere 19% claim that “all” of the teachers in their school use culturally relevant pedagogy and materials. 

Teachers are concerned about systemic racism, but in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the related protests, few report receiving any guidance or discussing racial justice and equity with colleagues and/or students.

  • 62% of teachers have been concerned this school year about systemic racism.
  • Teachers largely lack support to facilitate conversations about race. Only three in 10 teachers claim receiving guidance or materials about racial justice and equity issues from school or district leaders, and a mere 18% report the union provided them with guidance or materials. 

  • This may explain why only about a third of teachers (36%) report they had conversations with their colleagues about whether or how to address issues of racial justice and equity in the classroom. The same percentage (36%) claim they talked to their students in their class about racial justice and equity, with only 22% reporting they provided students with materials focused on racial justice and equity. 

  • 78% identify it as “critically important” or “important” for the next U.S. Secretary of Education to enforce civil rights protections for students and teachers.

There are some benefits to distance learning that can be carried forward, and in order to return to the classroom permanently, schools need to implement both health and safety measures and programmatic changes.

  • Teachers noted some benefits to distance learning, with 67% of teachers report they learned ways to integrate technology into their teaching that they plan to use after the pandemic. 54% report student access and familiarity with technology improved, and 52% claim virtual meetings have made meetings with parents and administrators easier. Almost half of teachers (47%) claim some students thrive in a distance learning setting.
  • When COVID-19 infection rates drop and public health experts say it is safe to conduct in-person learning, 81% of teachers identified regularly sanitized schools as “critically important” to make them feel comfortable teaching in person. This is followed by ensuring personal protective equipment is available and required for teachers and students (67%); limiting class sizes to allow students and staff to remain at least six feet apart (66%); having concrete plans for testing, communication, tracing, and quarantining in place (65%); an option for teachers with health risks or with household members with health risks to continue facilitating distance learning until the risk is lower (63%); and upgrading school building ventilation if needed (62%).

  • A free, FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccine for teachers and students was the lowest rating for all the options, with just 56% of all teachers rated the vaccine as “critically important” to feel comfortable returning to in person learning.

  • 49% of teachers “strongly support” using federal education funding to incentivize states to expand learning time for students by providing additional pay for educators. 

While teachers face additional concerns and demands during the pandemic, their retention risk may not be as despairing as previous reports.

  • The majority of teachers have been concerned about social-emotional health (87%) and physical health (86%) for themselves and their families during this school year.

  • Similarly, 81% have been concerned about balancing work, family and personal responsibilities.

  • 44% report the hours are worse than before the pandemic, with 35% reporting the hours are “about the same as before.”

  • Despite additional work-life challenges, 85% report they are likely to spend their entire career as a classroom teacher. Of the 15% that report they are “not very likely,” “not likely at all” or “not sure,” only one-third claim teaching during the pandemic had “a great deal” of impact on their inclination to leave the profession. 

Local education leadership has not sought teachers’ input, provided them with helpful assistance and resources or effectively managed the demands for distance learning and physically reopening schools.

  • Just 31% of teachers claim that their principal and school administrators were helpful in assisting them and their colleagues with the changes in work demands this year. There is a slight increase in assistance from their union (37%) and from their district or charter network (36%). 

  • When it comes to input in developing support and/or guidance during distance learning, 47% claim their principal and school administrators actively sought their advice, but this drops to 39% from their union and to 24% for their district or charter network.

  • As for physically reopening schools, 44% claim their principal and school administrators actively sought their advice, but again this drops to 37% from their union and to a mere 21% for their district or charter network.

  • 87% say it is “critically important” or “important” for the next U.S. Secretary of Education to involve classroom teachers in the creation and review of federal education policies.

As the pandemic has impacted the economy, financial health is a concern, and teachers are open to innovative approaches that will ensure minimal layoffs and protect the most vulnerable student populations.

