Friday, March 7, 2008

Instructional Staff Survey
of Seattle Public Schools

To: SPS instructional staff
Date: March 4, 2008


Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson commissioned a survey of instructional staff in February
2008 to inform the strategic planning process for Seattle Public Schools. At the
superintendent’s urging, several open-ended questions were included in the survey
to allow instructional staff the opportunity to provide candid feedback.

Several overarching themes emerge from this survey:

 Instructional staff report feeling overextended and would like to be able to
focus more on providing individualized instruction for students. Smaller class
sizes, additional support staff, fewer administrative responsibilities,
collaboration with other staff and more planning time are cited as ways that
would help staff provide each student with a higher-quality education and
reduce work-related stress.

 Staff would like professional development that better addresses their needs.
They would like more relevant content and time to implement professional

 Many instructional staff feel disconnected from decision makers in Seattle
Public Schools. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is leading an effort to create more
opportunities to authentically engage instructional staff in the decision
making process. This survey provides critical information about how best to
do this.


Pyramid Communications conducted an online survey of instructional staff for
Seattle Public Schools from Feb. 8–14, 2008. With 1,385 instructional staff
members participating in the survey, the response rate was approximately 28
percent. A good mix of staff participated in the survey, although the results cannot
be statistically generalized to all instructional staff.

Participants were not required to answer every question; as a result, the sample
size varies with each question. There were several open-ended questions that
generated more than 6,000 responses overall. These responses were analyzed
thematically rather than statistically because of their depth and breadth.


Learning and teaching

The vast majority (90 percent) of instructional staff are confident in their ability to individualize learning and teaching. Overwhelmingly, instructional staff (88 percent) say their school uses student achievement data to inform school planning.

Feedback about several other areas of learning and teaching indicates areas for

 Twenty-four percent of instructional staff say their schools do not have
adequate resources for student interventions.

 One-in-five (20 percent) say their school lacks the resources to provide
students with a high-quality education.

 Twenty percent say their school does not have uniform curriculum materials
for grade and subject areas.

 Sixteen percent of instructional staff say their school does not have a clear
scope and sequence for grade and subject areas.

Instructional staff were asked what actions district leadership could take to improve
teaching and learning in their schools and close the achievement gap. Several
important themes emerge from the 1,060 open-ended responses:

 Large class sizes are a significant obstacle to providing a high-quality
education for every student. Providing individualized instruction is
challenging for those with larger class sizes. Some teachers report having
nearly 30 students in their classes.

 More support is needed for math and reading programs. Specifically,
instructional staff would like the district to place more of an emphasis on literacy early in students’ careers. They would also like to see more math curriculum options; the Everyday Math program is not uniformly embraced.

 Teachers do not have enough time to dedicate to planning and instruction.
They would like the district to hire more support staff—such as tutors,
instructional assistants, technology personnel and clerical assistants—so they
can focus on teaching.

 The district should provide more resources for students who are not in
special education but need extra attention for their learning or behavioral
issues. Instructional staff say lower counselor-to-student ratios, more
effective interventions
and more resources for families of special needs
students would be helpful. They would also like to see additional resources
dedicated specifically to meet the needs of special education.

Building-based decision making is popular among some instructional staff
who would like the district to continue to support this model

The district needs to do a better job of addressing the achievement gap.
Some instructional staff say they would like to see the district focus more on
economic than racial disparities.

 The district also needs to do a better job of ensuring a fair and adequate
distribution of materials as well as improving physical spaces.

Support for standardizing or aligning curriculum across the district is mixed.
This issue is discussed in more detail later in this report.

“Reduce the number of students each teacher is responsible for,
so we can indeed provide the amount of support each student
needs to achieve excellence.” —Middle school teacher

“Provide funding for interventions for struggling students, such
as after school programs.”
—Elementary school teacher

Professional development

Approximately three-quarters (77 percent) of instructional staff say they have
“access to effective professional development programs and resources” at their
school. However, just 27 percent say this statement describes their school very

There is room for improvement in specific areas of professional development:

 Instructional staff would like more time for professional development and
collaboration with other staff. One-third (34 percent) say staff at their
schools do not have sufficient time for these activities.

 Instructional staff would also like to see more mentoring opportunities in
general; 38 percent say effective mentoring opportunities are not available
to instructional staff at their school. There is a particular concern that all
new staff members are not getting the professional support they need.

 Less than half (46 percent) say instructional staff at their school have career
path options.

 More than one-quarter (28 percent) of instructional staff say they do not
have access to instructional coaches at their school.

