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What works, what doesn’t: Teachers speak their minds

New York Teacher

The UFT survey invited teachers to rate a slew of education reforms. We asked, on a scale of 1 to 4, how effective would each be at improving educational outcomes for New York City public school students?

The hands-down favorite was reducing class size. Ninety-one percent said it was a highly effective reform and another 8 percent rated it somewhat effective, for a total of 99 percent of all respondents saying that smaller classes would lead to more learning for their pupils. After years of growing class sizes and thousands of class-size grievances initiated by the union every September, this finding was not surprising.

Third-grade teacher and ELA coach Nekesha Bynum said her brand-new building, housing PS 310 in Brooklyn, is already at capacity with an unexpected influx of new children midyear, almost all of them non-English speakers.

Chart: What would help students most

“When you have 30 or 31 1st-graders, most of them ELLs, and you can’t even move around your classroom, that’s just way too many kids,” she said. “With all the demands of the Common Core, if you want to see real results, then get real.”

The second-most applauded reform was social and emotional learning — the “soft” skills that many once considered the province of students’ parents and guardians.

Results showed 52 percent of teachers now think that explicitly teaching students how to understand their feelings and interact with others would be a highly effective learning strategy. Another 40 percent rated it somewhat effective.

Even at the high school level, this reform resonated. “Students are so much more in need,” said Flushing HS English teacher Petroline Martin. “So many kids need much more attention.”

Offering full-day prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds had even more votes in the highly effective column: 60 percent of respondents see it as a no-brainer for helping students succeed in school. Another 29 percent ranked universal pre-K as somewhat effective.

Large majorities of teachers also said that teaching to college-ready standards and integrating social and community services into school buildings are effective strategies.

Teachers were more mixed on other reforms. Sixty-three percent thought reducing school sizes to fewer than 500 students was effective, while the rest said it wouldn’t help. Teachers were split 50-50 on the value of moving away from zoned schooling for middle and high school admissions.

At the bottom of the effectiveness spectrum, only 1 percent of teachers said that creating more charter schools would be a highly effective strategy. Another 11 percent said it might be somewhat effective, while more than two-thirds said more charters would not be effective at all.

Similarly, teachers gave low ratings to closing struggling schools, using test scores as the sole criteria for admission to gifted and talented programs and using standardized test scores as the main criteria for student promotion.

“Our teachers, who have felt firsthand the impact of Bloomberg’s disastrous reforms, know what our schools and students need,” UFT President Michael Mulgrew said. “What they say works is what this union has been fighting for.”