The ConnCAN approach – Don’t let the truth get in your way…
Last week, ConnCAN, the pro-charter school and “education reform” advocacy group was trumpeting the results of a survey that they had conducted of Connecticut teachers.
The problem is that ConnCAN’s report on their own survey is nothing short of a lie – and yet these are the people who are saying that Connecticut’s legislators should vote for the “education reforms” that they are proposing.
The anti-tenure reformers claimed that their survey proved that (1) “More than four out of five Connecticut public school educators say schools and districts ought to be able to dismiss teachers and administrators with a documented history of poor performance.” And (2) “Nearly 60 percent say educators should be promoted and receive tenure based on their success with increasing student achievement growth.”
After reading their press release and related PR about their survey an observer would be left to believe that Connecticut educators support the positions being put forward by ConnCAN and Governor Malloy.
But not surprisingly, in this day and age of being loose with the facts and misrepresenting the results to get the headline, their own data doesn’t back up the claims they are making.
In fact there isn’t even a question that would allow ConnCAN to intellectually claim that “nearly 60 percent say educators should be promoted and receive tenure based on their success with increasing student achievement growth.”
How ConnCAN makes that claim reveals much about their level of honesty.
Here is how the question reads.
“Neither of these statements might match your opinion exactly but which one statement comes closer to your point of view?
The survey then has two options;
Option #1: “It doesn’t make sense to award teachers tenure, promotions, and make other staffing decisions unless they have a proven track record of effectively increasing student growth.
Option #2: The length of time in the classroom is the most important factor in teacher development, therefore awarding tenure, promotions, and making other staffing decisions based solely on the length of time teaching is most fair.
Survey respondents are asked to choose between the two – which means the answer is a comparison of support of one approach COMPARED to the other and one answer cannot be reported without putting the question in context – which ConnCAN’s report does not do.
Even more importantly look how the questions are worded in such a way as to push people to the first option.
The core of the question asks whether teachers should be judged on having a “proven track record of effectively increasing student growth” or whether the decision should be based “solely on the length of time teaching.”
Meaning should teachers be judged on their ability to help children or only on the number of years in the classroom.
Talk about a loaded or leading question.
But even more to the point, to say that “nearly 60 percent say educators should be promoted and receive tenure based on their success with increasing student achievement growth” is a straight out lie.
If we actually read the question is says a “proven track record of effectively increasing student growth.” But ConnCAN press release reads “proven track record of effectively increasing student achievement growth.”
Although the survey asked about “Student growth”, ConnCAN reported it as “student achievement growth.”
Everyone knows that “student growth” can be measured in a variety of ways but that “student achievement growth” is measured by standardized test scores.
Not only did ConnCAN develop a survey that pushed people to the answers they wanted but in the end they actually had to change the question.
I’ve seen a lot of surveys over the past thirty-five years and I’ve conducted many public opinion surveys but I’ve never seen a pollster or client change the wording – after the fact – in order to report that survey reveals some piece of information when, in fact, it does not.
And the rest of the survey is nearly as bad.
It would seem that the group, set up by the charter school management company Achievement First, doesn’t have a problem misleading reporters and legislators and it definitely wants people to read their press release and not take a look at the survey results.
The wording of the individual questions in the ConnCAN survey are designed to push respondents by highlighting the positives and limiting the negatives by breaking apart any controversial issues and wording the question in such a way as to minimize opposition to the ConnCAN’s position.
The first question on the ConnCAN survey is a perfect example of this type of persuasion or push polling;
ConnCAN asks – Would you favor or oppose a policy that would…
“Ensure that evaluation systems provide teachers and principals with regular, timely feedback and opportunities for professional development based on the evaluation results.”
The question obviously implies that the evaluation system would be used exclusively for the teacher’s benefit and would lead to professional development opportunities for teachers. Furthermore, by including principals (along with teachers) the question suggests that the evaluation system is not aimed at teachers. (However, needless to say ConnCAN and Malloy’s proposals don’t include any meaningful evaluation system for principals and only go after teachers).
The question eliminates any of the concerns about ConnCAN’s teacher evaluation proposal and only highlights the positive elements of what a plan could look like.
Not surprisingly 96% of teachers say they strongly or somewhat agree with the proposed policy with 71% saying they strongly agree and 25% saying they somewhat agree.
Next comes the question that produces ConnCAN’s news that “4 out of 5 educators say districts should be able to dismiss teachers with a documented history of poor performance.”
Read ConnCAN’s question very carefully – it is a work of art. They ask would you favor or oppose a policy that would…
“Ensure schools and districts can dismiss teachers and principals with a documented history of poor performance, regardless of the person’s seniority.
As with the first question, this question pushes the respondent to the “yes” position by putting in the “positive” protection of the words “documented history” and does not, in any way; define what would be included in the evaluation process. (The question makes absolutely no reference to the notion that evaluations might be based on student’s standardized test scores).
ConnCAN is able to claim that four out of five educators agree with that statement but even with the persuasive positive language (and no negative elements included) the number who “strongly agree” with the statement is only 41 percent while another 41 percent “somewhat support the statement.”
Compare the differences in the number of educators who agree with ConnCAN’s first question versus their second question.
Evaluation used to promote professional development: 71 percent strongly support
Evaluation used to dismiss teachers: 41 percent strongly support
Everyone wants to get rid of bad teachers but Connecticut educators understand that the key factor is how the evaluation system is developed and implemented. ConnCAN gets to the 80 percent number by only including the positive and removing anything that might be perceived as a negative.
ConnCAN uses the same technique in question after question.
One question asks if educators should “earn and retain tenure based on their proven effectiveness with students in the classroom.” The question makes no mention of “student achievement growth” (the references to standardized tests).
77% of teachers agree with that statement (35% strongly agree and 42% somewhat agree).
In another question, ConnCAN asks about a policy that would “Promote and pay teachers and school leaders based on an evaluation system that takes into account students’ achievement growth as well as contributions to the school, leadership skills, and professional practice.”
Here ConnCAN does have the words “students achievement growth” but adds the qualifiers that teachers also be judged on their “contributions to the school, leadership skills, and professional practice.”
“60% of teachers agree with that statement (24 percent strongly agree and 36 percent somewhat agree)
The most interesting part of the ConnCAN survey is the “open ended” questions at the end of the poll where teachers are asked about what they think are the
(1) “What are the biggest challenges for Connecticut’s public school teachers in general or for your own success as a teacher in Connecticut?” and
(2) “What could state policy makers do to help support public school teachers?”
It is here the ConnCAN loses their ability to control the answers since respondents are not given specific sentences to respond to. The answers teachers put forward are very telling.
What do teachers say are the biggest challenges?
- Lack of funding
- Support from parents/guardian/home
- Meeting the needs of individual students
- Students motivation/getting students to learn
- Class size
- Not enough classroom time
- Students behavior/discipline
- Testing requirements
- Too many rules/regulations for teacher
- Not enough resources
- Economic gap between low income districts and education quality
“What could state policy makers do to help support public school teachers?”
- Provide more funding
- Give teachers more support/appreciation
- Listen to teachers/what they have to say
- Provide adequate professional development
- More emphasis on teaching students
- Too many rules/regulations for teachers
- More resources (technology/books)
- Less focus on assessments/tests
When people actually take the time to ask TEACHERS what are the challenges and what can be done to improve Connecticut’s schools – the proposals being put forward by Governor Malloy and ConnCAN don’t even make the list.
It’s a sad and telling commentary that what elected officials and the business community are pushing for are not what those on the front line say is needed.
It seems we approach the battle to improve our schools the same way we approach our wars. All is well as long as you don’t listen to those on the front lines.