Authorized Data Collection on Teachers

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The US Census Bureau and the US Department of Education have now teamed to collect data on teachers, via the “SCHOOLS AND STAFFING SURVEY, 2003-2004 SCHOOL YEAR.” I cannot help but question their motives, as well as the use of taxpayer monies. The 48-page questionnaire was placed on my desk, with a note stating, “You have been chosen…” and my first thought was a facetious, “Well, aren’t I lucky?”

Reading on, the documents states,

THIS SURVEY HAS BEEN ENDORSED BY:

  • American Counseling Association
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Council of Great City Schools
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals
  • National Center for Improving Science Education
  • National Education Association
  • National Middle School Association

This list did little to reassure me so my suspicions and distrust deepened as I opened the packet. Information on the inside page explained that this “is the largest sample survey of America’s elementary and secondary schools” and promised that they would never disclose any of my answers in any way that would personally identify me “unless otherwise compelled by law.” Knowing how legislators write laws for anything and everything, I found no reassurance in that disclaimer.

The page ended with the “Paperwork Burden Statement” and noted, “According to the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, no persons are required to respond to a collection of information unless such collection displays a valid OMB control number.” Of course this form has a valid OMB number of 1850—0598. No paperwork will be reduced; no burden lifted; this time. At least they gave me one chance to laugh.

I began answering questions that I found non-offensive or that were already printed on the label, anyway. I gave name; school address; full time status; year I began teaching here and anywhere; classes and grade levels I teach; my bachelor’s degree in Deaf Education; my master’s degree in English; my universities; my certifications. I questioned why they would bother me for this information — all of which is available from every state Department of Education where teacher certification data is maintained. Oh…but that wouldn’t build a data bank connected to the other information that they seek, would it?

Occasionally I was given opportunities to write comments. Regarding ‘teacher training’ I specifically noted, “Education Methods classes were virtually WORTHLESS; a Waste of Time and Money.” Following questions about national board testing and preparation for teaching, I noted, “I greatly disapprove of the empty, PC, politicized nothingness coming out of teacher ‘methods’ (choke) classes. They also accept LOW IQ, LOW SAT/ACT scoring applicants.”

One section dealt with the all-encompassing term ‘Professional Development.’ I could only check the boxes admitting that we had had some, but I could not rank the quality of that which districts consider professional development. In the comment space I explained that, “I develop my own skills with reading, researching, paying for my own training in teaching reading, paying for my own attendance at intelligent conferences, instead of dumbed-down PC school offerings.” When I was asked my priority for professional development, I opted for #9-Other and wrote in “How to emotionally survive in a decaying public education system.”

I was asked if I use the information in children’s permanent files to plan groupings, teaching practices, curriculum; if I use state and district standards to guide my instructional practices. I wrote, “I don’t trust the unstandardized MEAP to measure anything. They lower the bar every year. I understand that 60% accuracy earns the ‘coveted’ #1 rating. I’m a traditional teacher and teach kids reading, spelling, writing, and KNOWLEDGE. No ‘feel good group’ stuff.” By then I was out of space and could not explain that I never read children’s files for I have little faith in the observations noted in them; that I want every child to have a new chance at life when they enter my room; that I do my own testing to determine where remediation needs to be done.

Page 33 and I was still checking here and there in response to working conditions; decision-making; teacher attitudes and school climate; student behavior; stress and disappoints in teaching. I was almost enjoying the chance to vent and noted that my X’s were becoming larger and less controlled. When asked, “If you could go back to your college days and start over again, would you become a teacher or not?” I checked, “Probably would not become a teacher.” They gave no space for me to write in Astrophysicist. “How long do you plan to remain in teaching?” I quickly checked, “Definitely plan to leave teaching as soon as I can.”

After reassuring them that any students threatening to harm me had only done so a few times in the last year, I came to a seemingly harmless section: General Employment Information. Here they wanted my teaching salary, but in addition they wanted to know of any money that I earn teaching summer school; working in a non-teaching job; coaching; merit pay; and at any outside job. Now, I realize that my income from the school district is public knowledge, but I would never disclose other income on a public school survey and do not consider that to be ‘general’ information. I suppose that most of the obedient follow-the directions-teachers will fill in all the figures, right down to the cents.

PAGE 41 ended my willingness to participate any further. I was offended that they would ask, in addition to my name, my spouse’s full name, full address, zip+4, home telephone number, and in whose name the telephone is listed. I gave my name (it was written on the form when it was presented to me) and gave the school phone number. In large letters across the remainder of the page, I wrote: NOYB. I was becoming quite huffy by the time that I turned to page 42, where I was asked the best times for them to contact me. A large comment section followed, in which I wrote, “How dare you turn this into a chance to collect personal information. I disapprove of federal involvement in education and believe the Departments of Education — at all state and federal levels — should be closed. Standards have gone DOWN in education since your departments were formed!”

My Irish temper was already flaming…then I turned to page 43 and 44 — where they shamelessly requested extensive information on three (3) persons “who would know where to get in touch with you during the coming years.” My pen tip almost ripped the paper to shreds as I wrote “NOYB; How dare you even ask?” Page 45 allowed for last comments, so I scrawled, “My personal life and contacts are not your business. I do not want any follow-up contacts. I do my best teaching and will leave the profession ASAP.” I closed the booklet feeling the worse for the wear.

I consider this survey as nothing more than further wasted tax money and deeper intrusion into lives. I feel confident that most rule-followers will fill out every question; provide personally identifiable information, not only on themselves, but on three contacts, as well — three friends or family members who will always know how to locate them, should the government fail to seek and destroy with its own methods.

Now, if this survey were to check credentials against class assignments to see if schools are having math teachers teach math; English teachers teach English — one might hope that its goal would be to improve education by encouraging schools to effectively hire and make class assignments according to a teacher’s training and expertise. This questionnaire will not get that job done.

This survey leaves me offended by the intrusion; angry about the time taken away from my teaching duties; disgusted about the waste of taxpayers’ monies. I hope that hundreds of teachers will choose to only answer sensible questions; refuse to answer personal questions; write negative comments as warranted and especially complain about this new attempt to build a data base. The government has no right to intrude in our lives in this manner, and this survey serves no other purpose.

The public school system is not reform-able; not fixable; not save-able. The educational establishment is doomed; the ‘jobs project’ that has supported so many, for so long, is overdue for implosion. This 48-page waste of paper, multiplied by the hundreds/thousands of teachers who will have to take it, simply weakens another portion of the educational foundation, hurrying its eventual collapse. They are playing right into our hands.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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