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Teacher Quality: A Report on The Preparation and Qualifications of Public School Teachers
NCES: 1999080
January 1999

Supportive Work Environment

Teachers' work environment is the final aspect of teacher quality addressed in this report. The model for thinking about teacher quality (presented in the introduction chapter) began with different types of teacher learning and ended with the support teachers receive to pursue continued learning. This model suggests that in addition to teacher learning (both preservice and continued), one key factor to understanding teacher quality is focusing on what happens to teachers once they enter the work force, including if they receive support from the schools and communities in which they work (e.g., induction programs for new teachers and the number of students for whom teachers are responsible) and from the parents of the children they teach.

Three features of teachers' work environment were measured in the 1998 survey: (1) induction programs; (2) class size; and (3) teachers' perceptions of parent and school support.

Induction Programs

Formal induction programs, particularly for new teachers, are the first feature of teachers' work environment investigated here. Induction programs are typically designed to both improve teaching skills of beginning teachers and reduce attrition. Providing support for beginning teachers in U.S. schools has been the focus of increasing attention since the mid-1980s, mainly because attrition rates among new teachers are often much higher than among experienced teachers. This suggests that the transition into teaching is difficult for beginning teachers (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, 1997).

Often, new teachers are hired at the last minute, isolated in their classrooms, and provided little assistance with their often overwhelming duties (Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation, 1997).

From a policy standpoint, induction may increase the efficacy and retention of quality teachers because it has the potential to help new teachers cope with classroom realities and adjust to school environments. By providing continuity and support to beginning teachers' transition into teaching, induction programs may address a critical stage of the career-long continuum of teacher professional development.

Comprehensive induction programs are often tied to certification. In general, these programs emphasize instructional support in the form of skills, knowledge, and strategies for effective classroom teaching, and psychological support in the form of encouraging confidence building (Gold, 1996). These initial experiences exert a powerful influence in anchoring new teachers' feelings and perceptions about their capabilities and future careers. Teacher participation in an induction program is, therefore, a useful indicator of the extent to which elementary and secondary public schools are addressing the issue of training and retaining quality teachers.

The 1998 survey asked teachers to indicate if, when they first began teaching, they participated in a formal induction program (e.g., a program to help beginning teachers by assigning them to master or mentor teachers). Thirty-four percent of full-time public school teachers in the 1998 study indicated that they had participated in such a program (Table B-13). The 1993-94 survey asked a similar question and found that 28 percent of full-time public school teachers had participated in an induction program during their first year (Table C-10). Participation in an induction program varied considerably by teaching experience (Figure 12 and Table B-13).

Newer teachers were more likely to have participated in an induction program than were more experienced teachers, ranging from 65 percent of teachers with 3 or fewer years of experience to 14 percent of teachers with 20 or more years of experience. The 1993-94 data showed similar findings, with less experienced teachers being more likely to have had a formal induction into teaching than teachers with more experience (Figure 13). Teachers with 3 or fewer years of experience were more likely to have participated in an induction program in 1998 than in 1993-94 (65 percent compared with 59 percent), suggesting that there may be more emphasis on induction programs in recent years.

Teachers in the 1998 study who participated in an induction program were asked to write in the length of that program. Two-thirds of the teachers indicated that they participated in induction programs that lasted from 9 months to a year (Figure 14). Some of the induction programs in which teachers participated lasted more than a year (12 percent of the teachers), while some were quite short, lasting 3 months or less (also 12 percent of the teachers). The remaining 10 percent of the teachers participated in induction programs that were more than 3 months through 8 months in length. Unfortunately, it is not possible to determine the intensity or usefulness of the induction program from its length. In fact, comments written in on the questionnaire by some teachers indicated that some programs that lasted for a year actually involved relatively little interaction with the master or mentor teacher to whom they were assigned, such as a few meetings between the teachers over the course of the year.

Class Size

The second feature of the work environment examined in this report is class size. Reducing class size is among President Clinton's priorities as outlined in his Education and Training Priorities for the Fall (August 1998). The relevance of class size to student outcomes is a hotly debated issue that has come to the forefront of current policy initiatives. Common-sense appeal and considerable research evidence suggest that smaller classes contribute to improved student performance, especially for elementary school students and students who are at risk. Others contend that the lack of consistent research evidence makes it difficult to justify the cost of implementing across-the-board reductions in class size. However, there is some agreement that class size matters when certain sizes are compared (very large and very small classes) and when some populations are considered (students disadvantaged by poverty and disabilities).

Moreover, research shows that teachers prefer smaller classes (U.S. Department of Education, 1997). Although the academic debate continues and despite the substantial costs involved, many states and the federal government have taken initiatives to reduce class size.