More than 900 instructional staff members provided open-ended feedback
regarding what the district should know to help improve professional development.
Several themes are prominent:

Professional development should be relevant and focused on specific content
It should help instructional staff do a better job of meeting students’
needs in the classroom.

 Professional development should be more individualized. Staff should be
allowed to determine their own professional development needs.

 The district needs to provide time for instructional staff to collaborate with
other staff (intra- and inter-school collaboration).

 The district should also allow more time and support for implementing
changes in professional development or new materials. Many instructional
staff members say the district introduces new programs before the older
programs have had a chance to be successfully implemented.

 Professional development should be structured and well-organized. Some
instructional staff say more advance notice should be given. When they
attend disorganized programs, they feel their time is not being respected.

 Professional development activities should be held on-site during the school
day. Many instructional staff lack the energy to attend professional
development sessions after they have already worked a full day.
They would
be more likely to attend on-site professional development activities if a
greater number of qualified substitutes were available.

 Traveling to off-site professional development programs is costly and time-
consuming. Instructional staff interested in attending off-site programs
would like to be reimbursed for their time and program costs.

Trainers should be experts on the given topic. Instructional staff would like
to see more local trainers; some do not understand why the district pays for
trainers to travel across the country.

 The writer’s workshops developed by Columbia University’s Teachers College
Reading and Writing Project are cited by some instructional staff as an
example of a high-quality, worthwhile program.

“Allow time, not only for the actual professional development
opportunities, but also paid work sessions for teachers to get
together to give feedback and help problem solve to make
implementation succeed.”
—Middle school teacher

“Professional development should be meaningful. Much of what
passes as professional development is trivial or repetitive.
Professional development opportunities often come at the
expense of classroom time with students. Additionally, the hours
needed to adequately prepare for a sub are uncompensated. It
is an additional burden on the already over-worked classroom
teacher. I'd rather be in my classroom.”
—Middle school teacher

Work-related stress

Generally, instructional staff feel the burden of many demands on their time. Their
single biggest cause of stress is “too little time to meet instructional goals;” 94
percent cite this as stress factor, with 61 percent saying it causes them a lot of
stress. The complexity and range of student academic needs also cause the
majority (56 percent) of instructional staff to experience a lot of stress.

The following factors were cited by instructional staff as causing them “a lot” of

 Complexity and range of student non-academic needs (50 percent)
 Cost of living in the Seattle area (45 percent)
 Lack of time to collaborate with other instructional staff (40 percent)
 Preparing students for standardized tests (38 percent)
 Student classroom behavior (33 percent)

Additional causes of “a lot” of stress include:

Disharmony or lack of trust among staff at your school (23 percent)
 Commute to and from school (11 percent)

More than 900 instructional staff commented on other stress factors and ideas for
reducing stress. The following causes of stress were repeatedly mentioned:

 Instructional staff have too many responsibilities and demands on their time.
Specifically, they say they are required to complete too much administrative
paperwork. They feel that new requirements are added to their workload but
nothing is taken off their plate. Instructional staff say it can be difficult to
keep up with new programs and requirements. Many feel they lack adequate
planning and preparation time. Having large class sizes adds to this

 Due to the high cost of living in Seattle, instructional staff are stressed by
their compensation, which they say is too low.

The district is perceived as having a top-down management style. Some
instructional staff say there is too much “busy work” created by the district,
which adds to their stress.

A lack of support for dealing with behavioral issues also stresses
instructional staff.

“I believe that my class size directly adds stress to my workday.
I just don't feel like I can reach each child (and family)
effectively. There's too many of them!
” —Elementary school

“My husband and I are both teachers in Seattle and can barely
afford to live in our district. Two-thirds of my paycheck goes to
childcare. Our contract says we are required to work until 2:45
pm—we are here until almost 5:00 pm daily. It would be nice to
be compensated for the job that we are doing.” —High school

Teachers are expected to wear so many hats beyond teaching
academics … The range of needs, both personal and academic,
in the typical classroom is frequently overwhelming.
adequate support in these areas, the teacher easily burns out.”
—Elementary school teacher

To reduce work-related stress, instructional staff recommend the following actions:

 Allow more time for collaboration among instructional staff.
 Create smaller class sizes.
 Encourage principals to have more direct involvement in classrooms.
Promote flexible and collaborative leadership at the central office.
Continue building-based decision making.
 Allow more time for preparation, planning and curriculum development.
 Increase instructional staff salaries.
 Hire more people to support instruction, such as instructional assistants,
discipline specialists, counselors and technology support staff.
 Reduce paperwork and documentation requests from instructional staff.
Eliminate irrelevant and redundant meetings and trainings.
Create consistent expectations for student behavior, and provide the
resources and support necessary to enforce them.

