Morning News Reports on Teacher Morale, Turns Half-empty Glass Upside Down

Categories: Schutze

Whenever I think about the Beloans too much, my Body Snatchers dreams come back.
Yikes. My Invasion of the Body Snatchers dreams are back. Need to stock up on Benadryl. But, wait: did you notice a story in The Dallas Morning News a couple weeks ago saying barely half of Dallas school system employees think the school district is headed in the right direction and quoting a school board member saying that's a problem? Something about it bothered me at the time. I am spending part of this week on it.

So, as I say, wait up a minute. I am looking at the same thing they did, an annual survey of employee morale. I see numbers showing that the employees district-wide who think DISD is headed in the right direction outnumber the ones who think it's headed for hell in a hand-basket by almost two to one. OK, almost one and three-quarters to one. But you get my drift, right?

Here, let me break it out for you. Employees had to choose "strongly agree, agree, neutral, disagree, strongly disagree" for the statement, "Overall, the district is headed in the right direction." The results were: strongly agree, 17.7 percent; agree, 27.6; neutral, 28.5; disagree, 13.9; strongly disagree, 12.3.

So that's 45.3 percent in the positive camp, 26.2 in the negative. According to my poor arithmetic skills, that means the positives outnumbered the negatives by 1.73 to one.

Given what the school system has been through in the last couple years and given the manic-depressive railing about morale on the blogosphere, I would have thought the ratio would be at least reversed, maybe with an added write-in category, "I want to shoot myself, 76.2 percent."

Nearly two-to-one positive in a time of major upheaval seems pretty sterling to me. However, the News reporters, Tawnell D. Hobbs and Matthew Haag, did throw in an unattributed free-floating assertion that: "Experts on organizational climate have said that ideally about 90 percent of employees in a workplace should say they would recommend their workplace to others."

Really? Amazing. Not in my business. I remember as a very young reporter being told by a city editor that, "Reporters are not allowed to have morale of any kind." Not that newspapers count.

But I did do about four minutes of Googling to see what the larger context might be here. The most recent study I came up with, published last year and based on 2012 data, showed teacher job satisfaction nationally at a 25-year low. But the Dallas survey shows two-thirds of teachers saying they would recommend their schools as good places to work.

More on this in a column for the paper next week. I'm already looking at those high schools where the anti-reform claque predicted disaster because Superintendent Mike Miles was removing supposedly popular, irreplaceable school principals. At Lincoln, for example, the percentage of employees who think their school is headed in the right direction doubled to almost 95 percent after the change of principals.

I mentioned that Hobbs and Haag quoted one school district trustee who supported the line that this survey is bad for Miles. Trustee Lew Blackburn told them, "Unless you get the people on your side, you cannot transform an organization. Too many people are not convinced it's the right direction."

Yeah, but, Matt and Tawnell: This guy voted to fire Miles a few months ago. And lost. You couldn't have worn out your dialing finger enough to call maybe just one trustee on the other side of the vote?

I did a panel discussion last week with my former Observer colleague, Robert Wilonsky, who now works at the News. He told the audience I go around wearing a tinfoil hat, and, you know, coming up with nutty conspiracy theories. Robert has undergone ... how to put it ... a profound personal transformation since joining the Beloans. I almost picked up the phone to caution his wife, Mary, to search the crawl space for remains of a large alien seedpod.

In this case, I can't come up with even a nutty conspiracy theory to explain the sheer shabbiness of the reporting. I can't for the life of me figure out what's going on with the schools beat at our city's only daily newspaper. Weird.

Robert kind of has that look now. In the 1956 original version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, one of the people who has already been turned into a seedpod is talking -- with that seedpod look on his face -- telling the others that turning into seedpods so the aliens can eat you is a good thing: "Suddenly, while you're asleep ... they'll absorb your minds, your memories and you're reborn into an untroubled world."

An untroubled world, a world where you only have to call one trustee to get a quote to support your story line. Hmmm ... so tempting, I must admit. Tempting. So tired, so tired. Must not sleep. Must not sleep.

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

"But I did do about four minutes of Googling"...

that's what separates Shutze from Nicholson?


From statistician and educator Mike Dryden: The DISD climate survey was designed to measure system improvements such as adherence to core beliefs, school priorities, feedback and support, general opinions on the climate and levels of expectation for students. This is all useful for central administration but is not very actionable at the campus level. It was not a school work environment survey, which seems more actionable.

