Fewer North Carolina teachers feel that their schools are safe and that students are behaving properly in school, according to results of a new statewide survey of educators.
Teachers reported more dissatisfaction with student conduct in the 2018 North Carolina Teacher Working Conditions Survey than compared to past years. The survey is conducted every two years to find out what educators are thinking.
The results come as schools across the country are balancing trying to reduce suspensions with maintaining effective learning environments for students.
"It really takes a lot of teachers changing from agreeing about a specific condition to disagreeing to really move the needle so we see a lot of pretty flat lines with the exception of managing student conduct, where we see a slight downward trend," Abe Kline, a senior analyst for the New Teacher Center, told State Board of Education members on Wednesday.
A record 91 percent of North Carolina educators, representing 109,453 responses, took the latest survey.
In most areas, such as community involvement and support, facilities and resources, teacher leadership and school leadership, the results remained relatively unchanged over time. Managing student conduct was one of the exceptions.
According to the results, teachers who felt that:
▪ Students at this school understand expectations for their conduct fell from 84 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2018;
▪ Students at this school follow rules of conduct fell from 70 percent in 2016 to 65 percent in 2018;
▪ Policies and procedures about student conduct are clearly understood by the faculty fell from 83 percent in 2016 to 81 percent in 2018;
▪ School administrators consistently enforce rules for student conduct fell from 72 percent in 2016 to 69 percent in 2018;
▪ School administrators support teachers' efforts to maintain discipline in the classroom fell from 81 percent in 2016 to 79 percent in 2018;
▪ Teachers consistently enforce rules for student conduct fell from 80 percent in 2016 to 77 percent in 2018;
▪ The faculty work in a school environment that is safe fell from 93 percent in 2016 to 89 percent in 2018.
“State education officials need to take these survey results seriously," said Terry Stoops, vice president of research for the John Locke Foundation. "Student misbehavior is a barrier to learning for both the culprit and their peers.
"We need teachers to speak openly and honestly about whether school discipline policies and practices are supporting classroom instruction.”
Between the 2012-13 and 2016-17 school years, short-term suspensions in North Carolina public schools dropped by 16 percent and long-term suspensions fell 51 percent.
The drop in suspensions has occurred at a time when concerns have been raised that minority students are being disproportionately suspended and that keeping students out of class hurts their ability to learn.
“We need to consider the possibility that administrators’ aversion to issuing short- and long-term suspensions plays a role," Stoops said. "If students perceive that there are negligible consequences to their actions, they are less likely to exercise self-restraint.”
But Kristin Beller, president-elect of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators, tied the student conduct issues back to how only 60 percent of teachers said they felt class sizes were reasonable so they have the time to meet the needs of all students.
"Teachers view themselves as leaders and problem solvers," Beller said. "They indicated that rules of conduct are being taught and followed, but what we know to be true — regardless of age — is that having time to build meaningful relationships with each student and nurture relationships between the students themselves allows students to contribute to and build a school community that they value and invest in.
"When we have smaller class sizes, this is able to happen, and as a result, we consistently see less problems with student conduct. Teachers have the tools and the skills to address this problem, but we are left limited in our ability to put them into practice in an impactful way when we are serving too many students."