Friday, February 27, 2009

Urban vs. Suburban Teachers

EdWeek recently featured a story about a large survey of teachers and principals. The survey, sponsored by MetLife, was originally given after the publication of A Nation at Risk. The headline of the article was regarding the improvement in teacher satisfaction over the past 25 years, but the survey contains a great deal more information. The write-up is essentially a summary of the survey results and covers 191 pages, but what I find most interesting are the differences between teachers in urban vs. suburban schools.

Here are just a few examples (I've summarized the questions):

For how many students is lack of parent support a hindranace?
Less than a quarter:
Urban - 35%
Suburban 59%

How much of a problem is it to get qualified teachers in your school?
Very or Somewhat Serious:
Urban 40%
Suburban 19%
(Principals were 39/20)

How much of a problem is teacher turnover in your school?
Very or Somewhat Serious:
Urban 48%
Suburban 23%
(Principals were 32/14)

None of these results are too terribly surprising -- and I'm guessing they'd be more dramatic had they limited the comparison sample to those who said they taught in "inner-city" schools rather than all urban schools. On other questions, of course, answers weren't all that different. But I question the utility of generalizing to all teachers when sub-groups differ so greatly. Can we really say "x% of teachers . . ." in any meaningful way?

Methodological Note
Among the 1000 teachers surveyed, 13% said they taught in an inner-city school, 14% in an urban school (which were lumped together as urban), 36% in a suburban school, 19% in a small town school, 16% in a rural school (which were lumped together to make rural), and 1% didn't know. Which leaves us with 27% urban, 36% suburban, 35% rural. But after they weighted the responses to match demographics they came up with: 27% urban, 23% suburban, 49% rural.

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