Survey of 11,000 school employees reveals widespread disappointment, demoralization and discontent
“I have never seen the morale so low among our staff.”
“I’m tired of feeling like the punching bag for everything that is wrong in education.”
“Our education system is headed for a crisis.”
“I am counting the days until I can retire.”
These are just some of the sentiments expressed in a landmark survey taken by 11,000 Michigan school employees who are members of the American Federation of Teachers Michigan and the Michigan Education Association. The results of the anonymous online survey provide a chilling picture of the state of education in Michigan.
“Michigan school employees have been dealt blow after blow in recent years, accepting pay cuts and freezes and other attacks from Lansing that most Michiganders would find unacceptable,” said MEA President Steven Cook. “This survey is a damning indictment of toxic education policies and a toxic attitude toward those who educate our kids.”
The school employees surveyed had a combined total of 215,765 years of experience and an average of 20 years each. Yet despite having a lifetime of experience at their jobs, school employees — who are experts in how best to educate students and run schools — feel demoralized, demeaned and devalued by lawmakers in Lansing.
“By cutting budgets and issuing draconian mandates that demonize public school employees and public schools, the state is destroying the quality of our children’s education,” said AFT Michigan President David Hecker. “The warning signs are out there, but Lansing’s policymakers have chosen to bury their heads in the sand rather than listen to experts — Michigan’s hardworking school employees.”
The survey data and open-ended comments reveal a shocking reality for those who work in Michigan’s public schools, one marked by low morale, exhaustion from needless testing, high job insecurity and disgust with Lansing’s policies that hurt rather than help student achievement.
The survey was conducted over a one-week period last spring. Participants included PreK-12 teachers and support staff, higher education faculty and support staff, and retirees of all groups. Respondents included bus drivers, secretaries and office personnel, paraprofessionals, food service employees, custodial and maintenance workers, IT/tech support and safety/security employees.
School employees cited stagnated compensation as their top concern, followed by too much standardized testing and then evaluation systems. Employees said state mandates are harming the quality of education by hijacking well-rounded curricula and forcing schools to focus on needless testing. They said such policies are dampening collaboration and pitting teachers against each other in a competition by subjective evaluations conducted by administrators. Many said they fear for the future of education in Michigan and believe a true education crisis will come to a head within the decade.
Highlights of the survey include:
80 percent of school employees said they are under-compensated for the job they do. In fact, many said they take home several thousand dollars less per year compared to five years ago, often due to pay freezes and skyrocketing health care premiums and deductibles. A contributing factor is the 2011 law that mandates that districts cap health insurance costs, forcing employees to pay more out of pocket.
More than half of school employees — 52 percent — said they didn’t think they could comfortably retire; 36 percent said they just weren’t sure, and only 12 percent have any confidence that they can retire comfortably.
Their students take an average of four different standardized tests each year. Many teachers said “dozens,” and for some, the number was so high that they could only make a ballpark guess. At least 40 answered simply, “Too many.”
A dismal 16 percent said they were well-supported in implementing new state educational standards and curricula; 43 percent said merely “average,” while 40 percent gave the quality of their support a poor rating.
Only 7 percent of teachers thought changes to the evaluation system over the past several years have had a positive impact on their teaching. In fact, 60 percent said these changes had a negative impact on their teaching.