What do teachers do? We’ll find out | Jerry Cornfield | The Petri Dish

Those wondering what public school teachers do all day are going to get an answer.

Those wondering what public school teachers do all day are going to get an answer.

Tucked deep in Washington’s new two-year budget is money for a study to find out what a “typical work day” looks like for thousands of teachers toiling away in the state’s 295 school districts.

Lawmakers specifically want “an estimate of the percent of a teacher’s typical day that is spent on teaching related duties and the percentage of the teacher’s day that is spent on duties that are not directly related to teaching.”

They’ve asked Central Washington University’s respected College of Education and Professional Studies to figure it out for a paltry $25,000.

Researchers there intend to use much of the next school year to collect details of teachers’ daily lives in small, medium and large schools situated on both sides of the Cascades and in all corners of the state.

With logs, surveys, interviews or other means they will try to reveal how teachers pass the hours, a subject of much debate in an unending political inquest of public education.

“It’s an old question that no one has ever answered with data,” said Linda Schactler, director of public affairs for the Ellensburg-based university. “We’ve answered it with anecdotes. We think we know but we haven’t actually done the research.”

It’s hard to not sit through a legislative hearing on the quality of Washington schools without a champion of education reform insisting the system is failing students because teachers are not spending enough time teaching.

This is followed by a rebuttal from a teacher-type saying they can’t spend more time teaching because it is tied up on tasks required by the state like compiling reports and conducting tests.

Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, proposed the study by the university because he was tired of listening to the back-and-forth in front of the House Education Committee on which he serves.

While he thinks teachers are weighted down by state-imposed chores, he wanted to find out if it’s actually true.

“I got frustrated at the unfunded mandates,” he said. “During the session there were some folks trying to add requirements to the teacher’s work day. I said they’re full.”

He and two teachers who serve on the House panel — Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, and Rep. Steve Berquist, D-Renton, — are going to help design the study.

A full report is due in December. However, lawmakers are likely to give them until the end of the school year in order to track time expended for testing which happens in the spring.

McCoy hopes the final product will bring clarity to one part of the conversation on education reform. But he isn’t so naïve to believe the results will quell the debate on how teachers spend their time in the classroom.

“You’ll still have the naysayers saying it won’t mean anything,” he said.

And the results may prove McCoy’s thinking wrong about teachers and become fodder for reformers.

“I understand that,” he said. “We have to get the information out there.”

Once lawmakers know much time teachers are teaching, they can tackle the next question of how well they teach.


Jerry Cornfield is a political reporter who covers Olympia for The Daily Herald in Everett, which is among the Washington state newspapers in the Sound Publishing group. He can be contacted at jcornfield@heraldnet.com.