The educational buzzword for this year is “personalized education.” This computerized revival of individualized instruction from the 1970s also wins the 2018 oxymoron award. Pitched by the techno-educational industry, so-called personalized education isolates a student in a digital world, progressing alone at their own speed, essentially the most “depersonalized” form of instruction possible.
If there was any bright light in the dark world of modern teaching, it was the demise of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). After over a decade of teaching-to-the-test to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the requirement that one hundred percent of students be proficient by 2014 was finally seen to be as unattainable as having one hundred percent of those who enter a hospital emerge completely cured. The best of doctors lose patients and the best of teachers lose students.
But its replacement (ESSA) has not restored teachers’ professional judgement or jurisdiction over classroom content and testing. External assessments remain. And AYP was replaced by AMD (annual meaningful differentiation) involving four different measures. It is applied building by building, rather than by district. The beancounting continues.
Veteran teachers continued to retire early or switch professions, often from assessment fatigue. Education Week reported the most common teacher had 15 years of experience in 1987-88, but today is in their first 3 years of teaching. Average age of a teacher was 55 in 2007-08, but is now in the mid-30s to mid-40s. Forty-four percent of new teachers continue to leave the profession within five years.
2018 data from Kansas regents universities show only 5,273 students are enrolled in programs leading to teacher certification, compared to 8,991 in 2011. An initial decline in students entering teaching that began with the introduction of NCLB in 2001 accelerated with the loss of teacher tenure in Kansas five years ago. In several states, including Oklahoma, where teacher salaries were very low and were significantly increased, college students have not returned to teacher-training programs. While the numbers of special education students nationwide has declined one percent, the number of special education teachers has fallen 17 percent.
Math scores on the ACT have dropped to the lowest level in twenty years, causing a call for major reform of teaching math nationwide. Scores fell for all subgroups, except Asian American students whose scores went up! Nevertheless, all blame was directed toward teachers and math curriculum without considering that the ethnic study-effort might be a factor. And while Asian-American students were a discussion point in the Harvard University affirmative action lawsuit, they are dramatically “over-represented” at the specialty science high schools in New York, leading Mayor DeBlasio to propose affirmative action against them at the secondary level.
Lumina and other educational policy groups have called for increasing high school graduation rates. Many school district administrations complied, raising high school completion from below 70 percent to the mid-80 percent and higher. However, many administrative actions resulted in passing students who were chronically absent or otherwise failing. Some schools are heavy users of “credit recovery” programs, computer-based easy click tests that are substituted for actual class achievement.
More Kansas high school students are taking dual credit courses that provide both high school and college credit. As of September of 2017, the high school instructors of such courses were to possess a masters degree including 18 graduate credit hours in the field taught. Since their courses awarded college credit, the Higher Learning Commission requires instructors to have one degree higher than the course being taught. Regents schools who accept those credits could apply for a time extension to get the high school instructors credentialed. However, some did not, and some Kansas high school students are continuing to take dual credit courses under non-qualified high school teachers. Neither the KSDE nor the KBOR polices these credentials. In addition, the Kansas Legislature has moved to increase funding to make dual credit available to high school students across Kansas whether they are college able or not.
The second most common reason for teachers leaving the public school classroom is student discipline problems. The continued movement toward “no touch” policies and “restorative discipline” talk sessions has caused some teachers to feel helpless to address physical misbehavior.
If tobacco use across America has gone down, the use of e-cigarettes or Juuling in schools is soaring. Vaping devices are particularly difficult to curtail; they are small and resemble recharge devices.
Meanwhile, use of opioids has caused life expectancy in the United States to actually decline, the only lifespan decline in a developed country in modern history. Meth addiction still remains a serious problem, contributing to an unprecedented need for foster homes. Combined with the growing rate of childhood poverty and homelessness, many more teachers find their job involves counseling, food distribution and much more than teaching.
But to end on a more sunny note, some middle and high schools are moving forward their start times to begin school after 8:30am. Initial reports suggest that their students are getting more sleep at home and improving their performance in classes and on assessments at school.
John Richard Schrock is a professor at Emporia State University.