Study of teachers reports sharp differences in attitudes between public and private


Last year the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published research that examined how teachers feel about their jobs. In particular, the study compared how public school teachers and private school teachers viewed their jobs and working conditions.

The study, which you can read by clicking on Free To Teach: What teachers say about teaching in public and private schools, uncovers a huge problem in our nation’s public schools. Here’s a passage from the executive summary:

These are eye-opening data for the teaching profession. They show that public school teachers are currently working in a school system that doesn’t provide the best environment for teaching. Teachers are victims of the dysfunctional government school system right alongside their students. Much of the reason government schools produce mediocre results for their students is because the teachers in those schools are hindered from doing their jobs as well as they could and as well as they want to. By listening to teachers in public and private schools, we discover numerous ways in which their working conditions differ — differences that certainly help explain the gap in educational outcomes between public and private schools. Exposing schools to competition, as is the case in the private school sector, is good for learning partly because it’s good for teaching.

Here are some revealing results from the research (response levels are given in the study document):

Private school teachers are more likely to say:

  • “I plan to remain in teaching as long as I am able.”
  • “I have a great deal of control over selecting textbooks and other instructional materials in my classroom.”
  • “I have a great deal of control over selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught in my classroom.”
  • “I have a great deal of control over disciplining students in my classroom.”
  • “Necessary materials such as textbooks, supplies, and copy machines are available as needed.”
  • “I am given the support I need to teach students with special needs.”

Public school teachers are more likely to say:

  • “I plan to remain in teaching until I am eligible for retirement”
  • “Routine duties and paperwork interfere with my job of teaching.”
  • “The level of student misbehavior in this school interferes with my teaching.”
  • “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it.”
  • “A student has threatened to physically injure me.”
  • “A student has physically attacked me.”

The study concludes “Private school teachers consistently report having better working conditions than public school teachers across a wide variety of measurements. Most prominently, private schools provide teachers with more classroom autonomy, a more supportive school climate, and better student discipline. It appears that the dysfunctions of the government school system — long evident in mediocre educational outcomes — are a problem for teachers as well as for students.”

A question I have is this: Since nearly all public school teachers belong to a union and practically no private school teachers belong, what are the teachers unions doing? Don’t the unions care about the working conditions of their members?

Last fall working conditions in USD 259, the Wichita public school district, became an issue when Larry Landwehr, president of United Teachers of Wichita, the union for Wichita public school teachers, addressed the board. In coverage at In Wichita, public school teacher working conditions are an issue, Landwehr specifically cited “current economic conditions that teachers face, the long negotiations, the increased paperwork and workload placed upon educators over the past few years, the decline in academic freedom and professional judgment of the teachers, and the added pressure of meeting AYP.”


6 responses to “Study of teachers reports sharp differences in attitudes between public and private”

  1. LonnythePlumber

    There’s a lot of difference between a private school with behaved students and supportive parents and a public school where we need to have Resource Police Officers. The union deeply cares about it’s members and all teachers whether private or public. Teachers are committed to the kids.

  2. Kerr Avon

    Nicely stated Lonny.

    This screed takes qualitative observations and tries to twist it around to make it look like the problem is the teacher’s unions.

    Comparing private schools to public is comparing apples and oranges. Parents have their children educated in private schools by choice. They can be expelled for no reason. Parents have their children educated in public schools because that what is what our society does. We educate all children regardless of their background or socioeconomic status. Children in public schools cannot be expelled without due process.

    It’s a big difference.

    Just admit it Weeks, you hate unions and twist and turn comments and events to make them look like the “bogeyman”.

  3. Mike


    My parents are both retired teachers, (not in KS). They both hate unions, especially the NEA. The NEA is very big on giving every child the same outcome, despite their natural ability, work ethic, or parental involvement. Private schools at least still reward intelligence and hard work. My father refers to the NEA as a communist organization, and he last had any dealings with them in the EARLY 1980’s.

    I do agree with Mr. Weeks on the two lists of things said by private and public school teachers. The unions ARE partially to blame. The parents and students are also to blame, as is the administration. The rules that force a second grader to be expelled and eventually held back a year because he brought a 2 inch solid plastic GI Joe gun to school are insane.



  4. KipSchroeder

    What I find most disturbing is that it costs less to educate a child privately than it does publicly. In the case of Andover public schools the average spending per student was $11,197 in FY09. For Wichita students it was $12,592 and in El Dorado that number reached $19,053! In contrast, my children who have attended both Andover and Wichita public schools were educated for $7,500 each in FY09. It would have cost the state 49% more to educate my children if I continued sending them to Andover…68% more if I continued to send them to Wichita public schools. Heaven help the state if I were to move to El Dorado! Why the disparity? Why are our public schools not allowed to compete? I say “public schools” because I don’t believe it is the teachers who are afraid of competition, but rather the district administrators and the collectivist union. Can anyone name an instance where competition has not resulted in a better product or outcome? As a society we value education and understand the significance of it for the wellbeing of our future. The great experiment has gone on long enough and our future is paying the real costs. It’s time to disband the monopoly and do something real for the kids. Unless I’ve been misled and it isn’t really “all about the kids.”

  5. Private School Teacher

    Private and public education are so qualitatively and structurally different that there’s no way to make an “apples to apples” comparison except on a specific-issue basis. I teach in a small private (independent) school; my partner teaches in a public school.

    My partner has has huge classes, and is paid well. However, she buys (with her own money) classroom materials in the thousands (yes, thousands) of dollars a year to support her instruction. She deals with the bureaucracy as best she can. Parents beleaguer her constantly (think: 33 students – how many parents? Hope you can do the math) in person, by phone, and by email.

    I, on the other hand, have smaller classes, but I am paid very little. There are extraordinary time demands made on me *outside of teaching hours* – often without any notice, or concern for the impact on my personal life. I can be fired (just as a student can be expelled) for no reason whatsoever, at any time. Wow, that makes me feel really welcome. A handful of people constitute the ‘administration’ – so, just like a ‘family,’ sometimes bad judgement is made and carried out because there is no system to review it. This can cost the school LOTS of money, and there’s no accountability for the person who made the error.

    Is that really a model we’d want to impose on our entire educational system? Please don’t manipulate one study’s findings to fit your (apparently) pre-existing opinion that private=better and public=bad.

  6. Mike

    Hi, based on the fact that all (all I”m award of anyway) private schools can expel any student at any time, private schools will always be better. Same argument with special education, private schools aren’t required to have it, and that’s got to help them top public schools right there.

    The ability to at least move your child from one public school to a “better one” would be a big help in using competition to improve schools. In our current society, it would probably have the effect of causing all public schools to spend more time padding their scores.



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