Both the 1998 and 1993-94 surveys asked teachers about the number of students taught. From this information, average class size was calculated. In 1998, the average class size for full-time public school teachers in general elementary classrooms 16 was 23 students; it was 24 students for teachers in departmentalized settings (Tables 19 and B-14). In 1993-94, the average class size for full-time public school teachers was 24 students for both general elementary classrooms 17 and departmentalized settings 18 (Tables 20 and C-11 ). Thus, average class size was larger for teachers in 1993-94 than in 1998 for teachers in general elementary classrooms, but not for teachers in departmentalized settings. This difference in class size for general elementary classrooms may represent an actual decrease in class size over time, due to factors such as increased emphasis on smaller classes in recent years. Alternatively, this difference may be due to methodological differences between the studies, such as the different ways in which the class size information was collected on the questionnaires, or differences in data collection procedures. 19 Both studies did, however, show some of the same general patterns of differences by school characteristics.

Average class size was found to differ by school locale. The 1998 data indicate that for both general elementary and departmentalized teachers, teachers in rural areas and small towns had smaller classes, on average, than did teachers in central cities or in urban fringe areas or large towns (Tables 19 and B-14). Teachers in 1993-94 also showed differences by locale (Tables 20 and C-11 ), with both general elementary and departmentalized classrooms in rural areas and small towns smaller on average than those located in central cities or in urban fringe areas or large towns.

Average class size also varied by region. In 1998, departmentalized teachers in the West taught an average of 28 students in a class, compared with an average of 23 students in the other regions. In 1993-94, average class size also differed by region, although the pattern was somewhat different for general elementary and departmentalized teachers. For general elementary teachers, teachers in the West had the largest class sizes. For departmentalized teachers, average class size differed for each region, ranging from 22 to 26 students. Teachers in the West had the largest classes, followed by teachers in the South, then teachers in the Midwest, and then teachers in the Northeast.

In addition, average class size varied by minority enrollment in the school. In 1998, departmentalized teachers in schools with very low minority enrollment (5 percent or less) had smaller classes, on average, than did teachers at schools with minority enrollments of 6 to 20 percent and 21 to 50 percent, who in turn taught smaller classes than did teachers at schools with more than 50 percent minority enrollment.

Average class size also showed differences by minority enrollment for teachers in 1993-94. For departmentalized teachers, teachers in schools with minority enrollments of 5 percent or less taught smaller classes, on average, than did teachers in schools with minority enrollments of 21 to 50 percent and more than 50 percent.

General elementary teachers showed this same pattern. In addition, departmentalized teachers in schools with 6 to 20 percent minority enrollment had smaller classes than did teachers at schools with more than 50 percent minority enrollment.

Parent and School Support

The final aspect of teachers' work environment addressed in this report is teachers' perceptions of parent and school support. These indicators have been included in this chapter based on the premise that effective teaching requires support beyond that typically available to teachers working alone in isolated classrooms (Newmann, 1994). According to the Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools (Kruse, Louis, and Bryk, 1994: 5): "Teachers must feel they are honored for their expertise-within the school as well as within the district, the parent community and other significant groups." The 1998 survey asked teachers to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with four statements about supportive working conditions: one statement about the extent to which goals and priorities of the school are clear, and three statements about the extent to which teachers receive support from other teachers, school administrators, and parents. Teachers in the 1993-94 study were asked similar questions for three of these areas, although only the statement about goals and priorities for the school was exactly the same in the two surveys.

In 1998, most of the teachers believed that goals and priorities for the school were clear, with 47 percent agreeing strongly and 38 percent agreeing somewhat with this statement (Figure 15). In 1993-94, most teachers also believed that the goals and priorities for the school were clear, with 37 percent agreeing strongly and 45 percent agreeing somewhat (Figure 16). Teachers in 1998 and 1993-94 did differ in whether they strongly agreed that the school's goals and priorities were clear, but methodological artifacts, such as the response contexts for the items, could contribute to the difference.

Collegial support is key to creating and sustaining a collaborative environment. Apart from the school administration's responsibility to nurture such an environment, it can exert a strong influence on teacher commitment and job satisfaction by providing one-to-one support to teachers. It is therefore important to examine the extent to which teachers feel supported by other teachers and the school administration. In response to the statement about collegial support, most teachers in 1998 felt that other teachers shared ideas with them that were helpful in their teaching; 63 percent of teachers strongly agreed with this statement, and 33 percent somewhat agreed with it (Figure 15 and Table B-15).

In 1998, most teachers felt supported by the school administration, with 55 percent of teachers agreeing strongly and 36 percent agreeing somewhat that the school administration supported them in their work (Figure 15 and Table B-15). Most teachers in 1993-94 also felt that the school administration was supportive; 41 percent of teachers agreed strongly and 38 percent agreed somewhat that the school administration's behavior toward them was supportive and encouraging (Figure 16 and Table C-12).

Support from parents provides a necessary link between home and school, laying the foundation for a partnership that serves to engage student, parent, and teacher commitment. The 1998 and 1993-94 data showed that teachers perceived somewhat less support from parents than from other teachers (1998) and the school administration (both studies). For example, in 1998, 32 percent of teachers in 1998 agreed strongly and 54 percent agreed somewhat that parents supported them in their efforts to educate their children (Figure 15 and Table B-15). The 1993-94 study asked a somewhat differently worded question about parental support: teachers were asked to indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement that they receive "a great deal of support" from parents for the work they do (as compared with "parents support me in my efforts to educate their children" in 1998). For teachers in 1993-94, 11 percent agreed strongly and 42 percent agreed somewhat with this statement, and 30 percent disagreed somewhat and 17 percent disagreed strongly that they received a great deal of support from parents (Figure 16 and Table C-12).

