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Trust Falls: Teacher Responses to the Learning Environment Survey

Yesterday, the Post published an article exposing a principal at PS 38 who tried to pressure her staff into giving her a good review on the annual Learning Environment Survey. This prompted Joel Klein to respond that he doubted teachers bowed to principal pressure since the surveys are anonymous. To investigate how teachers rated their principals, we looked at responses to four questions from last year’s Learning Environment Survey:

  1. How much do you agree/disagree? The principal places the learning needs of children above other interests.
  2. How much do you agree/disagree? The principal is an effective manager who makes the school run smoothly.
  3. How much do you agree/disagree? I trust the principal at his/her word.
  4. To what extent do you feel supported by your principal?

We found that the majority of teachers rate their principals highly. For instance, over 85 percent of the teachers who responded to the survey agreed that their principal supported them.

However, we found that for the teachers who gave their principal a negative rating, there was a small, but significant, correlation between this low rating and a lower Progress Report score.

In order to do this analysis, we first subtracted out the Environment Score from a school’s overall Progress Report, since this component of the score is based partially on the responses to the questions we have isolated. We then used this adjusted number and compared it to the percentage of teachers who disagreed or strongly disagreed with each of the four questions from the Learning Environment Survey that had to do with principal competence. For each of these questions, we found that there was a statistically significant correlation between a high percentage of teachers who had issues with principal performance and a lower Progress Report score.

Beyond these numerical results, we observed some interesting trends. For instance, the only five charter schools that had over 50 percent of their teachers rate their principal negatively were East New York Preparatory Charter School, Bronx Charter School for Children, PAVE Academy Charter School, KIPP AMP Academy Charter School, and Harlem Day Charter School. The three of these schools with progress report grades (PAVE and East New York Prep have not yet received reports) were in the bottom third of schools citywide. PAVE and East New York Prep have both been the subject of media scrutiny due to space fights and corruption charges, respectively. (The city announced today that it is revoking East New York Prep’s charter.). KIPP AMP teachers voted to unionize last spring.

Interestingly, out of the schools that the DOE had slated for closure, only three — KAPPA II, the Academy of Collaborative Education, and the Choir Academy of Harlem — had most teachers say that their principal didn’t support them.

As always, we welcome feedback for ways to improve or reexamine the data.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.