Most school work environment surveys follow the constructs of Prof. Emeritus Moos at Stanford. A work environment survey should answer the following questions. To what extent are teachers involved and committed to their jobs? Are there adequate resources to teach? Is there cohesion and do teachers help each other? Do senior staff support the newer staff? Are teachers encouraged to make their own decisions to adjust to children's needs? Is there an emphasis on planning and efficiency at the campus? To what extent do work pressures dominate the job environment? Is there clarity in how rules and policies are communicated? Are new approaches or innovation encouraged? Is the physical environment comfortable and safe?

I hope each campus can improve based on analyzing the surveys but I suspect they will need to ask further questions. Perhaps the questions above will help. The survey is more of a benefit for the EDs and Superintendent.

RTGolden1 topcommenter

I'd be interested in the specifics of the polled population, because I'm weird and am interested in things like that.  (I'd actually be interested in ferreting out true numbers for a lot of the alarming DISD headlines that have come out in the past year or two)

What percentage of the polled employees are new hires?  What percentage are the so-called 'permanent substitute' teachers?  What percentage of the polled DISD employees are teachers vs. administration, janitorial, clerical, etc?  These things may or may not change the results, but they are relevant to the context of the results.


I have a few kids in the DISD and I can tell the mood is much better among teachers and that flows down to the students. Something tells me that the teachers who are in the "wrong direction" category are under performers or ones who are used to being lazy. 



I got the 90 percent from when I interviewed Stanford professor Jeff Pfeffer, one of the top business professors in the country, when I wrote about DISD's first climate survey in 2012. I tried reaching him and about six other professors for our most recent story and couldn't get anyone on the phone. (It was also the first day of the second semester of school at many colleges).

Here's what I wrote in 2012:

Jeffrey Pfeffer, a professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business who reviewed the district’s results, said the responses were mostly positive. “This is a school district undergoing a lot of change, so I would say these are reasonably strong results,” he said. “These results are completely inconsistent that the district employees are miserable.”

Pfeffer said that in the best places to work, the survey questions usually get an 80 percent to 90 percent positive response. He noted that only 65 percent of employees said they would recommend their school as a place to work — a percentage he said should be closer to 90.


In the board meeting the other night, Miles talked briefly about the results. What he said sounded a lot like what you just wrote. He talked about the nearly 2:1 ratio of agrees or strongly agrees versus disagrees. He added that some area business leaders have contacted him recently and said that they wish they had 45.3 positive for their company's direction.

I found that interesting, so during the meeting, I emailed Jeff Pfeffer again. I asked Pfeffer, who has researched and written about organizational climate, whether 45 percent positive was, as Miles suggested, fairly good.

Pfeffer wrote back:

"Compared to what? In world in which employee disengagement is pervasive (see the Gallup surveys and reports on this), leadership trust is low (Edelman Trust Index), job satisfaction is declining, and according to article in Parade Magazine, 35% of employees would be willing to forgo a significant raise to get rid of their boss, I am sure the answer is yes. But personally I would not be satisfied with those results."

holmantx topcommenter

More like an old Twilight Zone show where aliens arrive with a book, "How To Serve Man", written in an undecipherable alien language.  Earthlings ride to the alien planet to see this Utopia.  Some come back to report everything's cool.  

At the end of the show some linguist code breaker runs out to the transport ship taking the next herd of Americans to the New World and yells, "It's a cookbook!".

This what I recall when guys like Shermbeck rejoice that we are progressing when we improve the stat - only 43% of ninth graders actually graduate 4 years later . . . to a little over 50%, as we load the next herd of 1st graders into the starship DISD.


I look forward to jogging your memory about our ACTUAL discussion over lunch later this week, Jim.

primi_timpano topcommenter

@Haag. Parade Magazine? I haven't heard of that since I quit reading paper newspapers, and even then it rated just above Grit. In Texas you can't get 90 percent of people to agree on anything.

Miles is forcing a lot of change on the teachers and staff. These changes may be controversial and stressful, but that is the nature of change. What are the alternatives? Run a school district based on popularity polls? Do nothing and leave a broken system to collapse further?

I would be more interested in learning what " morale" usually is in extreme restructurings. I would like to know how the assessments correlate to older/younger and teachers with good and poor reviews.

I am less concerned with single point popularity polls than long term improvement in students' education.

JimSX topcommenter


That last bit would have been a better quote.

holmantx topcommenter

@JimSX @rwilonsky 

He's been assimilated into the hive mind.  Resistance is futile.

And his keepers do not tolerate individualism once absorbed into the collective.

Remember, IP addresses are tracked and his employer has already demonstrated their propensity to act if he speaks counter to the official view.

Maybe Mr. Wilonsky could attach a legal disclaimer.

Even then, he can only speak cryptically. 

Now Trending

Dallas Concert Tickets

From the Vault