January 9, 2012

Press Conference:  WVEA Discuss Survey Results
Good Morning. I am WVEA President Dale Lee and I want to thank each of you for coming today. 
 
Our purpose here this morning is to discuss the results of 2 separate surveys we conducted this fall. (Slide 1) The surveys dealt with the same issues and questions but were posed to two very distinct audiences.
 
The first survey we did was a survey of WV voters. This public survey of 300 likely WV voters in the 2012 election was done by telephone interviewers in mid August as students were returning to school.
 
The second survey was of education employees. It was conducted from mid November to mid December. It was an online survey with over 3,800 respondents. We have broken their responses down for you by years of teaching experience. Notice the younger/less veteran teachers are well represented in the educator responses with over one-third of the respondents with 10 years of experience or less.
 
Before we jump into the results, I want to talk a little bit about why we decided to conduct these surveys. The morale of our school employees is approaching an all-time low. Teacher bashing is everywhere. We are constantly hearing from elected leaders, business groups and others that our students are not performing well and the impression is that our schools and school employees are the problems.
 
We have initiatives constantly being offered from those outside of the profession proposing “fixes” to our ailing schools. We have teachers who feel as though their expertise is ignored and their work is not valued.
 
So with that bit of a background in mind, we embarked on a series of questions:
 
The first question posed to both groups regarded salary increases for teachers. (Slide 2)
When we asked both groups if they believed education employees should receive a salary increase both groups overwhelming agreed. 58% of the public agreed with the statement while only 31% disagreed. Not surprisingly 97% of education employees agreed with the statement.
 
For those who responded with a YES to that question, we asked a follow-up(Slide 3) The follow-up regarded what should be the goal of educators’ salaries – at the national average, competitive with salaries of surrounding states or paid comparably with similar jobs in WV with similar education and experience. 
 
Both groups agreed the goal of WV salaries should be to be competitive with the salaries paid in our surrounding states. (49% of educator responses and 39% of public responses.) 33% of educators indicated the national average should be the goal while 37% of the public believes the salary goal should be competitive with similar in state jobs.
 
As an aside, WV teacher salaries currently rank 48th nationally in pay – nearly $12,000 below the national average. In terms of surrounding states, WV teaching salaries rank $16,274 below the average teacher in Pennsylvania, $20,951 below Maryland teachers, $13,029 below Ohio teachers, $7,297 below Virginia teachers and $5,776 below Kentucky teachers.
 
I will also remind you of the disparity of teacher salaries compared to the pay of county superintendents. In West Virginia, superintendent salaries are nearly double that of the average teacher salary. The rationale given for their salary is the need to recruit and retain quality candidates and to compete with other professions. The same holds true of all education employees.
 
And finally, the last state level data comparing teachers with similar jobs that I have seen has teachers earning about 20% less than other college graduates with similar degree requirements. This was from an Economic Policy Institute study conducted about 4 years ago.
 
(Slide 4) We next asked who is best situated to propose education policy. Not surprisingly teachers said they were (40%) followed by the Department of Education at 24%. We were pleasantly surprised to see the public poll agreed with those choices. The public also viewed teachers as the best to propose education policy (33%) followed by the WV Department of Education with 30%.
 
In both surveys ranking very far down the list were the Office of Education Performance Audits, the Secretary of Arts and Education and the Legislature.
 
The next question followed along those lines and dealt with the question “When it comes to improving schools, whose opinions do you trust and value most?” (slide 5Once again the groups agreed on the first choice (teachers) and the second choice (parents of school age children). They also agreed on the two groups that they trust and value least – business leaders next to last and legislators finishing last in terms of who they trust and value to improve our schools. Only 5% of parents and 3% of educators believed legislators are the best situated group.
 
One slide that did bring about some disagreement in the survey was the question posed to both groups, “How do you believe the public views public school teachers?” (slide 6) It was great to see 71% of the public holds a favorable view of teachers. It was sad to see, however, that when teachers were asked how they thought the public perceived them the largest number 42% believed the public viewed them unfavorably.
 
I absolutely believe that is based on the talk they hear from elected leaders, business leaders and the news they see on the airwaves and in print. It goes back to the morale issues of educators and how they have been beaten down by those in positions of power.
 
Following in that same vein, we followed up with who each group blamed the most for the problems in our schools. (slide 7) Both groups agreed the group shouldering the least responsibility is teachers – 10% of the public and 9% of the educators. 39% of the public viewed our elected leaders to blame for failing to adequately fund our public schools followed by parents who are not involved in their child’s education as second with 28% . Teachers flipped those results ranking parents who are not involved in their child’s education as number one (36%) followed by legislators at 29%.
 
Our next question (slide 8) centered on some choices on “How effective do you think each of the following would be in improving our public schools?” You can see the choices. Both educators and parents gave the lowest ratings to expanding the school year for students.
 
The final two questions centered around standardized testing. The first dealt with amount of time spent giving standardized tests to students. (slide 9) Both groups agreed that too much of an emphasis was placed on standardized tests. Teachers overwhelming held that view with 93% indicating there is too much emphasis.
 
We followed up that question with one tying teacher pay to student test scores on standardized tests. (slide 10) Once again there is agreement among the two groups – both significantly oppose the idea. Teachers responded with a 91% opposition – 78% strongly opposed the idea.
 
Overall, our survey results go hand in hand with a series of presentations we have been going around the state discussing with local boards of education and other groups. The shortened version of that is as follows.
 
West Virginia’s teachers have the best interests of our school children at heart and are deeply dedicated to helping our students succeed.
When teachers are criticized by those politicians, parents, CEOs and others it has a trickledown effect. It is difficult for our parents and children to respect their teachers and value education when it is clear individuals in positions of power do not.  It’s time to stop the criticism of public education and education employees and honor those individuals who work in our public schools. 
Teachers are the first to say that our public schools need to improve. They are on the front lines every day. Just as other professionals such as accountants, doctors and businessmen know what works best in their career fields; educators know what is needed to improve student achievement and improve our schools. Our survey data indicates the public agrees with us.
Here are three items WVEA members believe will improve public education.
1.        We are all accountable for our children’s success - teachers, administrators, students, parents and elected officials. 
 
Teachers must embrace the challenge to improve our professional practice. Elected officials must give our students and teachers the resources they need. School administrators must provide support and resources. Support staff must be available to assist with student learning. Students must be respectful and come to school ready to learn. Parents and families must instill values of respect, responsibility and love for learning.
 
2.        Policy-makers must invest in the classroom priorities that build the foundation for student learning.
 
Our students need early childhood education and reduced class sizes to enhance individual attention. Our students need a greater emphasis on reading, math, science and technology to prepare them for the world-wide economy. At the same time, our students need a well-rounded education which includes 21st century skills such as problem-solving and collaboration, history, art, PE and music. We must have up-to-date technology and more communication between teachers and parents.
 
3.        Together, we must work to ensure every student has a qualified, caring, committed teacher.
 
How do we do this? First, practicing teachers muststep up to do their part by providing the stable, nurturing, inspiring environment that makes it possible to reach each student individually. In addition, we must focus on preparing, mentoring and supporting new teachers and advocate for more relevant training for all teachers. West Virginia is one of many states piloting new evaluation procedures that will recognize great teaching.
 
Together we must address teacher salaries if we are to recruit and retain the best, brightest and most committed teachers. We also want high standards for those entering the profession as well as those currently in the classroom to ensure effective teachers are in every classroom.
WVEA members are committed to these three core issues. By focusing on these issues, we believe we can develop the world-class education system everyone wants for our children.
Thank you for your attention and attendance today