In 1998, teachers' perceptions of collegial and school support varied by the instructional level of the school, with elementary school teachers perceiving stronger collegial and school support than high school teachers (Figure 17 and Table B-15). For example, 69 percent of elementary school teachers compared with 53 percent of high school teachers strongly agreed that other teachers shared ideas that were helpful to their teaching. The 1993-94 data also showed some variation in perceived school support by the instructional level of the school (Figure 18 and Table C-12), with elementary school teachers perceiving more support than high school teachers. For example, 44 percent of elementary school teachers compared with 33 percent of high school teachers strongly agreed that the school administration's behavior toward the staff was supportive and encouraging.

Teachers' perceptions of parental support also varied by the instructional level of the school. For example, 36 percent of 1998 elementary school teachers compared with 24 percent of high school teachers strongly agreed that parents support them in their efforts to educate their children (Figure 17 and Table B-15). For 1993-94, teachers' perceived support from parents, while low overall, also showed this pattern of variation by instructional level, with 15 percent of elementary school teachers compared with 6 percent of high school teachers strongly agreeing that they received a great deal of support from parents for the work that they do (Figure 18 and Table C-12).

In 1998, teachers' perceptions of parent and school support also showed some variation by years of teaching experience. Less experienced teachers perceived more support from other teachers and the school administration, and less support from parents, than did more experienced teachers. For example, 67 percent of teachers with 3 or fewer years of experience compared with 60 percent of teachers with 20 or more years of experience strongly agreed that other teachers shared ideas that were helpful to their teaching; 26 percent of the least experienced teachers compared with 33 percent of the most experienced teachers strongly agreed that parents supported them in their efforts to educate their children (Figure 19 and Table B-15). Teachers in 1993-94 also varied by years of teaching experience in their views of support from the school administration. For example, 48 percent of the least experienced teachers compared with 38 percent of the most experienced teachers strongly agreed that the school administration's behavior toward the staff was supportive and encouraging (Figure 20 and Table C-12).

Perceived support from parents was also related to the concentration of poverty in the school (as defined by the percentage of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch) (Figure 21 and Table B-15). In 1998, 41 percent of the teachers in schools with the lowest concentration of poverty (less than 15 percent eligible for free or reducedprice lunch) strongly agreed that parents support their efforts, compared with 29 percent of teachers in schools with 33 to 59 percent eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, and 23 percent of teachers in schools with 60 percent or more eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (Figure 21 and Table B-15). The 1993-94 data also showed differences in perceived support from parents by concentration of poverty in the school. As with the 1998 data, the general pattern in 1993-94 was for teachers in schools with the lowest concentration of poverty to perceive somewhat more support from parents than did teachers in schools with the highest concentration of poverty (Figure 22 and Table C-12).

Summary

This chapter began with the premise that in addition to good training and opportunities for continued learning, quality teaching is dependent on the environment in which teachers work. Talented, well-trained teachers are most effective in environments that support their work and professional growth.

Results of the 1998 survey indicate that in many respects, teachers do view their work environments as supportive. Most teachers in 1998 felt supported by the school administration and felt that school goals and priorities were clear. In addition, most teachers believed that other teachers shared ideas with them that were helpful to their teaching. Additionally, average class sizes were lower in 1998 than in 1993-94 for teachers in general elementary classrooms.

The 1998 survey also indicates aspects of teachers' work environments that could be improved. For example, in 1998, two-thirds of America's full-time public school teachers have not participated in an induction program. However, the 1998 survey indicates that about two-thirds of new teachers (those with 3 or fewer years of experience) did participate in such programs. In addition, teachers with 3 or fewer years of experience were more likely to have participated in an induction program in 1998 than in 1993-94 (65 percent compared with 59 percent), suggesting that there may be more emphasis on induction programs in recent years.

One-third of teachers in 1998 agreed strongly that parents support their efforts to educate the parents' children, with elementary school teachers perceiving greater support from parents than high school teachers. There was also variation in perceived support by the poverty concentration in the school. The general pattern in both the 1998 and 1993-94 studies was for teachers in schools with the lowest concentration of poverty to perceive somewhat more support from parents than did teachers in schools with the highest concentration of poverty.

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16The category labeled general elementary classrooms for the 1998 FRSS study includes all teachers of self-contained classrooms, regardless of instructional level. Almost all (95 percent) of the self-contained classrooms were at the elementary school level.

17The category labeled general elementary classrooms for the 1993- 94 SASS study includes the teachers who indicated that their main teaching assignment was general elementary.

18The category labeled departmentalized settings for the 1993-94 SASS study includes the teachers who indicated that their main teaching assignment was in English/language arts, social studies/social sciences, foreign language, mathematics, or science.

19See appendix A for a discussion of comparisons between the two surveys.

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