- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2001

They are the front-line leaders in carrying out school reforms to ensure that children learn, but the nation's teachers say when it comes to being a part of decision-making in their districts, their opinions often are ignored.
Seventy percent of teachers say they are "left out of the loop" in crucial school decisions, according to a new report to be released today by the New York-based opinion firm Public Agenda.
When school district leaders do make the effort to ask teachers about policies and their concerns, teachers often distrust their motives, the study found.
Less than a fourth of teachers said district leaders' motives were "to gain a better understanding of the issues and concerns of the teachers." Nearly three-fourths said the motive was to win teacher support for "what the district leadership wants to accomplish."
A resounding 97 percent of teachers, the study also found, agreed that "the most important thing members of their community could do for schools is to give teachers their strong support."
Darrell Capwell, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, said the study provides solid research to bolster what teachers long have said that in the drive for accountability, they have become "almost an afterthought."
Mr. Capwell called teachers' feelings of disenfranchisement an "alarming" trend that could undercut their morale, which ultimately hurts children.
"This is certainly a heads-up for school districts," Mr. Capwell said of the study. "Teachers want to be involved, they have good ideas, and when they are included in the discourse about what works, everyone benefits," from schools to students to parents.
Deborah Wadsworth, president of Public Agenda, is scheduled to present results of the report this afternoon at the annual meeting of the National School Boards Association in San Diego. School administrators need to pay attention to teachers' growing feelings of alienation because they are "such trusted ambassadors to parents," she said.
"If the district gets good teacher input in the decision-making process, and as a consequence there's a real buy-in to decisions that are being made, it can obviously affect the contact they have with parents and it could improve the support from parents," Mrs. Wadsworth said.
"Conversely, the potential cost of not involving teachers is resistance to the change and outright opposition to the change, which similarly could be conveyed to parents. It seems to me they are a very important linchpin and at the moment, they themselves feel like they are forgotten players."
The study, titled "Just Waiting To Be Asked," surveyed attitudes on community involvement called "public engagement" among 404 teachers, 475 school board members, 686 school district superintendents and 809 adults, including parents of school-age students. The survey was conducted from July through November. A summary is on the Internet at www.publicagenda.org.
Other key findings:
Parents and the public said they want more community involvement in schools, but nearly three-fourths of the parents and 66 percent of the public said they were "comfortable leaving school policies for educators to decide."
74 percent of school board members and 73 percent of superintendents said they want more community involvement. But when asked about the most pressing issue facing their districts, 53 percent said "raising school achievement" and 32 percent said "school funding." Just 4 percent of superintendents said "communication between the school and community" was key.
Most school board members (90 percent) said they hear most from the public about complaints or demands. School board meetings, they added, are for the most part "unproductive and dominated by a few individuals with narrow interests." However, 51 percent of board members and 40 percent of superintendents said they rely "a lot" on board meetings to gauge community views.


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