  • In May 2020, the plurality of teachers (46%) said layoffs should be based on multiple factors, including both performance and seniority. As a follow-up in this survey, when given a list of factors that should be used when making layoff decisions, teachers favor teacher performance (50%), seniority (50%) and teacher certification areas (49%). Lower rated factors include student populations taught (30%), parent and student survey data (19%) and principal’s discretion (19%). 

  • In order to reduce or eliminate layoffs, 78% of teachers across all age and school types prefer to offer “buyouts” to teachers nearing retirement. The next two preferred options are laying off district or charter network staff before cutting teachers in school (56%) and avoiding layoffs at schools serving vulnerable student populations (51%).

  • When rating the importance of federal funding investment, the highest rated activity was 87% identifying it is “critically important” or “important” to ensure schools facing budget cuts do not lay off educators and support staff. Similarly, 84% report it is “critically important” or “important” for federal funds to be used to ensure schools serving high populations of vulnerable students are not disproportionately impacted by budget cuts.

  • 60% of teachers are open to trading tenure in exchange for higher pay, while 51% are open to trading tenure for better benefits. Fewer are willing to reduce retirement benefits with only 34% open to reduce their retirement benefits for higher pay now and 30% open to reducing for better benefits now. 

  • Similar to findings in Voices from the Classroom 2020, the majority of teachers support giving financial incentives to those who take on leadership positions within the school or district (88%), to those who work in hard-to-staff schools (87%) and for those who specialize in hard-to-fill subjects (77%). In addition, 77% favor giving financial incentives to those who work in person with students at their school during the pandemic. 

To download the complete report and access the digital toolkit, visit e4e.org/teachersurvey

Additional quotes from the survey’s teacher-authors:

“We need to protect teachers and support staff from layoffs and we need to give schools additional resources in order to address learning gaps,” said Matthew Clark, ninth through 12th grade English as a second language teacher and E4E-Boston member. 

“Teachers want assessments to understand where students have grown and where they need support,” said Genelle Faulkner, sixth grade science teacher and E4E-Boston member. “But times are not normal right now. As this survey shows, we need to do the assessments to understand student needs, but schools and teachers should not be held accountable for the nationwide setbacks caused by the pandemic.”

“How can we return to the status quo when there is so much evidence that vulnerable students were being left behind even before the pandemic?'' asked Teresa Fenske-Fanucci, dean of students, Valley View Elementary School and E4E-Minnesota member. “Now is the time to rebuild our education system so that it works for all students.”

“The pandemic has shown that teachers deserve to be paid more, period,” said Leona S. Fowler, a middle school special education instructional support teacher and E4E-New York member. “And for the schools that need the best teachers most, policymakers need to get creative with pay incentives to keep them in the classroom.”

“We’re nearly a year into the pandemic, and teachers are still experiencing many of the same problems with distance learning that we noted last spring,” said Elizabeth Haela, seventh and eighth grade special education teacher and E4E-New York member. “We need the federal government to act swiftly and fund the resources that our students and schools need, from internet access to improving ventilation.”

“Teachers are concerned about our students, but we’ve also dealt with personal stress and concerns around the pandemic,” said Jennifer López, fifth grade teacher and E4E-Los Angeles member. “Teachers want to spend their careers in the classroom but to keep us there and to help us thrive, our wellbeing cannot be at the bottom of the priority list.” 

“The survey illustrates just how poorly students are being served by the current curricula,” said Carlotta Pope, 11th grade English teacher and E4E-New York member. “As a teacher at a majority Black school, I understand the importance of culturally responsive curricula better than most. As experts, teachers deserve input into which learning materials are taught.” 

“Students are facing trauma from systemic racial injustice and the country’s racial reckoning," said Nikeisha Sandy, fourth grade teacher and E4E-Connecticut member. “The survey identifies that teachers want to be provided the tools and support to have the hard, but necessary conversations in our classes.” 

“My colleagues and I are the experts whose classroom experience is key to improving education, not solely a means to help the economy recover from the pandemic,” said Tanitia Smith, 10th grade English teacher and E4E-Chicago member. “Policymakers should let teachers lead by bringing us into the decision-making process.”

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