3-24-15 – School Choice – Letting Teachers Be Teachers Again

by Matthew Strong

“Teachers would never go along with school choice” is what many opponents will say, “why would they support the option for children to leave public schools and endanger their jobs?” One of the biggest issues with the education reform debate is the lack of involvement from teachers. Union leaders speak loud and clear, but the actual interests of the teachers doing the hard work in the classroom; their voice is not being heard. With so much pressure from all sides, teachers are increasingly tired of being demonized and blamed, when in reality, state and federal mandates are tying their hands.

According to an annual survey, last completed in 2012 and reported in the Washington Post,

“ –Teacher satisfaction has declined 23 percentage points since 2008, from 62% to 39% very satisfied, including five percentage points since last year, to the lowest level in 25 years.

– Half (51%) of teachers report feeling under great stress several days a week, an increase of 15 percentage points over the 36% of teachers reporting that level in 1985.

More than seven in 10 educators identify addressing the individual needs of diverse learners (83% of principals; 78% of teachers) and engaging parents and the community in improving education for students (72% of principals; 73% of teachers) as challenging or very challenging for school leaders.” (emphasis added)

A former teacher, who I spoke to recently, was appalled when making the switch from teaching in private schools to a job in one of the top-10 public schools in Vermont. “If parents knew how little actual learning was taking place, they would be shocked,” the teacher said.

“The average was 3 hours per day of actual in-classroom time for the second grade class I was helping in. That was just time in the classroom, not even actual learning time. There was at least one test ‘assessment,’ every week, which ate into class time, and Fridays were usually early dismissals because of a lot of field trips. The kids and the teachers were busy with tons of programs and activities, but the actual education wasn’t happening,” the teacher said. This teacher is no longer working in the public school system.

“A lot of ‘reading assignments’ were giving the children a book with pictures and asking them to imagine what the story was that went along with the picture, it was ludicrous,” the teacher said.

The year previous, in the private school where this teacher was working, the second graders were reading at what the state would consider a fourth grade level, at a third of the cost per pupil. “And the foreign exchange students we had were even further ahead. They would have been multiple grades ahead except for the language barrier,” the teacher stated. This experience is indicative of a much larger reality, money being spent on programs and activities creating the look of “busy” without the achievement of actual education.

As this chart points out from an excellent piece in People’s Pundit Daily just a few days ago; programs, spending, and more employees are not helping students get better educations.

The U.S. spends more money on education than any other country, even though we are one of the few countries that actually cut spending in the past 5 years because of the continuing global downturn. But Vermont is surging in the race to be the biggest spender in the U.S. This means that Vermont is spending more money per pupil than almost all nations on the planet.

However, even though the U.S. spent the most, the “cognitive skills and educational attainment” in the U.S. is ranked 14th in the world and that is even up 3 spots from 2012. In 2012, the U.S. was 17th. Our neighbors on that list were Hungary (18th), and Slovakia (19th), let that sink in as you look at your tax bill. Poland had the 14th spot in 2012, now that we have their spot on the list, they have jumped up into 10th place, joining the 2014 cast of “overachieving” nations of South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Finland, U.K., Canada, Netherlands, and Ireland.

In 2015 the Vermont Agency of Education alone will costs Vermont tax payers $22,567,456 in personnel (a 7.8% increase over 2014) and $4,425,536 in operating expenses (a 21.1% increase). One of the easiest ways to reform education and decrease costs is to let local school boards, teachers, and parents decide the best priorities for their own schools, by allowing them to make choices without the increasing slew of state and federal mandates. The simple and sometimes subconscious competition of school choice provides the natural incentives for these cost cutting and educationally beneficial choices.

We are currently going in the wrong direction. Teachers need the freedom to teach, to not have the myriad of other job descriptions they are currently required to manage other than a “teacher”. In our rush to reinvent the wheel of education, we’ve lost the most important thing of all, teachers teaching, and students learning. I’ll bet your local teachers have a lot to say about their daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that get in the way of teaching. You should ask them if they would like the choice of input about what is important in helping the children in their own classroom learn, maybe we can get them involved in the conversation.


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Falby March 25, 2015 at 11:26 am

Ask a teacher what would be the greatest log jam between their teaching, and students learning. 100% will say behavior management. No one is talking about, or looking at the fact that “high fliers” ( teacher speak for students who require intensive management in order to maintain a civil classroom atmosphere) seem to be on an exponential rise. The solution has been to attach another adult to “high fliers” – ie Individual Aides. Which for a college educated adults is the equivalent of baby sitting.
In a by gone era, students came to school from larger families, equipped with social skills and abilities to get along with their classmates. Call them soft skills. Families are smaller now, and soft skills seem to be absent from students repetoir, and are being taught. Maybe we should take a look at the play book from one of those over achieving countries. Finland. No academic content is introduced until the time the children reach the age of 7. Second grade. Our current pattern has been jamming education down the throats of 4 and 5 year olds, with a push to jam it further down 3 year old throats. This is highly inappropriate for the age of development. Could we craft a curriculum where all the soft skills for dealing with larger groups of peers, (cooperation, respect, communication, group problem solving are developed), and literacy is introduced at an appropriate stage of development? Thereby ending this epidemic of “highfliers” and opening the learning gates from the 2-4th grade levels? It may be too simple and cost effective (insert sarcasm) for any credible bureaucracy to consider. I’m Jonathan Falby -thanks for reading


Ralph M McGregor April 1, 2015 at 12:08 pm

We know from history that anything run by Gov,t is going to be expensive and inefficient. School vouchers are the ONLY answer !!!


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