Friday, November 11, 2011

Stand for Children - Tennessee's teacher survey has very short reach

At our public school's last PTO meeting I asked the principal where teacher morale was given the state's link of their evaluations to student test performance.

On nearly a daily basis I read reports statewide that teacher morale is sinking due to evaluation links to factors that they do not control. Teachers don't determine which children have learning disadvantages due to poverty. Teacher aren't in each of their students' homes in the evenings making sure homework gets done and motivating parents to motivate their kids to learn.

That query to the principal, who answered but deftly turned the conversation over to teachers present, resulted in a long discussion between all present that pushed our meeting past its designated end point. I was surprised that it went so long, but it was an indication to me that this is an unsettling and unsettled issue for teachers, parents, and administrators. The teachers in attendance echoed the frustrations I have been reading about.

In an unrelated event, Stand for Children-Tennessee (the corporately-backed nonprofit partnering with Metro Nashville Public Schools and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in an advocacy position on public policy) put up a survey on their Facebook page for teachers to give feedback on the state's evaluation process the next day. Given the animated discussion of the night before, I was curious as how many teachers the survey might reach.

Stand for Children has often made a point in the past that their advocacy work in government is backed by community input and grassroots support, which can only be true if they have individual one-on-ones with a broad range of community leaders and if they are engaged with varied neighborhood-based and local-school-oriented associations.

In the case of teachers, the survey would only hold merit as a tool for collective action and informed advocacy if it was offered to the largest number of teachers likely to respond. So, I posed my question about the survey's reach on Facebook. The response I got back from SFC, was that the survey was only going out to the teachers who had "friended" the Facebook page, but that they were hoping that it would go "viral" and be forwarded to other teachers.

My hope is that SFC does not substitute "going viral" with collecting representative samples of surveys to reflect the true sentiments of teachers outside of their Facebook audience. The most constant commenters on the SFC Facebook page seemed to be conservatively bent toward driving down teacher pay and mandating testing. In the time I've been following the comments there, I have not seen very much opposition to the conservative mindset.

And frankly we should not forget that in other states SFC has actually lobbied government against teachers unions on behalf of the wealthy venture philanthropists who fund education reform. I continue to have concerns that the Tennessee chapter will drift that direction. Monday a big, less-than-flattering story on Tennessee teacher evaluations came out in the New York Times. SFC did not link it on their Facebook page. However, the next day they linked a Commercial-Appeal story with a headline screaming that teacher accountability is the key to closing the student achievement gap. Such selective attention makes me wonder about genuineness behind the survey.

So, when Stand for Children-Tennessee publicizes their teacher survey results in the future, we should take them with a grain of salt as we should their claims to be real (instead of "Facebook friend") advocates for teachers, parents, and children. In the present, if you are concerned like me that teachers are being scapegoated and targeted in place of the bigger drags on student performance, go fill out their survey now.

1 comment:

  1. As someone who is married to a teacher I can guarantee that SFC's results will not be representative. It's bad among teachers with no signs of improvement in the future.