Teacher ‘despair’ study: taking another look

It’s no surprise that an independent report on teacher workplace issues raised eyebrows around the Legislature. The report, issued only two months after the Students Come First repeal, described a “strong undercurrent of despair” in the teaching profession.

On Monday, the Statesman’s Dan Popkey put a sharper point on the reaction.

House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, met with Office of Performance Evaluations director Rakesh Mohan on Jan. 28 to discuss the findings. Feeling “crowded,” according to Popkey’s article, Mohan went to House Speaker Scott Bedke and Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chair Rep. Maxine Bell to discuss the report. In Popkey’s article, both Bedke and Bell voiced support for OPE’s work.

This isn’t the first time skepticism about this report bubbled to the surface. When the Senate Education Committee held a briefing on the report last month, Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, questioned the “despair” language. “Despair” tends to feed on itself, he suggested, the more people in a workplace commiserate about their problems. Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, asked about the timing of the teacher survey; OPE staff said the surveys were sent out late last summer, in the midst of the campaign over Students Come First.

The pushback over the report is interesting, considering its mixed verdict.

Notably, the OPE reviewed the State Department of Education’s own numbers on turnover — and said the department had overstated the situation. By reporting departures for all certified and noncertified employees, not just teachers, the problem seemed worse than it was.

Said the report: “The data currently available on teacher turnover does not support assertions that turnover has experienced a marked increase or change over the past three years. Therefore, we conclude that a mass teacher exodus has not occurred but that fears about such an exodus occurring in the future may not be totally unfounded.”

But this report will be remembered for this single provocative sentence: “Results from our survey of teachers revealed a strong undercurrent of despair among teachers who seem to perceive a climate that disparages their efforts and belittles their contributions.”

And a footnote about that sentence, from Popkey’s piece: It was peer-reviewed before publication.

“If we don’t say it, who else would?” Mohan told Popkey. “We have to tell the truth in the best possible way that we can. That means not to soften anything, not to take sides. We thought it would be constructive.”

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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