I never imagined, and I could never have predicted, the kerfuffle that has arisen over a survey of working conditions for educators in public schools across Delaware that DSEA sponsored and helped arrange. I come from a district where annual surveys have been the norm for years–first by pencil and paper, and finally by computer. I remember annual surveys where the faculty was “invited” to a faculty meeting, and the surveys were handed out by a district administrator, and an attendee was not allowed to leave the room until the survey had been completed, placed in the accompanying envelope and then turned in to the same district admin. This led to massive complaints and concerns about confidentiality and anonymity, and that practice of holding people hostage was eventually changed.
With the advent of electronic surveys, there was still the concern that somehow “they would know who you were.” Which led to a lack of truth-telling.
At the same time, I am well aware of those few bully principals who were notorious for confronting their staffs after survey results were returned to each school, demanding to be informed as to “Who said this about me???” I know entire staffs who sat mutely, looking at the floor, unwilling to speak. Luckily, I never worked for any of those guys.
OK. Maybe I am different than most. I have rarely feared speaking my mind or being accountable for my opinions and observations. If I responded in a survey that “support for consistent, effective discipline was missing from my school,” then I was willing to stand by that, to provide examples and evidence, and to debate the concept with any comers. It was important, and it was important to me. I tried not to exaggerate. I tried to be truthful and to respond in a dispassionate and level manner. I did not use the survey to try to get back at someone.
In the year 2013, I do not understand why some folks are still worried by the fear of confidentiality or anonymity.
I suspect that some are the same folks who may share brazenly and carelessly on Facebook and Twitter. I suspect that some may regularly participate in auctions on e-bay. I suspect that some may frequently make on-line purchases from Amazon or any number of other retail outlets. If any or all of these on-line connections can be “trusted”, then why can one not respond to twenty-some survey questions without overwhelming anxiety?
If the truth is that dangerous, then this may require an immediate intervention of some sort on behalf of the school.
As current president of DSEA, I have been intimately involved in the planning and undertaking of this survey since last August. The survey was recommended by DSEA in 2009 in part as a response to polling data from DSEA members who indicated that teacher working conditions were significantly important to teacher satisfaction, teacher retention and attraction (more than pay-for-performance bonuses), teaching success, and ultimately to student progress.
The same kind of survey had already been used in various states by their NEA affiliates: in Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, to name a few. State presidents told me that the data was genuinely valuable to conversations and decision-making at the school, district, and state levels about planning and policy.
From the start, I have been impressed by the various efforts to ensure anonymity included in the administration of this survey: (1) letters containing access codes were mailed to and to be handed out by the Association Rep in each school; (2) the letters had no staff members’ names; (3) letters were to be handed out randomly and directly to each educator, not placed in mailboxes; (4) educators were instructed to trade the copy of the letter they received with any other educator—at least once, but as many times as they desired; (5) the survey could be completed at any time of day and from any computer—at school, at home, at the public library; (6) survey results are to be aggregated and reported back by The New Teacher Center, not by the state or by the DEDOE; (7) a 50% participation goal rate at each school was also intended to provide anonymity—even in the smallest schools; and (8) the limited demographic questions at the beginning of the survey ask for district, school, position (with only four choices: teacher, AP, principal, or “other education professional”), # of years employed as an educator, and # of years in current school.
Additionally, if you lost your letter, or if there were not enough letters (we had trouble getting totally accurate numbers for totals of all licensed, certificated staff members in every one of the 200-some schools), or if the envelope with the letters never arrived—the Rep could contact the help line and get replacements that will be sent electronically to be printed and distributed. #672945 is not associated with any individual—it’s just different from #672944 and #672946.
I have also been informed that the access code is disassociated from the survey responses when the completed survey is submitted. In other words, a respondent with access code 672945 is no longer connected to a particular set of responses.
Demographic data is important as a way to both sort and disaggregate information. Teacher responses are aggregated with all other teacher responses from School A, and also with teacher responses from District A, and with all other teacher responses from Delaware. It would be interesting to know whether responses were from novice educators or long-time veterans; and whether opinions come from an educator new to a school or one who had been there for a decade.
But, but, but,… the value of these survey results is all about what we do with them. I have stated all along that “this survey will be a bust if participants do not see a direct connection between their reported responses and change that happens in their schools, their districts, or even at the state level.” I have stated a personal and organizational commitment to working together with members and locals to make this happen. I never had that expectation before in any survey that I took as a working teacher.
So, here is my answer to the latest question on a recent blog post from a guy who could have had some of these questions answered and concerns resolved by just talking to me at any time; a guy who has been stirring the proverbial pot; a guy who has felt compelled to condemn this survey and carp and nitpick about anything and everything related to the damned survey; a guy who seems to take delight in finding fault and shining the light on all things great and small:
TELL Delaware security question: If a teacher who wants to take it asked for and got numbers from other teachers who didn’t want to take it, how would anyone know?
No one will know, and more importantly—NO ONE WILL CARE!!!