Monday, November 2, 2009

A Sad State of Affairs

Is anyone happy with our education system?

* Teachers aren’t. A new study by Public Agenda and Learning Point Assoc. revealed 40% of teachers are “disheartened.”

* Students aren’t. When Highlights magazine asked kids, “What is your biggest problem right now,” more than 23% said schoolwork. Survey participants cited schoolwork most often, surpassing sibling issues (8.7%), parental issues (8.1%), friendship issues (7.3%), illness/physical problems (5.6%), and bullies (4.3%).

* President Obama isn’t. Education reform is high on the President’s agenda.

The Public Agenda study identified three groups of teachers: disheartened (40%), contented (37%), and idealists (23%). According to an article in Education Week, “The view that teaching is ‘so demanding, it’s a wonder that more people don’t burn out’ is remarkably pervasive, particularly among the disheartened, who are twice as likely as other teachers to agree strongly with that view.”

Interestingly, disheartened teachers expressed frustration with students (“disorder in the classroom”) and the bureaucracy (“an undue focus on testing”)—the two other groups that are dissatisfied.

The Obama administration seems to be dissatisfied with teachers. The administration’s “Race to the Top” plan promotes a merit pay system, which would hold teachers solely accountable for student achievement (see my July 29 blog post on this issue). And U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently stated that the nation’s teacher colleges “are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom,” according to an Education Dept. press release.

Media outlets were quick to agree. An editorial in The Philadelphia Inquirer stated that Duncan’s assessment “confirms what lackluster student performance on standardized tests has shown for years. Reforming public education and boosting student achievement must begin with better teacher training - mediocrity is unacceptable.” And an editorial in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram stated, “Most of the criticism I hear about teachers colleges — from education professors, student teachers and teachers in the classroom — centers on the idea that teachers are being shortchanged.”

So I guess the media is also unhappy.

In the Highlights study, “Respondents said they struggled with completing homework on time, finishing projects and/or studying for tests.” (This finding seems to support my Oct. 16 post, “The 9 to 5 School Day?”)

I haven’t seen any studies or reports recently on the attitude of parents, who are integral to the education process. I did read that the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District introduced a plan that would allow parents to initiate major reforms at low-performing schools. I’m all for parent involvement, but if schools are low-performing, shouldn’t the school board and district administrators be aware of the problem and take steps to address it? They’re the education experts.

But it’s not all gloom-and-doom in our nation’s schools. Most of the “contented” group of teachers strongly agree that “teaching is exactly what I wanted to do,” and the “idealists” believe “their students’ test scores have increased a lot because of their teaching,” according to Education Week.

Another positive revelation: a lot of kids like their teachers. When Highlights asked kids who they admire and respect, aside from family members, 17.2% said teachers, which ranked second to friends (28.4%).

There are a lot of successful teachers, motivated students and satisfied parents out there. Unfortunately, they’re rarely acknowledged.


“The State of the Kid,” Highlights, 2009.

“State of Mind,” Education Week, October 19, 2009.

“U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Says Colleges of Education Must Improve for Reforms to Succeed,” U.S. Dept. of Education, Oct. 22, 2009. Department of Education.

“Editorial: Teaching the Teachers,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Oct. 30, 2009.

“An Apple for the Education Secretary,” Ft. Worth Star Telegram, Oct. 27, 2009.

“L.A. Unified to Allow Parents to Initiate School Reforms,” Los Angeles Times, Oct, 28, 2009.,0,1211739.story

1 comment:

  1. You asked, "Is anyone happy with our educational system?" The laments and angst posted by many teacher bloggers and education associations make it seem like the answer is a resounding "No." Such is the process of asking for more money, etc.

    But, I'd argue "Yes," many, if not most teachers and students see good things happening in public schools, as indicated by the less than 100% stats you cite.

    A picky point about the term, "education system." The U.S. has a federation of public and private schools, not a single education system.

    Yes, some people talk about a single command and control system of schooling. They do not accept that NCLB is a voluntary Federal program that states may or may not join. In exchange for participating, states may apply for Federal funds for X purpose(s). The Federal grant requires an objective demonstration that these funds did what states promised. States use selected student academic achievement tests results as one demonstration.

    Why would parents not support these federated efforts? Wouldn't they have more influence in a federated effort than a single "education system"?