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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

150,000 Decisions That Will Shape the Future of America’s Schools

By Tim Hodges, Gallup Research Director for Education

Graduation season is here -- the time of year when our mailboxes fill with invitations to attend commencement ceremonies and celebrate the achievements of the graduating students in our lives.

This is also the season when education leaders are making decisions that are critical to the future of our students and our schools: It is teacher hiring season. Approximately 150,000 new teachers are hired into America’s public schools each year. Every teacher is important to the success of our students, meaning the future of our schools hinges on making every hiring decision the exact right one.

As school leaders prepare to embark on this mass-hiring journey, there are four major factors they must consider:

  1. Always consider teacher talent: School leaders often underestimate the importance of teacher talent -- those patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior that are common in great teachers. Gallup research illustrates that teachers with strong evidence of “value added” student achievement -- meaning they help students grow during the school year -- also have unique and measurable talent to motivate, build relationships, and create great places for their students to learn. Teacher talent should play a prominent role in every hiring decision.
  2. Hire for the district, as well as for the school: It is important to remember that a teacher may spend an entire career working in the district, but rarely with the same principal who interviewed them for their first classroom assignment. The hiring decision is one that should not simply consider the school’s immediate vacancy, but also the candidate’s potential for a long-term career with the district.
  3. Look beyond teacher experience: Experienced teachers are not always more effective than those who are new to the profession. While there is some evidence that prior years in the classroom can make a slight difference, the effects of teacher experience on student achievement seem to level off after about five years.
  4. Advanced degrees aren’t everything: Many hiring managers sift through piles of resumes in search of applicants who have graduate degrees. While higher education certainly has its merits, school leaders should not overestimate the impact of a teacher’s graduate degree on their future performance in the classroom. As it relates to student achievement, with the exception of a few positions such as secondary math teachers, there is only a modest difference between teachers with graduate degrees and those without.
Think about the best teacher you’ve ever known. List a few words that describe them and what made them great. If you’re like most people, you’ll notice that teachers rarely stand out because of their subject-matter expertise or because of their many years in the trenches. Knowledge, skills, and experience are certainly important -- necessary, but not sufficient. True greatness comes down to how the teacher made you feel. Great teachers see students as unique individuals and create environments where students thrive.

Every teacher matters. Let’s hope that our nation’s school leaders make 150,000 great hiring decisions this year. The future of our students depends on it.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Islamists and Egypt’s Election: Gallup Surveys Provide Insight Into First Presidential Vote

By Dalia Mogahed, Executive Director, Gallup Center for Muslim Studies

Millions of Egyptians will cast their vote this week for their country’s first president since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011 in elections that most of the nation’s public expects to be fair.  The big question is whether the strong Islamist showing in December’s parliamentary polls will repeat itself and put an Islamist in the executive post.

Gallup’s ongoing tracking of Egyptians’ views throughout its turbulent transition provide valuable insight.

Five key research findings suggest Egyptian support for Islamists is more utilitarian than ideological, so an Islamist-dominated parliament may not translate into an Islamist president.

  1. Support for Islamists is already declining: If most Egyptians were casting a vote for philosophical rather than practical reasons, we would expect that confidence to be fairly resilient.  Instead, the parliamentarians’ political squabbles and ineffective management of a turbulent transition have taken their toll. After only a few months dominating parliament, Islamists have already lost some of their luster. Support for the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) dropped to 43% in April 2012, after it had reached 67% in February of this year.  The Salafi-affiliated Nour Party suffered a similar fate, dropping to 30% in April from 40% support in February 2012. 
  2. Declining support for parliament to choose key posts: Perhaps even more telling, fewer Egyptians now believe parliament should choose key government posts or decide who writes the country’s new constitution. This finding suggests that when Egyptians chose Islamists to represent them in parliament, that support was conditional dependent on performance. 
  3. Strong support for Islamists is fairly recent:  If the Islamists’ parliamentary win were a popular ideological mandate, we would expect it be stable over a timespan of at least a few months.  However, the Muslim Brotherhood’s support, for example, jumped to 48% in December of 2011, from 15% in March of that year, shortly before Egyptians went to the polls. This kind of change suggests weeks of effective campaigning, not years of unwavering philosophical fellowship, produced the Islamists’ parliamentary win.
  4. Islamist and liberal supporters’ priorities for government are identical:  If Egyptian support for Islamist parties is primarily ideological, we would expect supporters’ priorities for the government to focus on social issues or religion’s role in public life.   Instead, whether they support Islamists or liberals, Egyptian voter priorities are virtually indistinguishable from American voters: jobs, economic development, security and stability, and education.
  5. Islamist and liberal supporters’ views on social issues are identical:  If support for a particular Egyptian political party is driven by ideology, then we would expect to see sharp differences on legal and social issues along party lines, like we typically see in the U.S.  These chasms are nowhere to be found.  Supporters of the FJP look identical to those who endorse the liberal Free Egyptians Party when it comes to women’s rights, interreligious tolerance, and basic constitutional freedoms.
Campaign effectiveness, not ideological loyalties, will ultimately decide this week’s elections. Today Egypt is a nation of the eager undecideds. In April almost 90% said they intended to cast a vote for their next president, but close to half were unsure for whom that would be. This means many Egyptians are open to a wide variety of candidates, making the country’s historic vote as unpredictable as it is exciting.  One thing is for certain: whoever wins Egypt’s presidential ballot will have to answer to a public that expects results, not rhetoric.

