Education Opportunity Network

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The Cost Of Leaving Educators Off The Education Agenda

This act is wearing thin.

As implementations of Common Core State Standards falter around the country, supporters of the new academic benchmarks continue a sort of dog and pony show to reinforce the message to “stay the course.”

The latest such example came from the Center for American Progress who staged a panel recently on “A Roadmap for a Successful Transition to the Common Core in States and Districts.” Typical of these sorts of affairs, the panel consisted of two Beltway think tank execs and two former pols now firmly ensconced in the private sector. There wasn’t an actual practicing educator in sight.

The report bears out the superficial substance of the PR event, a view from 30,000 feet up with seemingly no input from practicing teachers and principals on the ground.

Keep in mind this is an effort to promote implementation – where the rubber really meets the road – with, supposedly, examples of teachers and administrators doing it more successfully. And it’s a “roadmap.” Yet there’s little if any evidence of input from the people actually driving on the road.

With the emphasis exclusively on programmatic prescriptions rather than pedagogical examples, the report leaves the means of how teachers and administrators implement the standards pretty much a mystery.

Whether you agree with the necessity and quality of the Common Core or not, what afflicts implementations of the new standards is not as much the “politics” – what most of the handwringing is about – as it is their practicality – whether educators can get much utility out of standards in improving their practice and whether those changes in practice eventually yield any results.

New York, for instance, is cited as a state exhibiting some strategic turns in the road to adopting the Common Core. Yet that state has encountered numerous practical pitfalls that are completely unaddressed by the report – inadequate teaching materials and textbooks, poor assessments, inappropriateness of expectations to student ages and developmental levels, just to name a few.

There are reasons why implementations of the Common Core are rife with practical problems such as those experienced in New York.

As college teacher Paul Buchheit recently observed at Alternet, today’s policy leaders – who like to refer to themselves as “reformers” – are primarily businesspeople, not educators. Buchheit noted, “Writers of the Common Core standards included no early childhood educators or experienced classroom teachers … Achieve Inc., the key drafter of Common Core, brags about its academic deficiencies, saying, ‘Achieve remains the only education reform organization led by a Board of Directors of governors and business leaders.’”

The lack of educator engagement in policy making and policy enforcing circles is not limited to the Common Core. And the consequences of leaving educators out of policy discussions go far beyond problems with poor policy uptake on the ground – what one panelist at the CAP event, Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn, facilely referred to as “slow trickle down.”

Teachers Feel Undervalued

As too few expectations of the policy wonks in D.C. seem to catch hold at school and classroom levels, what certainly has “trickled down” is the attitude that the voices of teachers don’t matter much.

That’s an outcome reflected in the newest results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) given by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the same responsible for Pisa tests. The TALIS survey compared international education standards, asked 100,000 teachers in 34 education systems around the world about the quality of their work lives.

Looking at the OECD survey results, Emily Richmond observed at The Huffington Post that teachers in the U.S. feel particularly undervalued – only 34 percent believe their work is valued by society.

Richmond added that the TALIS results aligned with recent findings from a Scholastic/Gates poll which revealed that only one out of every 20 teachers believed their opinions mattered outside of their school.

Indeed, the low value policy makers place on the input of teachers gets reflected in the way schools are run.

As Sarah Sparks noted for Education Week, “When it comes to implementing research-backed teaching practices such as collaboration, many teachers reported not being able to do so. In spite of research touting the benefits of collaboration, the survey found that more than half of teachers in grades 7 to 9 reported they rarely or never co-teach or observe their peers teaching. Moreover, nearly half never get feedback on how they can improve.”

Furthering teachers’ feeling of being undervalued is the fact that they face one of the world’s more challenging teaching jobs.

As Richmond noted, “U.S. teachers said they work an average of 45 hours per week, of which 27 hours are spent on classroom instruction. By comparison, their international peers work an average 38 hours per week, with 19 hours teaching.”

Also, “64 percent of American teachers said they work in schools where at least 30 percent of their pupils are economically disadvantaged. That’s compared with 20 percent of teachers on average for the other 33 countries in the OECD’s survey. In other words, U.S. teachers are three times as likely to work in schools with some poverty. Additionally, 62 percent of U.S. teachers said they were regularly able to motivate struggling students to take an interest in their work, compared with the international survey average of 70 percent.”

Teachers who feel their input is valued and who get the input of their peers are much happier in their jobs. As editors for The Hechinger Report noted when they looked at the survey data, “Teachers who say they get included in school decision-making and collaborate often with other teachers are more likely to say that teaching is a valued profession in their society. In turn, these same teachers report higher levels of job satisfaction and confidence in their ability to teach and to motivate students.”

And when teachers feel they’re not being valued, that’s got to hurt the effort to keep qualified teachers. As Richmond asked, “How is that perceived lack of respect influencing recruiting, hiring and retaining a high-quality teacher workforce?”

After all, education policy leaders today make a big to-do about teachers being “the most important in-school factor” in a student’s academic achievement. So what does it say when you take that factor and muzzle it?

Ignoring Teachers Hurts Learning

What you get, according to Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond, is a negative impact on learning.

Looking over the TALIS survey data, Darling-Hammond wrote for The Huffington Post that work life for the typical American teachers – who presides over larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24) and spends many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children – reflects “a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s.”

