Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Texas AFT Survey Shows Destructive Budget Cuts Hitting Students and Teachers Hard

A recent Texas AFT web survey of more than 3,500 teachers, school employees and parents reveals the extent to which our schools are experiencing widespread layoffs, cuts to key programs and services, larger class sizes, and stressful conditions for teaching and learning—all related to the $5.4 billion in state budget cuts enacted this year.

In addition to quantifying some of the impacts, teachers and other school employees consistently commented on significantly lower morale from lack of resources to teach schoolchildren, and from longer work hours, more duties, increased paperwork, bullying by administrators, reduced planning time and lack of learning materials and supplies.

“The numbers reported for layoffs and larger class sizes confirm the direct impact on classroom instruction,” said Linda Bridges, Texas AFT president. “Our teachers are doing their best to mitigate the damage of these cuts, but it’s disturbing to hear comments on how much less time they have—both in giving students the personal attention they need to succeed and in preparing for their classes, grading papers and trying to meet the expectations for achievement on the more rigorous STAAR exam this spring. It’s as if the state gave schools a higher bar to hurdle this year, then dug a deep ditch in front of it.”

Some 92 percent of respondents noted layoffs in their district, with a large percentage reporting loss of teachers (85 percent) and teacher assistants (79 percent).

“Advocates for special education also will be disheartened to hear that 44 percent of respondents reported layoffs of special education teachers, while further comments highlighted large class sizes for special education students and reduced time to meet their education plans,” Bridges said.Bridges said one of the most troubling findings surfaced in scores of comments from teachers that it’s simply impossible to meet the needs of students while also meeting the demands of additional duties imposed due to budget cuts. Coming from members of a can-do profession accustomed to dealing with adversity, these comments are a clear signal that classroom conditions for many are at a breaking point, imperiling children's educational opportunities.

One teacher said, “In the past, most of our talk during the day revolved around our students. Now it seems to revolve around the stress of our jobs. Everyone looks exhausted, and the typical zest for teaching and being with students seems to have waned. This is the first year I have heard people talk about looking for work outside the school system.”

Bridges said the survey also showed a significant concern among school employees about being bullied by supervisors. Some 14 respondents specifically noted bullying by administrators. “A remarkable 400-plus respondents specifically said administrators were supervising them with a ‘my way or the highway’ attitude,” she added.

Bridges added, “Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and other state leaders are spinning a tale of balancing the state budget while maintaining adequate funding for public education; the real truth about the severe harm of these cuts is portrayed in the stories we’ve now heard from teachers across the state.”

Survey comments included:

“Classrooms are maxed out. Students are over-tested and frustrated, leading to behavior problems and causing even more loss of learning. The push towards inclusion [of special education students] with insufficient staff is causing loss of learning and in some instances safety issues. Teachers are being overworked, leading to lower performance.”

“Supply budgets have been drastically cut. This impacts the learning environment, because we lack basic supplies for students. Teachers have to utilize their own funds for supplies or do without.”

“We have more students and less time to spend on grading, tutoring, helping students, preparing our classrooms and lessons, collaborating with fellow teachers, and contacting parents. Most of the teachers are exhausted and have been forced to cut back on the number of assignments they grade.”

“The morale is lower than I have ever seen it. Most teachers are questioning their calling and looking for something else.”

“This is the first year, out of 11, that I regret teaching. I dread coming to work.”

“There is virtually no inclusion support for special education students in classrooms due to eliminated special education teachers. There are fewer instructional specialists; therefore, paperwork--including disaggregation of data--falls on teachers. And it only looks like it's going to be worse next year with no reprieve from increased expectations and accountability testing.”

Texas AFT plans a follow-up survey in the spring to further gauge the impacts of budget cuts. Bridges, added: “It’s also important to note that because of the way the funding is allocated, along with the eventual expiration of federal funds, the most severe impacts aren’t even expected until next school year, so what we’re seeing here will only get worse.”

Key Survey Findings

About the Survey

A Web poll conducted from October 11 to November 14
Respondent Total: 3,549
Respondent Breakdown:

  • About 95% school employees (about 81% of these school employees are teachers or teacher assistants)

  • About 3% parents

  • About 2% concerned citizens
Layoffs and/or Position Eliminations

—92% of respondents said their district eliminated positions this year.

  • 37% noted 100 or more positions cut

  • 85% said positions eliminated included teachers, and 79 percent noted teaching assistants cut

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