by Dr. Terry Stoops
Director of the Center for Effective Education, John Locke Foundation
If you believe that social or mainstream media offer accurate representations of reality, you may be surprised to hear that most teachers in North Carolina are content with the working conditions in their schools. After all, the North Carolina Association of Educators and allied public school advocacy organizations insist that our public schools are in a crisis produced by Republican lawmakers who, in the words of one long-time teacher union activist, “seek to attack or even dismantle public education for financial or cultural gain.”
The North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey tells a much different story.
This week, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction and the Academic Development Institute released results from the 2022 North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey. The state has administered the biennial survey to full- and part-time public school teachers and administrators since 2002. Between March 1 and March 31, 2022, over 112,500 educators, principals, and assistant principals responded this year, yielding an astounding 92% response rate. Compare that to NCAE membership of only about 17,000, and it becomes clear this survey is far more representative of North Carolina teachers.
The survey focuses on eight themes: time, facilities and resources, community support and involvement, managing student conduct, teacher leadership, school leadership, professional development, and instructional practices and support. This year, survey administrators added a section related to the post-pandemic working conditions.
Overall, 85% of educators agreed that their school “is a good place to work and learn.” More importantly, 86% of teachers said they plan to continue teaching in North Carolina.
When asked about the aspect of teaching conditions that most affect their willingness to keep teaching at their school, 33% of teachers selected “school leadership.” Two other matters, “time during the workday” and “managing student conduct,” received 17% and 12% agreement, respectively. Only 8% of respondents selected “facilities and resources” as the primary retention factor. Accordingly, if we want to keep teachers in the classroom, we need to ensure that schools employ outstanding principals and assistant principals who understand sound management of human resources and preservation of orderly learning environments.
Concerns about orderly learning environments certainly are on the minds of teachers. Some progressives mocked Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s discussion of the issue before the House Select Committee on An Education System for North Carolina’s Future earlier this year, but it is clear that he touched on a matter of tremendous concern among North Carolina educators. Overall, 40% of teacher respondents said that bullying is a problem at their school, and 36% raised concerns about frequent cyberbullying. Student misbehavior persists, in part, because there is lax enforcement of established rules of conduct, as nearly 39% of teachers insisted that students do not follow the rules of conduct at their school.
Among noninstructional matters, survey results suggest that educators believe their planning time is inadequate and that ongoing professional training is unsatisfactory. Only 57% of teachers agreed that they have sufficient time to plan and meet with students and parents. The same percentage agreed that professional development is evaluated, communicated to teachers, and differentiated to meet the individual needs of staff. Administrators who create thoughtfully designed master schedules are more likely to enhance teachers’ noninstructional time during the school day and expand opportunities for professional development.
The public education establishment often claims that our public schools lack the resources necessary to succeed. Yet again, reality refutes the narrative. This year, 88% reported that they have sufficient access to computers, devices, and other forms of instructional technology (+8 percentage points since 2018). The same percentage said that they have adequate access to digital and online content (+4 percentage points since 2018). An impressive 86% were content with office equipment and supplies such as copy machines, paper, and pens (+5 percentage points since 2018). Finally, 80% agreed that they have sufficient access to appropriate instructional materials (+6 percentage points since 2018).
Educators continue to address the harmful consequences of ill-advised school lockdowns. Nearly 69% of teachers said that their students need more social/emotional/mental health support compared to the same time in a typical school year.
Most respondents also noted the persistently harmful effects of school closures on student learning. Nearly 60% estimated that students were between six months and one year behind, which is consistent with research recently published by the Office of Learning Recovery and Acceleration at the Department of Public Instruction. That said, around 3.4% of respondents – perhaps those who agree with the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators that learning loss is a “false construct” – claimed that students were between three months and one year ahead in academic progress.
I suspect that the public school advocacy complex will claim that, despite a 92% response rate, the Teacher Working Conditions Survey still does not accurately represent the state of the teaching profession in North Carolina. If they do, North Carolinians should dismiss their objections as nothing more than an attempt to gaslight the public for financial or cultural gain.