Teacher survey draws skeptical questions

It can be called the “despair” study: an Office of Performance Evaluations report on teacher workplace issues.

The headline-grabbing findings have been well-documented:

  • Teacher turnover isn’t as severe as previous State Department of Education reports have indicated — but a teacher exodus remains possible.
  • Salary (which averages $43,000) remains a concern for Idaho teachers.
  • And, as the report says, there exists “a strong undercurrent of despair among teachers who seem to perceive a climate that disparages their efforts and belittles their contributions.”

Two weeks after its release, the Senate Education Committee got its chance to dig into the report Thursday. The questions, while limited, were pointed and focused on the methodology.

Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, questioned staff on the timing – suggesting that the results may have been skewed by the furor over Proposition 1, the Students Come First law that would have rewritten the teacher collective bargaining process. Surveys were gathered in August and September 2012, said the OPE’s Lance McCleve. The idea was to time the survey around the beginning of the school year.

McCleve conceded a point to Pearce: In general, surveys tend to get responses from the most outspoken people in a group.

Sen. Branden Durst, a Boise Democrat who works on consulting and polling in his off-session life, asked about distribution. The OPE did not attempt to put together a random sample; staff simply asked administrators and principals to distribute the surveys to their teachers.

As such, McCleve cautioned senators not to reach general conclusions from the survey.

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The survey sample was not random, but it was considerable in size. OPE received responses from 256 principals, 84 superintendents and 2,486 teachers — a number representing nearly one fifth of the state’s 16,500 teaching community.

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