Michigan survey reveals deep concerns among educators

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A new survey of 11,000 Michigan school employees reveals widespread disappointment, demoralization and discontent about the state of education. The anonymous online survey was conducted by AFT Michigan and the Michigan Education Association.

"By cutting budgets and issuing draconian mandates that demonize public school employees and public schools, the state is destroying the quality of our children's education," says AFT Michigan President David Hecker, who is an AFT vice president. "The warning signs are out there, but Lansing's policymakers have chosen to bury their heads in the sand rather than listen to experts—Michigan's hardworking school employees."

"Michigan school employees have been dealt blow after blow in recent years, accepting pay cuts and freezes and other attacks from Lansing that most Michiganders would find unacceptable," says MEA President Steven Cook. "This survey is a damning indictment of toxic education policies and a toxic attitude toward those who educate our kids."

The survey data and open-ended comments reveal a shocking reality for those who work in Michigan's public schools, one marked by low morale, exhaustion from needless testing, high job insecurity and disgust with Lansing's policies that hurt rather than help student achievement.

School employees cited stagnant compensation as their top concern, followed by too much standardized testing and then evaluation systems. Employees said state mandates are harming the quality of education by hijacking well-rounded curricula and forcing schools to focus on needless testing. They said such policies are dampening collaboration and pitting teachers against each other in a competition by subjective evaluations conducted by administrators. Many said they fear for the future of education in Michigan and believe a true education crisis will come to a head within the decade.

Other highlights of the survey:

  • 80 percent of school employees said they are undercompensated for the jobs they do. In fact, many said they take home several thousand dollars less per year compared with five years ago, often due to pay freezes and skyrocketing healthcare premiums and deductibles. A contributing factor is the 2011 law which mandates that districts cap health insurance costs, forcing employees to pay more out of pocket.
  • More than half of school employees—52 percent—said they didn't think they could comfortably retire; 36 percent said they just weren't sure, and only 12 percent have any confidence that they can retire comfortably.
  • Their students take an average of four different standardized tests each year. Many teachers said "dozens," and for some, the number was so high that they could only make a ballpark guess. At least 40 answered simply, "Too many."
  • Only 16 percent said they were well-supported in implementing new state education standards and curricula; 43 percent said support was merely "average," while 40 percent gave the quality of their support a poor rating.
  • Only 7 percent of teachers thought changes to the evaluation system over the past several years have had a positive impact on their teaching. In fact, 60 percent said these changes had a negative impact on their teaching.

[AFT Michigan-Michigan Education Association press release]