Teachers bemoan class sizes

Statewide survey highlights funding issues

By Tyler Leeds / The Bulletin

Oregon teachers believe they are not given enough preparation time and classes are too big, according to results from a survey administered by the state at all public schools.

The Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning Oregon Survey was run by the Oregon Department of Education and sponsored by, among others, the Oregon Education Association, the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and the Chalkboard Project, a Portland-based nonprofit. Before the survey was completed, Oregon Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton said he wanted a 100 percent response rate. In the end, just under 60 percent of teachers responded, the third-highest initial response rate among 16 other states using TELL.

About 3 in 4 educators expressed concern about their class sizes, the highest rate received on any TELL survey. Additionally, teachers bemoaned their lack of prep time between and before classes, as well as the time allotted for collaboration with other teachers. Saxton noted these issues are largely connected to state funding.

“Certainly Oregon has had its funding reduced for the last couple bienniums,” Saxton said. “This last one was the first time we had a fairly sizable increase, and I’m hopeful about what the future looks like. We know when teachers are able to collaborate and get together they can improve outcomes at a much higher level. We need to think about how to provide that opportunity.”

Confederation of Oregon School Administrators Executive Director Craig Hawkins characterized the problem as an “issue of time,” saying the more students a teacher has, the less time they have for individualized instruction.

“There’s no question, if we’re going to improve conditions for teaching and learning, we’re going to have to invest in time,” Hawkins said.

Despite complaints about class sizes, teachers were positive in evaluating their school environment overall, community engagement efforts and their principals’ job conducting impartial teacher evaluations. One negative area was Internet access, which only 58 percent of teachers said was satisfactory in their school. Hawkins noted this question is a good cipher for the quality of school facilities, something not directly discussed in the survey.

Bend-La Pine Schools Superintendent Ron Wilkinson said he was “not at all surprised” by the results, and noted his district’s results indicate generally higher levels of satisfaction than average.

Overall, teachers were not very divided in their answers. On nearly 80 percent of the 87 questions, 60 percent or more of teachers selected “agree” or “strongly agree.”

Saxton said he was happy with the rate of results, saying they are “statistically valid.” Oregon Education Association President Hanna Vaandering agreed with Saxton’s characterization of the response rate, but nonetheless took issue with the finding that 80 percent of teachers believed their curriculum is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, which benchmark when students should acquire certain skills and knowledge. Vaandering said polling conducted by her organization “paints a different story around that,” pointing out that many districts are still working to integrate their curriculum with the standards.

In Oregon, the standards were adopted in 2010, and students will begin taking tests pegged to them in spring 2015. Earlier this month, the OEA asked the state to postpone its implementation of tests set to the Common Core. Saxton later refused.

The Bulletin will have more detailed information on how local teachers rated their schools this weekend.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, tleeds@bendbulletin.com

On the Web

For complete results at the state, district and school levels, go to www.tell oregon.org.