Truth and Consequences
There were 1,615,066 students in Georgia public schools k-12 and 120,660 teachers to teach them in 2009. In 2013 the GADOE reported 1,657,506 students and 111,401 public school teachers k-12. Anyway you count it, public education has lost 9,000 teachers and class sizes have increased in Georgia public schools. Add to that issue six years with no raises, layoffs or RIF's in many systems, furloughs that actually take money out of teachers’ pockets to help systems cope with decreased state funds, higher property taxes, loss of planning time, the elimination of professional development funds, the lack of instructional funds, the elimination of band, chorus, orchestra, art and elective classes, the destruction of motivation and creativity through the institution of phony reforms, a continuation of the “blame the teacher” mindset, an insistence on teaching to the test, by the test and for the test, the growing numbers of children in poverty, the proliferation of standardized testing at the state and local levels, the junk science of value added models of teacher evaluation, unrealistic expectations for students and teachers, the dearth of resources for students with special needs or remediation, the “everyone is college material” insanity, the inanity of student learning objectives for non-tested subjects, the implementation of Common Core standards by decree with no instructional support, books that are older than the kids they are issued to and it’s no wonder teacher morale is in the dumps.
The Met Life Survey of the American Teacher noted that teacher job satisfaction fell from 62% “very satisfied” with their jobs in 2008 to a 20 year low of 39% “very satisfied” in 2013. Principals surveyed indicated 75% were frustrated with their jobs and almost one third of those said they will go to a different occupation within the next 5 years. Add to that the findings of the NCTAF 2010 report “Who Will Teach” that between 2004 and 2008 over 300,000 veteran teachers retired nationally, that 30% of new teachers leave the profession within 5 years and the average age of the teaching force nationally has risen from 36 in 1976 to 55 in 2008. The number of teachers over the age of 50 in 2008 was 1.3 million, and the most common age of retirement for teachers was 59. What we are seeing is the beginnings of a teacher shortage at the state and national levels.
Age and a rampant bureaucracy created by Federal and state regulations toward a data-driven accountability system that over-tests and micro-manages educational policies only add to the already high frustrations of teachers and administrators. While every parent wants their child to have an individualized educational experience, governors, legislators and Federal policies insist that all children be subjected to the same inane standards and testing. It would seem their intent is to drive away as many teachers as possible and make the profession even more unattractive than it currently is. Enrollments in education programs are dropping nationwide, due in large part to the attacks on the profession through opposition to due process, denigration of the profession, low pay and increasing expectations. Doing more with less has ceased to become a temporary circumstance and now is a way of life for teachers.
It would seem that 12 years of a failed test and punish system would be enough for anyone to recognize it simply doesn’t work. The answer, as it has always been, is in the power of teaching. Providing resources for teachers, using standardized tests at the beginning of the year (if at all) for diagnostic purposes, recognizing the dignity and importance of the teaching profession, dismissing the junk science of value added models of evaluation, giving teachers the time for collaborative planning, instituting a system of mentoring for teachers that need improvement and removing the constraints of scripted national “standards” that, in the absence of books and materials become a de facto curriculum.
The key to effective education is effective teachers. Our politicians have done everything they can to demonize teachers and take away what little authority and classroom autonomy they had to begin with. Teachers really don’t come out of the college training box ready to teach and inspire students, but rather than spending more money on professional development our legislators eliminate professional development funds, cut their salaries and increase testing. Rather than finding ways to run off more teachers – we have ways to remove poor teachers now if we have administrators with the courage to do so – our focus must be on training the teachers we have to be more effective, to use cooperation and collaboration as a basis for daily operation, to improve student engagement in every classroom on a daily basis and to teach administrators that the key to effective administration is not attempting to browbeat, chastise or shame teachers into working harder but in having the courage to involve them in the school operations and decision making and empower them to create teacher leaders. Teachers have never been the problem; teachers are the solution that will save children from themselves and from society one kid at a time. Public education serves 93% of the students in our state. We cannot afford to abandon the many to provide more opportunities for a select few. It’s not about race, it’s about poverty; it’s not about a test score, it’s about student achievement; it’s not about a standardized curriculum, it’s about good teaching; it’s not about the business model, it’s about personalization; it’s not about compliance, it’s about individualization, it’s not about competition, it’s about cooperation. Until we restore the power of teachers to teach, publicize our daily successes and vote for representatives that believe the US and Georgia Constitutions are more than legal suggestions, we will continue to hear the nonsense about the failure of public education and be subjected to the continued denigration of the teachers that, in spite of the system and not because of it, still make a positive difference for kids every day. The more we allow politicians to demonize teachers and teaching the further we get from the goals to educate every child, and the harder it becomes to keep good teachers and attract their replacements.