The single most important factor for reducing stress in a school
is additional staff support, i.e., instructional or admin assistants.
The job of educational professionals requires far more nowadays
than purely academics, and one can't be everything to every
child all the time.
” — High school librarian

Community and family engagement

Instructional staff value community and family engagement and have many ideas
for strengthening partnerships with families. They feel strongly that, “Community
members—even those without children—are partners in strengthening our school.”
Ninety-four percent of instructional staff agree with this statement.

Ninety percent agree that, “Staff members at my school work hard to build good
relationships with families.” A similar number (87 percent) agree that, “My school
regularly communicates with families about how they can help their children learn,”
and 82 percent agree that, “Families are actively encouraged to visit classrooms
and observe the instructional program at my school.”

More than 700 instructional staff provided open-ended feedback to the district to
help schools strengthen partnerships with families:

 Compensate staff for conducting family engagement or hire others to do the
work. Some staff are willing to make phone calls to families and conduct
home visits, but they want to be compensated for their time. Other
instructional staff members say they do not have time to conduct family outreach and would like family support workers or other specialists to conduct this outreach. Instructional staff would like to see family support workers hired in every school.

 Find more ways to engage low-income families who are not able to
participate in regular family events.

 Provide additional resources and dedicate extra time to engage parents or
guardians who do not speak English. They say there is a great demand for
additional interpreters at meetings and events, and many families need help
understanding written materials that are sent home with their kids.

 Make events and conferences more accessible to all families by offering
food, transportation, childcare and interpretation. It is important that
families of disadvantaged students have a voice in the decision-making

 Encourage families with Internet access to use The Source.

“During the school year there have been many times when a
home visit would be a good idea but I do maybe five. It's just
too much … Our Family Support workers have been wonderful
and we really appreciate them.” —High school teacher

“[The district] should know that not all families have the same
access to school as others (work schedules, transportation,
childcare issues). They should know how time consuming,
frustrating and at times impossible it is to get interpreters (any
language, including SEE and ASL).” —Elementary school speech-
language pathologist

“The more 'neighborhood' based we can make our high school,
the more families and community members will participate.
When students commute from across the city, the ties aren't
there for extra-curricular involvement. We need neighborhood
schools in Seattle.” —High school teacher

Strategic planning process

Faced with 11 possible initiatives for the district to emphasize, instructional staff
were asked to select and rank only three of the initiatives. They spread their
support fairly evenly, although a few initiatives stand out. Almost half (46 percent)
select “provide adequate facilities” as an initiative the district should emphasize
(22 percent say this is their first priority for the district).

Three other initiatives receive relatively broad support from instructional staff (the
percentage represents the proportion of staff that select this initiative as one of the three they would like the district to emphasize):

 Provide on-site professional development, such as instructional coaches (38
Provide useful student achievement data to help shape instructional
(35 percent).
Effectively measure central office performance (32 percent).
 Provide uniform instructional materials (30 percent).

Staff express a range of opinions about the issue of standardized curriculum. About
one-quarter (26 percent) select this initiative as one the district should emphasize.
In previous open-ended questions, some instructional staff express an interest in
aligning or standardizing curriculum. Others do not like the idea and say the district
should make this initiative less of a priority. There are most likely a variety of
interpretations of what it means for the district to align or standardize curriculum.
This issue should be explored in more detail in future research with instructional
staff, particularly in light of the recently completed Curriculum Audit.

More than 600 instructional staff offered feedback on other priorities that should be addressed in the strategic plan, including:

 Reducing class sizes
 Making facility improvements (particularly in South End schools)
 Providing adequate materials, including current books for all content areas
 Ensuring adequate staffing, with an emphasis on attracting and retaining
high-quality instructional staff
 Arranging more planning and implementation time
 Hiring more support staff, such as family support workers, counselors,
tutors, nurses, etc.
 Ensuring a more equitable distribution of resources in schools and
opportunities for students

There needs to be a process for letting poor performing
teachers and administrators go.
There are so many talented
teachers who want to teach for Seattle Public schools. We need
to retain and reward strong teachers and weed out those who
are not meeting the needs of the students.” —Elementary school

“Provide methods/funding for reducing class size and providing
social service support.” —High school teacher

“Maintain buildings adequately, particularly new roofs and floors
instead of patches. Replacing malfunctioning pipes and ducts
should also be a priority.” —Elementary school teacher

Nearly 600 instructional staff offered feedback on priorities they would make LESS Important if they were the superintendent, including:

 Standardizing and aligning all curricula
 Generating decision making with Central Office staff
 Holding teachers and principals accountable for student achievement (this is
perceived as too simplistic)
 Preparing for standardized tests
 Collecting quantitative data on student performance
 Measuring instructional staff performance

Some of these priorities—such as standardizing curriculum and collecting/providing
student achievement data—are selected by some instructional staff members as
initiatives the district should emphasize. These are not necessarily contradictory
findings and should be explored further in future research.

