Many teachers feel safe in the classroom, but they're concerned about test preparation, class sizes and special education students not getting the help they need. That's just a portion of the results of a Local 2 Investigates survey of one group of teachers in the Houston Independent School District.
Local 2 Investigates emailed the non-scientific survey to approximately 3,500 HISD teachers who are members of the Houston Federation of Teachers union. More than 300 teachers from all grade levels responded anonymously.
The stabbing death of a student at Spring High School on September 4 shows why safety is a concern in many schools. However, most HISD teachers in the survey say they do feel safe:
"Was there a time during the past school year when you were afraid for your safety inside your classroom?"
- Yes 41% / No 59%
This summer, state legislators limited the number of state tests in some grade levels, but the importance placed on those tests for has not changed. Teachers who responded said that importance is felt inside the classroom:
"What percentage of classroom time is spent preparing students for STAAR and/or other standardized tests?"
- 10% of time 18%
- 20% of time 7%
- 20-30% of time 18%
- More than 30% 58%
"It's made it where teachers don't think they're teaching students how to think," said Gayle Fallon, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers."They hate that because they don't really feel in a lot of cases they're giving the maximum education to a child they're capable of giving."
In fact, 76 percent of the teachers who responded say they feel test preparation hurts, not helps students' overall education.
Teachers also voiced strong opinions on HISD's leadership:
"Do you have confidence in HISD Superintendent Terry Grier?"
- Yes 14% / No 86%
"Do you have confidence in the HISD School Board?"
- Yes 15% / No 85%
"There's no surprise there," Fallon said. "They (teachers) are not happy. Every time they get a new directive, their bosses tell them it came from up there."
Most teachers also say they're concerned about special needs students in their classes:
"During the past school year, did you have a student with special needs in your classroom who would have been better served in a specialized class instead?
- Yes 86% / No 14%
"I think it's dramatically different," said Louis Geigerman, a special education advocate. "I think it's gotten a lot worse."
Geigerman says there are now fewer teacher aides and fewer special classes in all school districts. He says that means many special education students end up in standard classrooms. Geigerman blames budget cuts in HISD and many other school districts.
"Really, the schools today are run by the bean counters," said Geigerman. "And when bean counters run the schools, I'm sorry that's not the way we should run education."
HISD spokesperson Jason Spencer declined to discuss specifics on our survey. Instead he sent this statement:
"While the district welcomes feedback, we have concerns about the reliability of the recent union survey since the number of respondents represents just 3-4 percent of all HISD teachers. Because the survey was distributed to only union members, about 60 percent of HISD teachers were not invited to participate.
In contrast, last spring HISD contracted an independent, third-party firm to conduct a comprehensive survey of the entire community - parents, students, teachers, and principals. More than 21,000 stakeholders participated in this anonymous survey, including 5,612 teachers. This represents more than half of the HISD teaching staff. The results revealed, among other things, that 89 percent are satisfied with the education provided at their school, and that 76 percent are satisfied with the level of safety and security on their campuses. Survey feedback is now being used to improve district practices and aid in decision making to better serve students."