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Survey of Georgia teachers reveals 'a workforce that feels devalued and constantly under pressure.'

Today, Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods shares the findings of a  statewide teacher survey that sought to figure out why so many teachers are fleeing the profession. In his column, Woods explains how he plans to respond to the findings.

A very troubling one to me: Two out of three teacher respondents stated that they are unlikely or very unlikely to recommend teaching as a profession to a student about to graduate high school—an alarming figure considering the substantial role that teachers play in motivating students to pursue a job in the field.

The report explains:

Next, the respondents were given a list of eight possible causes for the high attrition rate. These options were chosen from elements of education that may be directly affected through policy. For this reason other influential causes (e.g. raising children, student discipline) were not included. There was also provided space to expand on why teachers believe their first ranked cause was such an issue.

Through these two inquiries teachers described a profession that was overcrowded with mandated tests, evaluated by unfair or unreliable measures, and constantly being changed without any input from the professionals inside the classroom. All occurring while being compensated poorly when time and experience are taken into account.

The final question asked for additional reasons that teachers may be leaving at such a high rate. The tens of thousands of responses displayed the effects of the current state of teaching in Georgia: a workforce that feels devalued and constantly under pressure. Without significant changes in the future, what is a significant problem now may well be a crisis in the future of teaching, if it is not already.

For more information, go to this AJC news story.

With that background, here is Woods' response:

By Richard Woods

Currently, 44% of Georgia’s newly hired teachers are dropping out of the profession by year five. Equally alarming is that there was a 16% dip from 2010 to 2014 in the number of candidates entering Georgia’s teacher preparation programs.

For students, this could mean larger class sizes, fewer opportunities, and a decreased chance of being taught by a quality teacher.

To find the root cause of this growing crisis, the Georgia Department of Education surveyed current and former teachers to ask them what factors they felt were pushing them or their colleagues out of the profession. Within three weeks, more than 53,000 Georgia teachers – almost half of the state’s teacher workforce – responded to our survey ( view the full report here), showing that teachers were ready to talk about this critical issue.

The results were enlightening. The top reason teachers selected for leaving the profession was “Number of state mandated tests” with “Method for evaluating teachers” as a close second. Though “Compensation/Benefits” was an option and ranked higher than the average, it was not listed in the top three.

Teachers were given an option to explain why they picked their top cause and their comments were striking. Many teachers not only explained how the cause they chose was pushing their colleagues out of the profession, but also how the cause was damaging to their students. Many teachers doubted that anyone would read their comments and that any change would come. Their comments weren’t made cynically, but were expressed in a candid tone that reflected on a profession that they felt was fading away. Some of their concerns are rooted in what’s reflected in the words of state law; others in the actions brought forth by the department’s interpretation and implementation of those laws.

Ask almost any teacher, and he or she can tell you who inspired them to go into teaching. For me, it was Mrs. Phillips. Our survey asked teachers: “If you had a student about to graduate from high school, how likely would you be to encourage teaching as a profession?” Only 2.7% of teachers said it was very likely they would encourage their students to go into teaching, while 33.2% of teachers said it was very unlikely they would encourage their students to pursue teaching. This tells us the crisis will only get worse if action isn’t taken.

In the short term, these are steps I am committed to taking:

•With regard to the teacher evaluation system, the department launched a tiered-observation pilot at the beginning of this year in a handful of districts. In keeping with the recommendation of the Education Reform Commission and my belief in a measured approach to accountability, we will be scaling this statewide so administrators are able to spend more time with newer or struggling teachers. We know one-size-fits-all doesn’t work for our students and it doesn’t work when evaluating our teachers, either.

•Working with the State Board and those in the General Assembly, I will be pushing for the elimination of Milestones testing requirements for students who participate in Move On When Ready and earn an “A” or “B” in their college classes. My goal for the long term is to look at other options like AP and IB exams to further reduce the number of Milestones students have to take.

•In addition to the above, we are conducting a statewide audit of testing, examining what, why, and how much we test, and the impact of testing on learning and teaching. Currently, 177 school districts have already voluntarily provided us with their testing requirements.

•I have also instructed the Department of Education staff to examine testing and educational accountability within our state. I continue to be in contact with educators, elected officials, State Board of Education members, and a variety of stakeholders to discuss these and other issues. Some efforts will require the support of those beyond the department.

During my first school visit, a teacher told me she had discouraged her daughter from going into teaching. Since then, I have had countless similar conversations with teachers across Georgia, and more than 53,000 voices are represented by this survey. I ask that teachers continue to provide feedback to me and other elected officials.

Over the past year, I have traveled to almost 70 counties in our state. The tireless efforts of our teacher workforce have been exemplary. Countless times, teachers have made the same request as I visit: "I just want to be able to know my kids and teach them what they need to know." Their focus and concern has always been on the children of Georgia.

I am confident that by working together, we can restore to our current and future teachers the ability to teach their students effectively – and the joy of teaching. We must – and will – employ a teacher workforce that is second to none. Georgia public education is poised to offer our children great opportunities. We need to ensure there are great teachers to open these doors.

Richard Woods, a 22-year public school educator and former small business owner, is Georgia’s School Superintendent.

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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.