The Ghost of Education Present
As we move forward into post 2/3 I want to highlight some of the major issues that are currently taking place in education in 2016. If it seems gloomy that is because it is. We are at a crossroads and we have some major choices to make going forward!
Modern day America, there is more computing power in an iPhone than we took to the moon back in the 1960’s. Information on any subject can be found, real or fake, in a matter of seconds from almost anywhere. Donald Trump was elected president, winning the Electoral College but losing the popular vote by almost 3 million. LeBron James has almost 3 times as many Twitter followers as Barack Obama. Times are indeed strange!
Major issues in education in 2016
Standardization of everything!
The pendulum has swung from teachers as professionals, to teachers as cogs in a machine, as the realization of disparity between schools that struggle and schools that succeed came to the forefront. The gap is huge and the response is essentially more oversight. For example, School A is failing their standardized PARCC tests, as a response, School A must put in measures, not to improve student learning but simply to improve test scores. The measurement for success or failure is the test that students take one time a year that covers reading, writing, and math. Principal and teacher’s jobs depend on raising these scores so, in turn, teaching becomes a science designed to standardize what is being taught, in what class, and on what day. In this way, the thought is that even ineffective teachers should be able to get the majority of students to pass the standardized test just by following the plan. In addition, students who struggle to meet adequate achievement on standardized tests will be placed into an additional reading elective or writing elective. Double dipping them certainly will raise scores, right?!
Many schools are also focusing only on standards based grading as well. The idea being that lets just assess students on what they know and can do related to the standards set by the state. On paper this idea is great, however, it neglects values that we want to instill in our students, like effort, professional quality, and being prompt. Students now can turn in a paper late, done half-assed, and crumpled into a little ball and as long as it meets or exceeds the standard for the content knowledge the student will get high marks. What are we really teaching them? How is this real preparation for life? It isn’t, it is just standardized testing creeping its way further into the classroom.
Professional development has also become standardized in recent years. In order to get as much growth on tests as possible, school leaders need to get everyone on the same page! In doing so, we will be able to teach a kid to write in each class, so they get 8 hours a day, 5 days a week of practice, surely then, they will become a better writer! Whole staff professional developments take place and everyone, from PE and math teachers, to foreign language teachers and science teachers, meets together to discuss how we will raise the writing test scores for students. Not surprisingly this leads to great frustration for teachers, who are professionals used to autonomy, become just another brick in the wall.
Teacher retention in Title 1 schools
Title 1 schools are schools that receive extra funding due to high levels of poverty. These schools typically show struggles on standardized tests and end up being labeled as a failing school. Title 1 schools can be a joy to work in but they can also be a career ender for the unprepared or the inflexible. Many first year teachers have started the year wanting to work with, “This group of kids!” Only to find out halfway through the year that nothing in their whole life could have prepared them to reach “this group of kids.” This teacher typically leaves mid-year or after their first full year. With these schools typically failing on state tests they often receive some of the heaviest standardization in order to raise test scores. Veteran teachers avoid these schools and most early career teachers just use them to get a foot in the door before moving on to a higher achieving school. What this creates is a revolving door where teachers are here today and gone tomorrow and the kids suffer. In reality, this makes sense, with the standardization mentioned above, a teacher can remain under scrutiny in a struggling school with many of the issues out of their hands, or they can try to move to a successful school, get paid the same and have an easier time meeting professional goals set by the school. It is a no brainer for many.
America has a problem; we want good services but refuse to pay for them. Consistently we vote down tax increases designed to help schools grow and improve. With these budget cuts come unintended consequences, the first being lower teacher pay. The Wage Gap is detailed thoroughly in a previous post, however, the problems with low teacher pay stretch much farther than the teacher’s wallet. When teacher pay is low we get low quality teachers. Competition is a key factor in determining the quality of teachers a school gets. There have been many jobs open in my own school where the best candidate was still someone with no experience and who really was not qualified to be in the classroom. With my school being a Title 1 school there really weren’t other options, the candidates simply were teachers who hadn’t been able to get interviews elsewhere. I am sure that at more affluent schools with better reputations this problem does not exist in the same way but it certainly does for many Title 1 schools.
Cuts do not only affect teacher salary, they also affect the options that students have. Unlike in the 1960’s we are seeing, in many schools, a decrease in the number and array of electives being offered to students. Useful and engaging electives like woodshop are being replaced with electives that are more like literacy classes. Again, with emphasis on standardized tests and improving scores when the budget cuts come they take away programs that don’t direct support student growth on the test. Arts and music, for years have been feeling the brunt of these cuts and now many schools are also opting to cut sports out too. PE classes are becoming fewer and in some schools not all students will take PE, in a time when childhood obesity is higher than ever, this is criminal. My own district has completely cut out middle school sports saving around 1 million dollars out of a 329 million dollar budget. The true cost of these cuts remains to be seen, however, and will surely affect the poor more than the wealthy.
This is a mixed bag today depending on where you are in the country and how well your district funds nutrition programs. Some school districts like this one from Greeley, CO, are doing it right. They offer students a choice of many different healthy options actually made in a kitchen and they also have salad bars in many of the schools. This is not the norm, however, many districts now allow fast food corporations to infiltrate the school and sell to kids, even at the middle school level. In addition, many school meals are just purchased premade and heated by the school lunch personnel, these products are filled with unhealthy fillers and lack true nutritional value. In wealthy areas parents simply make their kids a lunch from home to circumvent the issue, however, parents who are not wealthy or those who are on free or reduced lunches have little choice. We are opting for cheap food with the cost being a spike in diabetes and childhood obesity and future healthcare costs.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line for schools in the present is that we have shifted from a model of public education being a service provided for kids in order to help the grow, to a public education being a business. All of the policy choices we see made today are done with an eye on how can we save or make money and how can we avoid getting sued. Even the move to standardization is a very business like, robotic method, for achieving an end. Policy isn’t made on what is best for kids anymore; it is made to help the bottom line. I look forward to laying out the future of education with you tomorrow!
English Language Development teacher attempting to bring some truth to the table.
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