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Do Teachers Really Lack Autonomy and Freedom?

Over the past few years, there has been an ever-growing chorus of pundits who argue that teachers have grown to deeply dislike their jobs. They argue that teachers are unhappy with their lack of control and freedom. These pundits believe that discouraged educators have been fleeing the profession in droves. But do teachers really lack autonomy and freedom?

When we examined a federal survey of teachers around the country, we found that teachers actually had significant control over their professional work. Consider, for example, that 58 percent of teachers say that they had control over what they teach—“selecting content, topics, and skills to be taught”—and 91 percent of teachers say that they had control over how they teach—“selecting teaching techniques.” And virtually all teachers (93 percent) reported that they had control over grading and evaluating.

To make the map below, we examined public school teacher responses from the Schools and Staffing Survey from the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. The data are from the 2011-12 school year, the latest available. The survey results are broken down by state.