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News Maryland Howard County Ellicott City

Morale falling among Howard County teachers

Howard County's teachers are losing confidence in the Board of Education and Superintendent Renee Foose, according to survey results released by the Howard County Education Association.

The union released its 2014 job satisfaction survey Thursday, March 20, and it reflected sharp declines in the confidence teachers have in their leadership. Only 28 percent of respondents said they were confident in the school board — down from 60 percent last year.

Board chairwoman Ellen Giles said the board "we will obviously look at those numbers. ... we'll use those numbers and numbers from the Gallup poll, and put the pieces together to see how we can make improvements."

The school system conducted a poll of students, parents and teachers in the fall of 2012 — a survey, Giles said, that had about an 80 percent response rate, higher than the response rate of the HCEA survey. About 2,700 HCEA members took the union survey, fewer than in years past when respondents numbered more than 3,000.

"Looking at only the HCEA survey would not be enough," Giles said. "You want to get a more complete picture about what's going on in the schools and hear voices from a larger population."

Giles said the board and the school system would be working with Gallup to "inform next steps," and seeing how the surveys "inform one another."

Among the HCEA respondents, 46 percent said they were confident in Foose. Last year, 74 percent of teachers expressed confidence in her leadership.

"The respondents tell us the board has failed to engage educators and families in meaningful discussion about education reform and teaching and learning environments," said HCEA President Paul Lemle. "Our educators love public schools, they love Howard County and when they are critical of the school system leadership, it is rooted in a firm desire to make improvements that benefit the entire community."

Foose could not be reached for comment, but schools spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove said that staff engagement and satisfaction is "critically important."

"The school system launched its first strategic plan this past July, with one of its four goals focused exclusively on staff engagement, support, and success," she said. "This survey came at a time when staff are carrying the burden of a number of large-scale reforms."

The school system is the midst of implementing new curriculum, assessments and teacher evaluations, Amani-Dove said, and "it's a lot of change on a very short timeline."

"The superintendent is committed to providing teachers with the tools, training, compensation and support they need to manage these transitions effectively, thrive in their professional practice and enjoy what they do every day," she said.

Fewer teachers feel their work evaluated fairly: 72 percent, down from last year's 88 percent. More teachers — 69 percent, up from 59 percent — also feel that too much instructional time is spent administering assessments, like the now-defunct Maryland School Assessment, which is being replaced by the Common Core-aligned Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career tests.

Lemle said the drop in regards to teacher evaluations "is an unfortunate but unsurprising consequence of connecting evaluation with things teachers can't control, like student behavior, prior learning, attendance and motivation."

"The waves of education 'reforms' are actually destabilizing to our teachers," Lemle continued. "Rushed Common Core implementation and too much emphasis on standardized testing make professionals leave the field of public education; we're hearing this from novice and veteran teachers who pursue other options."

Despite the drop, most employees feel successful in their work, though even those numbers saw a decline, from 89 percent last year to 81 percent this year.

HCEA hires an independent firm to conduct this survey every year. This year, almost 2,700 Howard County Public School System employees took the survey.

Among those employees, morale is falling — 59 percent said morale was good at their school or work site, compared to 68 percent last year.

According to the survey, 46 percent don't believe their professional development experiences are meaningful, and only 23 percent believe they're being paid fairly. Last year, 52 percent believed they were paid fairly. At 41 percent, fewer teachers than last year believe they have enough time to plan, prepare for, and do their job, compared to last year's 55 percent.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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