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TNTP soliciting city teachers' views in national retention study

A new national teacher survey about compensation, class sizes, and school leadership is looking for insight from New York City.The city Department of Education is one of five large urban districts that have opened up their email Rolodexes to The New Teacher Project for a study about teacher recruitment and retention. The nonprofit group, which runs the city’s Teaching Fellows programs and studies teacher job markets around the country, sent the voluntary, 30-minute survey to about 68,000 of the city’s 80,000 teachers and one large charter school network.

The 50-question survey — which one teacher sent us in a series of screenshots, above — asks teachers what would make them want to work in, or remain in, a high-needs school.

The survey is a first step in TNTP’s efforts to produce a followup to “The Widget Effect,” according Dan Weisberg, a TNTP vice president who used to be the DOE’s chief labor negotiator. The influential 2009 report urged school districts to revamp teacher evaluations based on survey responses of 15,000 teachers from 12 districts across five states (New York City was not among them).

Now, dozens of states, including New York, are in the process of overhauling teacher evaluations. Weisberg said this year’s survey is the next step toward figuring out how to place the most effective teachers in classrooms with the neediest students.

“The intent is to study what motivates teachers to make decisions about what classrooms to teach in,” he said. “What’s critical is that districts use it to retain a higher percentage of their really good teachers, particularly those working with really high-needs kids.”

The survey’s questions cover a broad range of issues surrounding the teaching profession, including compensation, school culture, class sizes, student populations, leadership support, and quality of colleagues. A series of would-you-rather questions offer teachers a choice between poor working conditions and small classes or better working conditions and more students.

Some teachers we spoke to said they were wary of the motives behind the survey and declined to take it as a result.

One teacher complained that the questions seemed to be framed in a way that could easily elicit provide misleading results.

“I started to take it, but found the questions troubling, so I stopped,” the teacher said in an email. “I thought many questions were worded in a very biased way whose answers could easily be used for political ends.”

Another teacher said he declined to complete the survey because he distrusted TNTP and how the data would be used to influence policy.

“I can’t do a survey if I don’t trust the intentions of the people doing it,” the teacher said.

TNTP was founded by former Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a controversial national figure in education whose efforts to change how teachers are hired and fired has enraged teachers unions. TNTP, which handles the recruitment and training of the New York City Teaching Fellows, also has a robust research arm that regularly studies the teacher job market across the country.

Weisberg said he’s not surprised that, in a city with so many teachers, some object to the survey. He also said he doesn’t expect every teacher to complete it. (Many of the teachers we reached out to hadn’t checked their official DOE email accounts in weeks and saw the survey only after hearing about it from us.)

Still, Weisberg said he expects thousands of teachers to respond and inform TNTP’s report, which he said would be complete by September 2012.

“What we’re looking for is to create a practical roadmap here to retain teachers,” Weisberg said. “It doesn’t help much if you don’t ask teachers.”

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