New PDK International Poll Gives Important Insight on Teaching

By Richard M. Long

LFA director discusses ways new poll results can be used at the federal, state and local levels

The annual Phi Delta Kappa International poll gives policymakers a valuable tool: Reliable data on teachers, one of the most critical parts of the education equation. The question is, how should this tool now be used?

The title, Frustration in the Schools: Teachers speak out on pay, funding, and feeling valued tells a compelling national story that needs to be used at the local and state level. 

First, the story must be understood as a tool for local school parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders and others to use to evaluate their own school, district, and community.  Using the PDK poll as a local tool involves not simply asking the same questions, educators and policymakers must use the questions as a road map to discover what can be changed.

At the policy level, national, state, and local policy makers need to focus on why teachers are saying that their schools are underfunded. In some schools this could mean that they don’t have the technology, while in other schools it can mean that they don’t have the counselors, school psychologists, or school social workers to help children with the challenges of learning in demanding environments.  Still in other places it could mean that there is a lack of libraries, teacher ability to learn what they need to reach more students with effective instruction, or to have an assistant principal to help them with high need areas.

One of the most important parts of the report is on teachers and their sense of satisfaction.  Over all they report significant dissatisfaction with being a teacher, so much so that they would not recommend that their children follow them into the profession. The teachers cite several critical issues, including pay.  Most believe that their compensation is too low.  Many parents agree; but this is only one part of the constellation of beliefs.  There is also concern over student discipline and their own sense of being valued.  Additionally, and to a smaller degree how they, and their schools, are evaluated plays a part in their concerns. 

One set of questions highlights how PDK took a national issue and questioned it both as a value and then as a specific.  They looked at school discipline by asking how should a disruptive student be disciplined?  Should they be punished with a suspension or an intervention?  This is an issue that is being adjudicated nationally, and it also demonstrates one of the concerns teachers raise for why they are leaving.  This makes for an interesting exploration; while teachers are concerned with overall discipline, when it comes to individuals, they would recommend that a more nuanced approach be used that addresses the needs of each student.  Yet, as many believe that discipline is running amok in the schools and the wider community needs to require draconian measures, when that same public (including teachers and parents) are asked for their belief in a more nuanced situation of a small mistake being made, there collective response is different.   They want the student to be disciplined in accordance with the infraction – not punished because of the category of the infraction.  In another words, if a small pocket knife brought to school by mistake it should not be treated as a switch blade brought into school by someone who had emotional challenges.

For the local school, the meaning of these findings are that teachers want to have a role in making the professional decisions in their buildings.  Discipline is but one example.  It isn’t that teachers want no discipline in school (actually they want the opposite) they want discipline that isn’t arbitrary.

This isn’t the only example of teachers wanting to have greater involvement.  They want to have accountability data that useful, a say in how the decisions are made and other areas.  For the local school, all of this means is that the national story is that teachers want to see a process involved in how these decisions are considered.  This could take a big step in the overall concept that teachers do not believe that they are respected. 

Respect is a critical part of the satisfaction equation.  Schools can explore how they involve teachers in decisions.  Interestingly enough, Steven Johnson in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter Most; reports that the most effective companies have found that having diverse input into consideration of key issues produces the most effective outcomes.   In short, this issue of satisfaction can have multiple positive effects.  While the more teacher dissatisfaction a school has, it is likely that this is where the schools are most challenged to reach their goals of students who are ready for the post-secondary world.

If nothing else, the PDK poll gives voice to the reality that we need to address the well-known fact that teachers are being underpaid.  We need to address this issue, if for no other reason, of simple fairness.

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Frustration in the Schools report cover 2020