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Majority of Teachers Say Reforms Have Been ‘Too Much’

—Astrid Gast

Change is hard—particularly for teachers, who are generally taking dozens of students along for the ride.

Yet the majority of teachers say they’ve faced major changes—related to what and how they teach, as well as how they’re evaluated—over the last couple of years in their schools and districts, according to a recent survey by the Education Week Research Center.

And while there’s agreement that the upheaval has been a bit much, teachers have tended to stay positive about the reforms they’re experiencing.

The change “feels thick and fast,” said Alisa Myles, a reading specialist at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School in Morrisville, Pa., who answered the survey. “But I’ll tell you, teachers are so resilient. Teachers are incredible. They keep up with it because they have to.”

The Education Week Research Center administered its online survey to a nationally representative sample of more than 500 K-12 teachers in September. (The margin of error for the results is plus or minus 4 percent.)

Nearly all respondents—86 percent—said they had experienced new changes or reforms in the past two school years.

The teachers surveyed were most likely to say they’d had changes to their teacher-evaluation systems. Other common areas for reform were curriculum, professional development, and state testing.

Teachers were much less likely to say they’d experienced changes to personalized learning, graduation requirements, or school choice options in their districts.

Weariness Setting In

There are signs teachers are starting to feel reform fatigue: More than half of teachers (58 percent) surveyed said they’ve experienced “way too much” or “too much” change in the last couple of years.

“We are a little overwhelmed,” said Patty Hill, a veteran math teacher at Kealing Middle School in Austin, Texas. She said her school system “changed all our bookkeeping systems at the same time they changed our appraisal [i.e., evaluation] system. At the same time they want us to do project-based learning. It’s all happening at once.”

But about a third of respondents said the amount of reform was “just about right.”

Most teachers (84 percent) agreed that as soon as they get a handle on a new reform, it changes.

James Clifford, a family and consumer sciences teacher at John F. Kennedy Middle School in Southington, Conn., said he recently helped write a new curriculum for his school, which was a positive change. But the frequent modifications to the schedule for special classes—which dictate, for instance, whether he sees students every few days all year or every day for a few weeks—are more bewildering.

“I’ve got a new schedule every year,” he said. “It’s really not a big deal to change schedules, but I’m old enough as a professional to say, ‘Wow, why is scheduling so hard?’”

When asked what kind of effect a notable classroom reform has had on their instruction, 39 percent said it was positive. Another 36 percent said the effect was neutral. Only about a quarter said classroom reform has had a negative impact on their instruction.

Additionally, more than half of teachers (58 percent) said education reform has helped them change their practice so that students learn better.

“I actually like most of the changes [to the district evaluation system] because it’s trying to get teachers to make their classes more student-driven,” said Hill, the Austin teacher. “[Evaluators] are looking for student engagement, student buy-in, differentiation—all the things we’ve been supposed to be doing all along.”

The majority of teachers (68 percent) also said that “new” education reforms or changes aren’t really new—that they’ve all been tried before.

“The idea of grit—stick-to-it, high expectations—I’ve seen different iterations of that exact same thing every year that I’ve been here,” said Hill. “There’s a new name for it, but it’s the same thing.”

When asked where the reforms originated, 36 percent of respondents said they were state-based, and 41 percent cited their districts. Nineteen percent said the change only involved their school. Fewer than 5 percent of respondents pointed to the federal government.

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Liana Loewus

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