Another school year. It’s my 32nd as a teacher and I can still say that I love what I’m doing and believe that I am contributing to the betterment of society. I just wish that at some point before I go to the Great Faculty Room in the Sky, you know, the one where the microwave works, the carpet doesn’t smell and the walls aren’t made of cinder block, I could feel that society’s attitudes about my work would improve and that the United States would value education as much as it does entertainment, sports and the stock market.
The public’s attitudes on education are on display in this year’s new PDK/Gallup Poll on the Public’s Attitude Toward the Public Schools, and the results are encouraging. Most Americans do not think that standardized tests should be used to evaluate teachers and indeed say that there are too many of these high-stakes tests being administered to children. Most people surveyed also don’t like the Common Core Education Standards, both because they are tied to the tests and because most people don’t think that comparing American students’ scores with other countries is a worthy endeavor. But more important is the finding that most Americans, including a majority of Republicans, say that it’s important that the public schools are adequately funded.
Which brings us to how important teachers are to the success of the system. You would think that this would be a given and, for the most part, parents in local communities support efforts to bring in excellent teachers and to keep them in their schools. When schools are not fully funded, though, the system begins to break down. In most parts of the American economy, consumers understand that you get what you pay for and that sometimes you need to economize and think short term because of family limitations, emergencies, or good old American low wages.
In education, though, the argument get mangled a bit. Much of the (incorrect) literature suggests that more money doesn’t necessarily translate into better schools. Politicians and a segment of the public like to lean on the idea that teachers don’t go into teaching for the money, using that argument for keeping pay low relative to teachers’ experience and education. They also say that they want the best and brightest to go into teaching,
The insulting thing about this argument is the assumption that the best and brightest are not in teaching to begin with and that we need to attract them to the field. That’s wrong. Most of America’s teachers are smart, engaging, sharp, inquisitive, analytical and effective at what they do. Teaching is an incredibly difficult job to do well and the expectation is that you will do well with each and every one of that year’s students. You want the best and brightest? You’re getting them. It’s now time to make sure that they get the resources and financial recognition they’ve earned. Other countries do it; it’s time we did it too.
What would help is untying education money from property taxes and finding a more secure, and less intrusive, funding source. My idea is for the Congress to impose a 1% tax on all corporate earnings and a 1% income tax increase on the top earners and earmark it specifically for education. After all, who benefits the most economically from America’s great schools? American businesses, that’s who, so it makes sense for the corporate sector to pay more for their lifeblood. This would take the pressure off of middle and working class Americans who struggle with high property taxes and a system of funding that tilts towards the wealthy communities that can support higher valuations.
As we know, poverty is the main cause of educational inequality in this country. If we don’t address it, then we will never solve the problems associated with fewer educational opportunities, fewer students going on to higher education and the wage gap that accompanies it.
What we also really need is for the best and brightest to go into politics and to be part of the solution, not the problem. Most of the Republican candidates favor vouchers, which the Gallup poll shows is not enthusiastically shared by the general public. Governors Christie and Walker are proudly running on their efforts to minimize teacher input regarding educational reforms and are blaming teachers for the economic problems in their states. Neither of them have said anything remotely positive about teaching and, at least in New Jersey, morale among the teachers is abysmally low.
Not that the Obama administration is shying away from standardized tests and No Child Left Behind. Although a major Democratic constituency favors lessening the impact of tests, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, with the president’s support, is still doggedly applying the law to the public schools. And supporting Charter Schools.
So what to do? Involve the teachers. Use their expertise. Include them in decision making at the local, state and national levels. Leverage their knowledge. It seems so simple, but for the better part of 20 years, teachers have been methodically excluded from the major educational decisions of the day. This simply doesn’t happen in other industries. Exclude doctors from health care decisions? Attorneys from legal reviews? Never. But somehow the not best and less bright politicians have decided that they know best when it comes to the schools and that teachers are shills for the National Education Association and are not to be trusted. It’s a terrible situation and is threatening to get worse.
Meanwhile, the nation’s teachers will continue to do their level best to educate all children across the country.0