NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Teachers Defend Unions and Tenure, Criticize Pay-For-Performance

June 18, 2003

Teachers are concerned about being held accountable for student achievement, according to a recent nationwide survey by Public Agenda.

  • Many teachers (59 percent) say that they resent being held accountable for the standardized test scores of their students while simultaneously being faced with uninvolved parents, unruly and unmotivated students, and overcrowded classrooms.
  • Half oppose any type of merit pay that rewards teachers whose students score higher on standardized tests -- although 70 percent believe that teachers who work in difficult neighborhoods or low-performing schools should receive rewards ("combat pay").

Most teachers report feeling vulnerable to highly politicized school districts, unfair charges from students and parents, and inflexible bureaucratic rules -- but more than three-fourths say that their union is their one unflagging ally.

The majority of teachers polled also say they support the tenure system (58 percent) as a way to avoid unfair discrimination in determining raises, but some were critical of its flaws:

  • More than a third (38 percent) complained that the tenure system prevents administrators from firing all but the very worst teachers.
  • And a majority (61 percent) said that the tenure system unfairly allows veteran teachers to choose classes with easier students while leaving inexperienced teachers with the hardest-to-reach kids.

The three reforms teachers thought were most needed to improve the quality of teaching are reducing class size, increasing pay for all teachers, and making it easier to reward outstanding teachers. Only eight percent said that accepting new teachers from other professions without formal training ("alternative certification") would improve teacher quality.

Source: Steve Farkas, Jean Johnson and Ann Duffett, "Stand By Me: What Teachers Really Think About Unions, Merit Pay and Other Professional Matters," Public Agenda, May 30, 2003.

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