Do teachers have it rough?

So I was reading an article this morning about how U.S. Teachers have it so much worse than most of the rest of the world. This conclusion is drawn on the basis of a survey:

Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: Teaching. The results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), released last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), offer a stunning picture of the challenges experienced by American teachers, while providing provocative insights into what we might do to foster better teaching — and learning — in the United States.

The article is interesting, as far as it goes — though one might quibble with the jump that gets made from “teachers think they have harder jobs” (which is what the survey actually measures) to “teachers have harder jobs.” I’m certainly open to the idea that at least public school teachers have a raw deal in this country in terms of their working conditions and the sort of bureaucratic structures in which they are forced to operate.

There were two things in this article in particular that caught my eye. The first was an almost casual reference to something rare and wonderful.

Along with these challenges, U.S. teachers must cope with larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24). They also spend many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children each week (27 versus the TALIS average of 19). And they work more hours in total each week than their global counterparts (45 versus the TALIS average of 38), with much less time in their schedules for planning, collaboration, and professional development. This schedule — a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s — makes it harder for our teachers to find time to work with their colleagues on creating great curriculum and learning new methods, to mark papers, to work individually with students, and to reach out to parents.

The emphasis is mine. What sort of wonderful world would we live in where we depended on the teachers themselves to design the curriculum (or curricula)? But isn’t that exactly what everyone seems hell-bent on killing these days?

A seocnd thing that jumped out at me was this statistic:

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle-school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate.

That seems like an awful lot. Unless *all* the disadvantaged kids are smashed into schools with insanely high student:teacher ratios (not an entirely implausible notion), that means that there are a LOT of disadvantaged students to go around. I can’t do the math without knowing the student:teacher ratio data, but just intuitively it would seem that you’d need somewhere between 40 and 50% of students to be disadvantaged.

I suspect this has something to do with response bias. But when I tried to go into the survey itself and see the data (here) I was unable to either export a working data file or to find the United States’ results on the webpage. It seems much more trouble than it’s worth for a blog post.

If anyone has more success, please leave notice in the comments!

Comments

  1. The term “disadvantaged”, like the term “poverty” varies widely around the country and the world. Compared to much of the rest of the world, almost no one in American is poor today. However, the family/community breakdown and the problems it brings, so common in many areas, is a different issue and a huge problem.

  2. “I’m certainly open to the idea that at least public school teachers have a raw deal in this country in terms of their working conditions and the sort of bureaucratic structures in which they are forced to operate.”

    You’re open to the idea? Isn’t it obvious? I’m shocked that more K-12 teachers in the US don’t commit suidice. The system seems to be primarily designed with that in mind – to make the teachers lose their minds with the insanity of the position. A job with no respect, where everyone – from the politicians to the administrators to the parents to the kids themselves – hate you and blame you for everything. A job where you’re asked to do the impossible and refused help and even scorned if you ask for help. A job where your customers – the students and their parents – typically despise you from day to day. A job where the beaurocratic nonsense is overwhelming. Who would want to do that for a living?

    • SC Math Teacher says:

      Any teacher who feels that way about teaching — people for whom teaching has become detrimental to their mental health — may need to find another career.

      Me? I love teaching, warts and all.

      • While I agree with you, SC Math Teacher, Caitlin does have a point. The fact that a majority of would-be career teachers in the USA leaves the profession after just 5 years or less makes her point… The numbers shouldn’t be that bad.

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    “Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle-school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate.”
     
    That seems like an awful lot.

    The US definition of economically disadvantaged is often no more than 185% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines (this is from Wikipedia). The 2014 Federal Poverty Guidelines for not-Hawaii and not-Alaska sets a limit of $23,850 for a family of four (http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/14poverty.cfm). So a family of four making less than $44,000 per year is economically disadvantaged.
     
    Again, according to Wikipedia, the median household income in 2011 was about $50K [NOTE: That not all households are families of four ...].
     
    30% of students in 2/3 of our public schools being economically disadvantaged is plausible given how we are defining economic disadvantage.

  4. I can’t see why anyone would want teachers individually creating curriculum. There are a number of open-source curriculum websites where teachers can freely use a crowd-sourced curriculum, as well as participate in the development of that curriculum. Why have everyone reinvent something that should change only gradually and only with a significant “community” process around it. Don’t like Alaska’s open source curriculum? Start your own!

    Actually, I’m surprised Google hasn’t already started up a project around this…

    Here’s the wiki link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_curriculum

    • Well, the federal and state governments have no problem with suddenly trashing well established curriculua and going with the latest fad – which ends up being a bust 99.9% of the time – at the drop of a hat, so why not?

  5. Honestly, given what I hear from teachers in the UK, I’d rather teach in the US.

  6. Roger Sweeny says:

    This is more related to the post title than its contents but … Many teachers (almost all teachers by middle school) have it rough because we are trying to sell something our students don’t want to buy. We want them to learn the academic knowledge we have. More, we want them to think about it and care about it.

    We are constantly struggling to accomplish that and, mostly, we fail.

    • I’m going to add that although I don’t dispute that many public school teachers really do have it rough, there’s also a group who are just kind of unrealistic about the nature of work, pay, praise, and rewards. This group also tends to overvalue their actual attributes and frequently wildly overestimates the pay and conditions that they’d find at another job that they’d be qualified to do. So it doesn’t surprise me at all that teachers think they have it rough.

  7. The federal poverty level is 22,350 for a family of four. Low income and disadvantaged refers to 185 percent of this. Nearly 44 percent of children are minorities. 44 percent of children are low income and 21 peer cent of children are in poverty, see nccp.org for details. If they use the same thresholds, most countries will have 40 percent of people being disadvantaged.

  8. Where is your working hour data from? NY teachers most certainly do not work a 45 hr week without extra compensation…their contracts wre public availably. And they have time scheduled to collaborate…in elementary it is 45 min daily here, while the students aremin class with an aide. The pay on a $/hr basis plus the bennies, are higher than that for an engineer from a simillar quality U who is working for a fortune 100 company.

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