Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Teachers' Woes Grow Ever More Intensely

Recent actions at the state levels have drawn attention to the role of teachers’ unions in the public education process. It should be said that most of this attention is unwarranted. The fact is that, in the context of education cuts, more demands are being made on teachers than they are able to deliver in the current public school setting. This has nothing to do with teachers' unions.

Regular education is facing the consequences of increased class sizes and pressures resulting from NCLB and state budget cuts. One consequence of this is the increasing turnover of teachers and the rising median age of teachers. http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/03/08/high-teacher-turnover-rates-are-a-big-problem-for-americas-public-schools/ http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/SASS/tables/state_2004_19.asp Young people are more likely to avoid the profound difficulties of the current public school work environment in favor of other careers. It is worth saying that public school teachers have heard the message of the public - parents, public officials and public opinion. Teachers have always considered themselves as advocates for their students. But for the past 20 years this has turned into a situation where teachers are being scapegoated for the poor status of student academic performance.

The profound demographic changes in the nation have added basic language skills to the array of issues that impact on student performance. The ELL training is not proving sufficient in expanding the skills needed by non-English speaking students and ELL classes are inadequately constructed in numerous settings to address the issues of improving student achievement. “If mainstream teachers are to help meet the many challenges inherent in educating ELLs, one of many subgroups within a single classroom, a researched-based effective professional development source must be devised to create the workforce with the skills needed to teach these students effectively. Equity of education for ELL students will depend ultimately upon how schools respond to the individual student and his or her needs. The training, follow-through, and support of the mainstream teachers for English language learners are important to all Americans, as education is the pathway to employability, economic independence, and social wellbeing.” http://uknowledge.uky.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1709&context=gradschool_diss

Increasing teacher training will not benefit if new potential teachers see that the environment they are considering is so profoundly dysfunctional. Expectations on current teachers have been raised beyond the capabilities to achieve. This is resulting in teacher turnovers and cheating scandals such as the one in Atlanta.

Learning technologies are often pointed to as the silver bullet in public education. The fact is that these technologies have their own issues that include the difficulty in monitoring and the lack of personal interactions and dialogue between students and teachers. On-line schools and other alternatives have arisen and gained a certain popularity. http://www.kvue.com/news/Online-K-12-schooling-on-the-rise-138317819.html It is not reasonable to presume that it will ever replace the public education system.

Increasing common core standards holds no solutions when they are not sufficiently relevant in the existing classroom settings. Standards in California have been raised in the face of repeated failures throughout the state public school system. http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2011/11/many_california_elementary_stu.html One thing we are learning from the NCLB testing is how inadequate student performance is in meeting those standards. In this context, there is an increasing atmosphere of antagonism between teachers, parents and administration, not collaboration. Teacher demoralization is an issue in itself that will not be addressed simply by core standards. Training will help. There appears to be more training being expected of public school teachers than is being delivered by either public schools or higher education. Focusing solely on teacher training will not address the profound demands that are being made on teachers in the classroom.

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