What she noted is that the work life of the American teacher, with its lack of collaborative support and input into the education process of the school and the system differs significantly from the work life of teachers whose students rank high in international tests.

This “gap” between what we know teachers need to advance student achievement and what our system provides could be remedied by “policy lessons,” Darling-Hammond contended, that include more and better support for our students, for sure, but also putting more value on teachers and teaching and redesigning schools and school policies so that teachers have more time to collaborate and get more substantive feedback from administrators.

“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap,” Darling-Hammond concluded.

Trickled Down Or Trickled On

It’s not like we don’t know teachers value and need and exchange in ideas.

In fact one of the recommendations of the CAP report on Common Core implementation is for more teacher collaboration.

But all too often what policy makers and policy advocates – including CAP – tend to reflect in their actions is a disregard for teacher voice as they impose policies such as test-driven evaluations and merit pay that teachers generally oppose.

The Common Core appears to be one of those policies that teachers don’t uniformly object to. But when policy leaders in D.C. relegate educator input to platitudes in their reports, instead of placing that voice at the podium and on the panel, there’s little chance they’ll ever see much trickle down. Instead, more educators will feel they are being trickled on.

  • Chris says:

    Teachers get in the way of privatizing education extracting the greatest possible profit ofr increasing CEO compensation and shareholder value. All privatization of tax funded schooling should be terminated and control returned to the local school boards. Out with the vampires!

    July 2, 2014 at 6:28 pm
  • campak14 says:

    There are two forms of education in this World.

    The first form can be observed in private Waldorf schools where the executives of Silicon Valley send their children. This form of education emphasizes the natural unfolding of student’s unique interests, passions and intellectual giftedness where there is NO high stakes standardized testing.

    The second form of education can be observed in authoritarian nations where the (corporate) state imprints onto the minds of children, utilizing high stakes standardized testing, what the state values.

    Here is an illustration of such an authoritarian system: http://www.educationreformillustrated.blogspot.com

    July 2, 2014 at 7:01 pm
  • N. John Borgen says:

    Teachers deserve respect. How many reports like this does it take to get it? As long as teachers are seen as hired hands, easy to get rid of, really a dime a dozen, it won’t matter. Corporateers , and for profit businesses are chomping at the bit to get their teeth into the flesh of public education. Those of us who believe in free equal education for all must stand together and protect an American tradition. And, at the same time, be ever open to opportunities to get better, grow and deliver superior learning opportunities for all students.

    July 3, 2014 at 2:00 am
  • Boris Dirnbach says:

    I was talking last year to a Temple Univ. ed graduate who’s teaching physical science in a cyber charter school (students are at home communicate with the teacher by computer). She had 209 students assigned to her instead of a typical suburban student load of say 110. So this charter school (at least in this one case) gets double the state tuition that they would get if they operated actual classrooms. She pointed out that few students actually logged into her 1 hour online presentations (3 times/week) and she spent much of her time chasing after students to finish their online assignments and tests. And they never get to do an actual lab nor see a live demonstration.

    July 3, 2014 at 10:06 pm
  • Scott A. Weir says:

    All of the above, and it goes deeper and wider even than most people suspect. I teach at the largest community college in a large southern state that has been in the news lately for its execrable treatment of our K-12 teachers (even by today’s standards). Officially I am in the classroom 18 hours/week, but for various reasons I spend well over 50 hours/week at my job. In this state average pay for community college instructors (they are not even willing to call us “teachers”!) is about the same as for K-12 teachers, but with a much narrower range, so in effect no “career path” at all. Most of my colleagues are retired from industry or the military (!), many from IBM and comparable firms, having already built a solid retirement nest egg at least until the next global financial collapse. Polls have shown that as a group we feel disrespected and disempowered, as well as overworked and underpaid. Such “input” as we are allowed seems to be mostly for show, although . Our administration touts its success in landing Gates Foundation money, along with the standardization and efforts to quantify the unquantifiable that it entails. Oh–and as an economist, I believe the technical term is “tinkle-on.”

    July 5, 2014 at 1:47 am
  • cyn3wulf says:

    “The Common Core appears to be one of those policies that teachers don’t uniformly object to.”

    This is likely because of three things. One is that many teachers don’t know very much about the CCSS in terms of where they came from, how they were developed, and what upcoming CCSS-linked assessments are going to do to their students. In addition, most teachers are still getting the standards down for their grade level, which may be as good or better than the previous standards that they had, not realizing that in other grade levels, particularly the early ones, the CCSS can be very inappropriate.

    The second thing is that many of the teachers that do know something about CCSS assume that they’ll be gone in a couple of years like all of the other Next Great Things, so there is no sense in rocking the boat over them. As more teachers find out about them and start to realize that the end is not anywhere in sight, more of them turn against the standards.

    The last thing is that many teachers are afraid of losing their job for speaking out. If you think that, surely, fear wouldn’t keep them from filling out an anonymous survey, then you have no idea of the true level of distrust teachers have for the administrators and district personnel. This distrust has grown very deep very quickly. On top of that, many teacher don’t feel that their unions truly have their backs. Consequently, “keep your head down and don’t stick out” is the order of the day.

    Bonus: Most teachers either don’t remember or don’t know that there was a time, not all that long ago, in which there were no national or state standards, and the teachers were expected to use their professional judgement. Well, we’re not in Kansas any more.

    July 19, 2014 at 2:15 am

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