Virtual School Meanderings

March 4, 2022

Reality check?

An item from the folks at the Digital Learning Collaborative.

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Reality check?

BY JOHN WATSON

A key element of the Digital Learning Collaborative is our willingness to consider views and data different than our own. That doesn’t mean that we take new information at face value, but that we consider the data, and check our own sources, experiences, and assumptions.

This is why a post from Matt Barnum at Chalkbeat caught our attention this week. It makes two assertions that challenge assumptions that we have been making based on what we have been hearing from contacts in the field.

Assertion #1: “claims of a coming — or ongoing — teacher exodus warrant considerable skepticism.”

The post starts by discussing the widely held view that teachers are leaving the profession (note that below I’m not just snipping but re-ordering his comments in order to present his argument more simply):

“The National Education Association recently found that over half of its members said the pandemic had made it more likely they would leave their jobs. One news piece declared, “Teachers have quit in droves during the pandemic.”

(SNIP)

“Right after the pandemic shuttered schools in spring 2020, some surveys found large shares of teachers were considering leaving that summer.”

(SNIP)

“But claims of a coming — or ongoing — teacher exodus warrant considerable skepticism. That’s both because we don’t yet have data to support strong assertions and because recent history suggests that an exodus is unlikely.”

(SNIP)

In fact, teacher turnover dipped going into the 2020-21 school year, according to data from a number of states and school districts. Data on turnover going into the 2021-22 school year is still emerging, but so far there is no indication of a big spike. In South Carolina, for instance, teacher turnover was up but similar to pre-pandemic levels.

In general, teacher turnover doesn’t change much year to year. Data spanning 35 years in Washington state — a time period featuring economic downturns and booms and significant educational policy changes — showed remarkable stability: during that time, the share of teachers leaving jobs in public education fluctuated between 6% and 8%. Data from Texas going back to 2006 shows that no more than 11% of teachers left the classroom in a single year.

This final paragraph above suggests a way to square the circle of data disagreeing with what we are hearing. There are roughly 3.2 million teachers in the United States. If we assume 10% left the profession (within the normal range according to Barnum), that’s 320,000 teachers. If those teachers who are leaving are unevenly distributed, that could feel like major spikes in some regions of the country.

What’s the reality? We don’t know. But I will be a bit more careful about throwing around the idea that teachers are leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers.

Assertion #2: Parents are generally satisfied with public schools
We have been hearing about dissatisfaction with public schools, but according to Barnum, “polls continue to show that most parents are fairly pleased with their child’s school.

One recent survey asked parents to give their child’s school a letter grade for their COVID policies and how they are addressing learning challenges, among other things. In every category, 57 to 71% of parents gave schools an A or B, with few parents — usually around 15% — awarding a D or F. Similarly, a poll of parents of students with disabilities from this fall found that most rated public schools good or excellent in responding to COVID.

Remarkably, this has held true throughout the pandemic. In a poll conducted after last school year, over three-quarters of parents said they were somewhat or very satisfied with the instruction and activities at their child’s school. Polls in the spring of 2020 found that a majority of parents gave schools high marks for quickly transitioning to virtual instruction.”

This certainly seems different than what we are hearing in many cases, but it seems like two things may be happening:

1. A few high-profile cases like the San Francisco school board election have been in the national news.
2. The small percentage of parents who are dissatisfied with public schools are much more vocal than previously, and louder than the satisfied parents.

Still, as is clear from recent events in Ottawa, a small, dissatisfied, vocal group can have an outsize impact. This may be a case where it can be true that most parents are satisfied, but the ones who are not are likely to cause changes in education.

Does my reality check need a reality check? Let me know!

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