We absolutely do not need to all be held to uniform or standard
curricula. We do not teach identical students; we should be
expected to shape our classes to meet the needs of our students
… standards and standardization have nothing in common.

—High school teacher

“Be less preoccupied with quantitative data of student
performance, and more with qualitative discussions of what they
are learning or how they are performing.” —High school
substitute teacher

Communication with Central Office

Two-thirds (66 percent) of instructional staff say they do not have enough
opportunities to provide feedback to decision makers in Seattle Public Schools.

More than 400 instructional staff provided the district with recommendations for
communicating more effectively:

Engage in more two-way communication. Instructional staff members want
to be consulted before important decisions are made and would like to be
assured that district leadership is thoughtfully considering their input.

 The superintendent and district administrators should visit buildings and
classrooms more frequently. Instructional staff would also like to have an
open line of communication with district leadership.

 Communicate more frequently with instructional staff, but keep messages
succinct. They do not want to be out of the loop, but many receive a high
volume of email and need to quickly discern what is most important.

Demonstrate respect for instructional staff. Notify them of important
developments before they are reported in the media. The tone of
communication pieces should be honest and straightforward; they
sometimes feel the district leadership “talks down” to them.

 Consider updating the internal and external SPS website to make them more
intuitive and easier to navigate.

Surveys and other forms of staff feedback are meaningless
unless they are taken seriously and not conducted just for show.

Prove to us that you have heard what we have to say and
haven't already chosen a course of action.
The people most
affected by a decision MUST have some say in the decision-
making process.
How will you enable us to be effective
teachers?” —High school teacher

I think communication should be a priority before decision
While I know and trust that the people making
decisions are both competent and student-centered, I still think
the more we can collaborate together, the smarter we can be. I
think it's important to at least hear input from those of us who
are in the classroom and schools every single day with kids.” —
Middle school teacher

A majority of instructional staff prefer to receive information about what Seattle
Public Schools is doing through their principal or supervisor (65 percent) and
through emails from the superintendent (53 percent).

Approximately one-third of instructional staff prefer to receive information from the
district website (37 percent) and Seattle Education Association (34 percent).

Additional sources of information tested include:

 School Beat e-newsletter (27 percent)
 Classroom Connection e-newsletter (22 percent)
 Meetings with the superintendent (22 percent)
 Other instructional staff (13 percent)
 TV/radio/print (10 percent)
 Families (4 percent)


Anonymous said...

The achievement gap is genetically based and can never be appreciably closed. That's why everything that has been tried for the last 30-40 years and the huge resource expenditures have all failed. See Hart, "Understanding Human History" and Lynn, "Race Differences in Intelligence." Both are recent publications easily read and understood by the layperson.

The place to get the truth is *not* from an activist, or politician, or big-bucks consultant, or your best friend, or school officials, or your minister/pastor/rabbi, or your favorite blog. You get the *TRUTH* from the Peer-Reviewed Literature. All the needed citations are in the references above. It is not controversial...

dan dempsey said...

Having been involved with education for decades, I can not say that I've investigated the "Race differences in intelligence" as a research topic. I just do not know.

It strikes me immediately that there are different ethnicities but not different races.

I've noticed that disadvantaged learners have more difficulty in school. Having worked with extremely talented individuals of most ethnicities, I see the school performance difficulty as primarily caused by environmental factors.

In looking at Project Follow Through I have little doubt that extremely poor curricula and practices are instructionally disabling many students. If young students have poor texts and no outside support learning is extremely difficult.

I will choose to spend my time trying to improve the situations that I have a shot at changing and the patience to accept most that are beyond changing except for a bunch in Seattle that I will still loudly oppose. Of course I will pray for strength to change the ones I can and the wisdom to be able to determine the bureaucratic black holes and avoid most of them.

I cannot change anyone's DNA but we can certainly start improving many of the insane practices brought to education by the data ignorant tribes of Group Thinkers.