Gallup has tracked Egyptian public opinion since 2001 and will continue to survey regularly in 2012 to provide insights into the country’s historic transition.  Visit our Egypt page to access all of our articles and to be alerted as soon as new articles publish.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How to Make Wellness Programs Work

By Jim Harter, Gallup Chief Scientist for Workplace and Wellbeing 

TEDMED recently held its annual conference in Washington, D.C., featuring  a wide range of impressive presentations on the future of health and medicine, ranging from innovative early detection to biochemistry and the bioengineering of genes. 

Throughout the conference, the TEDMED community voted on the greatest challenges for the near-term in health and medicine across 51 important topics. It was striking to me that of all the important challenges for health and medicine, the one that got the most votes was “Inventing Wellness Programs that Work.” 

Wellness programs have been around for decades, but the TEDMED vote reflects an admission that most wellness improvement programs aren’t working. Further, it is most likely a reaction to the $2.5 trillion in U.S. healthcare costs, the country’s single biggest national expense. About two-thirds of these costs are preventable, as they are due to unnecessarily high levels of obesity and other disease burdens. But this problem won’t be solved by taking an isolated look at health.

Any effort to fix this problem will likely fail unless health and medical professionals develop or adopt research and practice that integrates multiple fields, including the workplace, psychology, economics, and sociology. The science and practice of “wellbeing” is beginning to replace “wellness,” because wellbeing includes overlapping disciplines, which give us the greatest chance for lasting change. “Wellbeing” includes all the things that are important to how we think about and experience our lives.

We have all experienced, whether personally or through someone you know, reading a book or starting a health program with the best of intentions. We start them, make a commitment, and see some progress. Then, once we meet our goal -- if we make it that far -- we slide back into our former routines. The problem is that we attempt to “fix” our health by focusing primarily on our physical health. This works for a while. 

But if we ignore all the other very important aspects of our lives -- our careers, social lives, finances, and communities -- it is impossible to achieve real and lasting wellbeing improvement. This is because all of these aspects are interrelated and impact one another. So, for example, if you want to lose weight, but are in a job you hate, your chances of success are lower because you have more daily stress. Higher stress is associated with worse health. You are also less likely to get involved in workplace programs that support your healthier intentions.

When we are thriving in multiple areas of our lives, our chances of improving individual facets of our wellbeing -- our eating habits, our exercise frequency, etc. --  increase substantially, because our overall lives support our best intentions. When we have less stress from our finances, have friends with similar goals, and are more connected to our workplaces and communities, our odds of losing weight, or almost any such goal, improve substantially.

Several years ago, Gallup began an effort to quantify the elements that provide the simplest and best explanation of a thriving life for the world’s residents. We found five generalizable elements that individuals and organizational leaders can act on:
  • Career Wellbeing: How you occupy your time and liking what you do each day
  • Social Wellbeing: Having strong relationships and love in your life
  • Financial Wellbeing: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Physical Wellbeing: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis
  • Community Wellbeing: The sense of engagement and involvement you have with the area where you live
Tackling the challenge of “wellness” or health is deeply dependent on science and practice that takes a holistic view of the person. As an example, in a series of longitudinal studies, tracking thousands of the same full-time employees for two years in the U.S., we found each of the five wellbeing elements listed above was additive in predicting future healthcare costs related to disease burden. Annual health-related costs decrease incrementally according to how many wellbeing elements employees are thriving in. 

Those thriving in all five elements in year one accumulated less than half the health-related costs in the following year compared with those thriving in only one of the elements. Thriving employees have fewer unhealthy days, are less likely to be obese, and have less chronic disease burden. Our studies suggest the health-related costs for a 60-year-old with high wellbeing are actually lower than those for a 30-year-old with low wellbeing. 

The problem is that while 69% of people we’ve studied are thriving in at least one of the five wellbeing elements, only 9% are thriving in all five. Organizational and community leaders are in the best position to change this statistic, because they lead entities of existing social networks. Change initiatives can spread through networks via awareness and social expectations in much the same way that smoking habits have changed in recent decades.

The bottom line is that two things must happen in order to achieve sustainable change through “wellness” programs -- or as TEDMED puts it “inventing wellness programs that work.” One, programs must take a holistic approach -- cutting across all five areas of wellbeing. And, two, leaders must implement these types of programs in such a way that participation is easy and an expected part of the employee-value proposition. Several organizations are already starting to take the lead in this new science and practice.

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