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Status of Education Reform in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Teachers' Perspective
NCES: 1999045
February 1999


Increasingly, national initiatives are directed toward finding ways to improve the quality of education for all students. These initiatives address many aspects of the educational process, including the application of high standards for student achievement. The Public School Teacher Survey on Education Reform was conducted to provide nationally representative data on teachers' understanding of standards-based education reforms. In addition, the study gathered nationally representative data on specific reform activities teachers reported implementing in their classrooms. The study also attempted to identify information and assistance needed by teachers.

Data from this report represent findings from one of two studies that were requested jointly by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) and the Planning and Evaluation Service (PES) in the U.S. Department of Education. The Public School Teacher Survey on Education Reform provides data from a nationally representative sample of 1,445 public elementary, middle, and high school teachers on their individual efforts toward education reform. The other study, Public School Survey on Education Reform, collected data from a sample of nationally representative public school principals that are intended to provide information about public school education reform strategies being implemented, principals' need for information and assistance, and the role of Title I program resources in supporting education reforms. Findings from the principal survey are presented in a separate report. 2

Both studies were initiated during the spring of 1996. Followup with nonresponding principals was completed in July 1996 and with nonresponding teachers in October 1996 (see appendix A for survey methodology). The study was conducted through the Fast Response Survey System (FRSS) for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) by Westat, a research firm in Rockville, Maryland. The survey asked teachers to report for the 1995-96 school year. This report contains information about education reform efforts in U.S. public schools as reported by school teachers through a mail survey. The information has not been independently verified. Because of the survey questions and collection methodology used, results should be interpreted carefully for the following reasons:

  1. Since all teachers do not share the same concept of reform, survey questions were designed to be inclusive of a wide variety of reform activities.
  2. There may be a tendency for respondents to over-report activities in which they believe they should be engaged.
  3. As a Fast Response survey, the questionnaire was brief and could not collect information to judge the accuracy of the teachers' reports about their reform efforts.

Teachers were given guidance for completing their surveys in the form of a general definition of new higher standards. It was defined on the questionnaire as "recent and current education reform activities that seek to establish more challenging expectations for student achievement and performance, such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards for mathematics, state- or local initiated standards in various subjects, and those outlined in Goals 2000."

It is important to note that the survey did not limit standards to those adopted by states, since schools in states that have not adopted standards could have locally developed standards of their own. The teacher survey included questions on the following topics:

  • Teachers' understanding of the concept of new higher standards for student achievement;
  • How well equipped teachers feel to set or apply new higher standards of achievement for their students;
  • The extent to which teachers are implementing various reform activities and in what areas information is most needed;
  • Incorporation of specific education reform activities in English/ language arts, history/social studies, mathematics, and science classes;
  • The extent to which teachers hold students with limited English proficiency and disabilities to the same high standards as other students;
  • The extent to which teachers have engaged in activities to involve parents in student learning;
  • Sources of information or assistance in understanding and using reform strategies and activities;
  • Teachers' preferred format for receiving information;
  • Total number of hours teachers spent on professional development, types of professional development activities attended, and whether information on high standards was a major focus of the activities attended; and
  • Characteristics of professional development activities sponsored or supported by teachers' schools.

Survey findings are presented throughout the report in aggregate for all schools; where significant differences were found, they are presented by school characteristics. Appendix B contains reference tables of the survey data broken out by the school and teacher characteristics listed below.

Findings from these tables were not discussed in great depth in the report because many of the comparisons between school and teacher characteristics on the extent of their reform activities did not show relevant or statistically significant differences. Readers can use the appendix reference tables to make comparisons not cited in the text of the report.

  • Instructional level (elementary school, middle school, high school);
  • Geographic region (Northeast, Southeast, Central, West);
  • Locale (city, urban fringe, town, rural);
  • Percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (less than 35 percent, 35-49 percent, 50-74 percent, 75 percent or more);
  • Number of years teacher has been teaching (less than 10, 10 to 20, 21 or more); and
  • Main subject area teacher taught (self-contained class, mathematics, science, social studies, and English/language arts).

Data have been weighted to national estimates of public school teachers. All comparative statements made in this report have been tested for statistical significance through chi-square tests or t-tests adjusted for multiple comparisons using the Bonferroni adjustment and are significant at the 0.05 level or better. However, not all statistically significant comparisons have been presented.

2 U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Fast Response Survey System, Status of Education Reform in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: Principals' Perspectives, FRSS 54, 1998.