Compared with Real Samples, Dougco Union Survey Proves a Major Flop

Ironically, regular blogging here can make me grow up fast. While remaining perpetually 5 years old, I have learned the need to develop a healthy sense of skepticism. Otherwise, it might be time to start believing in time warps and magical survey fairies.

Jane Reuter of the Douglas County News-Press reports on last week’s hocus pocus at the Dougco Board of Education meeting:

Douglas County School Board members lambasted the recent staff survey funded by the teachers’ union, calling it an attack on staff, pointing out its low response rate and questioning the objectivity of the agency that conducted it.

The survey showed low morale and dissatisfaction with recent education reforms and policies in the Douglas County School District, among other findings.

As the article points out, the survey was sponsored by the Douglas County Federation of Teachers and conducted by Strategies 360, which Denver office is run by the former political director for the Colorado AFL-CIO.

That’s one thing. But when the survey itself acknowledges that the sample of teachers and district employees surveyed was “not necessarily statistically representative,” then you have to raise a flag of caution. If the money spent to make this survey came from the $400,000 the American Federation of Teachers presumably lent to its local, then they ought to have buyer’s remorse.

I think including the word “necessarily” makes even that judgment generous. Comparing the 800 union survey responses with the 2,500 Dougco teachers who gave a thorough picture of their views by participating in the biennial TELL Survey, with results due out next week.

Now suppose little Eddie had the extrasensory powers of Carnac the Magnificent, or maybe just that someone at the Colorado Department of Education accidentally released the survey results early. Then someday very soon you will see what I mean:

  • 54 percent of union survey respondents agreed they “have access to the functioning technology that I need to do my job,” while 78 percent on the TELL survey agreed that “teachers have sufficient access to instructional technology, including computers, printers, software, and internet access.”
  • Only 27 percent of union survey respondents said they “have adequate opportunity to collaborate with others who impact my work”; 63 percent told TELL that “teachers have time available to collaborate with colleagues.”
  • On the union survey, a mere 18 percent claimed to “have input on decisions that affect my job”; on the other hand, 69 percent of TELL respondents sided with the statement that “teachers have an appropriate level of influence on decision making in this school.”

My friends, the union survey is like selection bias on steroids. And these comparisons are just a few typical examples where Dougco teachers expressed similar or more favorable views than the statewide averages on the TELL survey.

To be fair, a couple of the super-gloomy pictures the DCFT attempts to paint are not, in truth, all sunshine and roses. But they’re also not nearly as dire as their unrepresentative sample of angry and unhappy employees would portray it to be:

  • 74 percent of the 800 respondents told the union they were likely or very likely to “leave DCSD at this time”; on TELL, nearly four times as many Dougco teachers said they would “continue teaching at my current school” or “continue teaching in this district but leave this school” than said they would “continue teaching in this state but leave this district” or “leave education entirely”
  • Far below the numbers of the general population that believe in UFOs or that Elvis lives, more than 96 percent on the union survey did not believe “DCSD’s teacher evaluation system, CITE, is a valid and reliable tool” for evaluating teacher performance; back in reality, of some concern, support for the evaluation system on TELL was still below 50 percent.

There are definite areas to improve in Dougco, but the DCFT’s overall portrait is a major distortion of reality. The biggest takeaway is a union desperately seeking a return to relevance, enough to significantly exaggerate the levels of staff discontent that they have generated and to attempt to use it as a big stick with which to bludgeon the local Board of Education.

(Dougco Federation received $400,000 gift — probably from AFT. What about 2015?)