Is job security really the top concern?

According to the New York Times, a report by the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University finds that college students and recent graduates rank job security above other major life goals.

Well, yes. But when asked about the job attributes that were most important to them, working adults ranked the following above or alongside job security: work/life balance, positive work environment/culture, good compensation, and having interesting work to do. Undergraduate and graduate students gave similar rankings, except that they ranked compensation just below job security. (The exact rankings vary according to your reading of the data; if you look at “essential” job attributes,  the ranking comes out one way; if you  look at “essential or very important” attributes, it rearranges a little, but not much.)

Now, as for life goals, it doesn’t appear that work/life balance, positive work environment, or intesting work were even offered as options. One could argue that the first two aren’t life goals.But the third could be. Given that both students and adults ranked it so high among job attributes, it’s likely they would have ranked it high among life goals as well. Having a job “with impact on causes important to me” was listed among the life goal options, but that’s not the same as having an interesting job.

So, while the New York Times doesn’t exactly misstate what’s in the report, it draws skewed conclusions from it. Yes, when given a limited set of options for life goals, college students and adults ranked job security highest. Yet when it came to job attributes, the quality and substance of the job mattered at least as much to them as job security. Also, what can one draw from the fact that of all the job attributes listed, work/life balance ranks highest?

Of course this report isn’t the final word on what people want  from jobs. Polls have limitations to begin with, and this one may have caveats that I haven’t noticed. But what it says is intriguing.

Teachers are less satisfied

Teachers are less satisfied with their jobs, but parents are more engaged with their children’s schools, according to the new MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.

Teacher job satisfaction has fallen by 15 percentage points since 2009, the last time the MetLife survey queried teachers on this topic, from 59 percent to 44 percent responding they are very satisfied. This rapid decline in job satisfaction is coupled with a large increase in the number of teachers reporting that they are likely to leave teaching for another occupation (17 percent in 2009 vs. 29 percent today).

 

Not surprisingly, more teachers say their job is not secure. Two-thirds of teachers reported layoffs in their schools; three-quarters said there were budget cuts in the last year. Sixty-three percent said average class size has increased in their school.

Parent involvement has increased since it was first surveyed.  Sixty-four percent of students say they talk about things that happen at school with their parents every day, compared to 40 percent in 1988.

Weak teachers fail in New Haven, but not many

New Haven’s unionized teachers gave up job security for better pay and benefits, writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

With a stronger evaluation system, tenure no longer mattered and weak teachers could be pushed out.

Roughly half of a teacher’s evaluation would depend on the performance of his or her students — including on standardized tests and other measures of learning.

Teachers were protected by a transparent process, and by accountability for principals. But if outside evaluators agreed with administrators that a teacher was failing, the teacher would be out at the end of the school year.

Last year, the school district pushed out 34 teachers, about 2 percent of the total in the district. The union not only didn’t object, but acknowledged that many of them didn’t really belong in the classroom.

Fifty more teachers out of 1,800 in the district have been warned their teaching must improve or they’ll be fired.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven says that the breakthrough isn’t so much that poor teachers are being eased out, but that feedback is making everyone perform better — principals included. “Most everybody picked up their game in the district,” he said.

Two percent of teachers were fired. That doesn’t sound like a very tough system. Maybe over time it will make a difference. Am I too bloodthirsty?

Update: Kristof fell for the latest edu-fad, writes Rick Hess, who’s seen many miracles turn out to be not so miraculous after all.

Teacher bashing

Pay teachers more is the headline of Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column, but the “to be sure” graph “swallows the rest of the piece,” writes Mickey Kaus in the Daily Caller, mock-accusing Kristof of  “teacher bashing.”

 According to Kristof:

(Teachers’ unions) used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective

. . . 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).

If unions do all those bad things, Kaus wonders, why does Kristof object to Wisconsin Republicans’ move to  “emasculate” them? Does he secretly admire Gov. Walker?

Kristof denies he wants to throw money at the “low achievers” who are now teaching ineffectively. He claims the ”pay should be for performance, with more rigorous evaluation.”  Good idea! But the teachers’ unions are the people who will fight that idea tooth and nail, and probably win.  Again, it seems as if Kristof should back Gov. Walker.

BTW, Kristof is off base on the SAT issue.  High school seniors who say they want to major in education earn below-average SAT scores, but that includes many who won’t earn a degree.  Elementary teaching  attracts some who love children but aren’t into academics.  (Of course, not all elementary teachers fit the sweet-but-dim model.) Would-be secondary teachers who plan to major in English, history, science or math tend to have above-average SAT scores.

The case for turnover

After praising E.D. Kain’s defense of job security for teachers in Forbes, Atlantic blogger Megan McArdle makes the case for firing teachers.

She assumes that teacher quality matters, even if it can’t erase the effects of dysfunctional families, and that it’s possible to identify very bad teachers,though  much harder to determine who’s mediocre.

She proposes raising pay in exchange for offering less job security, attracting more risk takers to teaching. The job now appeals to  people who value “good early retirement benefits” and a low risk of being fired, she writes. 

 Minimizing teacher turnover shouldn’t be the goal, McArdle argues. Despite its costs, turnover  ”also has benefits: fresh blood, lower burnout rates, and an incentive for teachers to keep performing.”

 The whole idea of hiring someone in their early twenties and employing them forever . . . breeds an organization that is insular — resistant to new ideas, suspicious of outsiders, resentful of its nominal clients.  We should be looking for ways to make teaching more open to part-timers and people in second, third, or eighth career cycles, and to make it easier for teachers to move around between schools and districts, and between teaching and other industries.

Teaching should be a ”high-intensity, high-reward job,” McArdle writes. “We’re going to get people burning out.”  They should move on to other jobs.

Read the whole thing and see what you think.

It's like they got PhDs…

Apparently the market’s a little tight for teachers:

In the month since Pelham Memorial High School in Westchester County advertised seven teaching jobs, it has been flooded with 3,010 applications from candidates as far away as California. The Port Washington District on Long Island is sorting through 3,620 applications for eight positions — the largest pool the superintendent has seen in his 41-year career.

* * * *

KIPP, another charter school network with 82 schools nationwide, has received 745 applications since January at its seven schools in the San Francisco Bay Area, compared with 385 last year.

At the University of Pennsylvania, most of the 90 aspiring teachers who graduated last weekend are jobless. Many had counted on offers from the Philadelphia public schools but had their interviews canceled this month after the district announced a hiring freeze.

“We’re trying to encourage everyone to hold on,” said Kathy Schultz, an education professor at Penn. “But that’s very difficult because students have taken out loans and want to be assured of a job.”

There’s something outrightly pernicious, even a little disgusting, about the very existence of the phrase “assured of a job.”  Assured by whom, exactly?  And why?  May those words never pass my lips except in mockery.

Welcome to the real world, would-be teachers.  You have to be smarter, brighter, straighter…. better than the next guy if you want to get ahead.  On the bright side: this helps address one contentious issue, though.  Who needs merit pay when you have 3000+ applicants for seven jobs?

In a recession, teacher pay looks good

Veteran teachers earn more than $100,000 a year in Rochester and many other New York districts, reports the New York Times. A Rochester math teacher with 30 years’ experience pays nothing for health benefits and looks forward to a well-funded retirement. And she’s got great job security.

Of course, only five students qualify for her calculus class — and she can’t actually teach because of the frequent fake fire alarms.

Younger teachers don’t have job security, but the pay is competitive — at least until the economy turns around.