2010 was a tough year. It was for me, and for many people throughout the country. But when I talk to my teacher friends, I realize how lucky I am to be out of the classroom.
I’m not alone. More and more longtime teachers have had enough of being devalued and demonized. Teaching is an incredibly hard job—one that most people can’t handle—but in the last decade teachers have been worn down by layers of micromanagement from policymakers who have never taught at all. Scores of veteran, expert teachers across the country describe in a recent article how educational policy has taken the joy out of teaching and makes them want to leave the profession.
Here in California, things are even worse. According to a study done by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning, the ranks of teachers is declining, and even more significantly, so are the ranks of college graduates entering teaching credential programs. In the last seven years, the number of enrollees in teacher preparation programs has almost dropped in half, from 75,000 to 45,000.
And yet studies show student enrollment in public schools in California is going to grow. So let’s just juxtapose these two trends here. A recent article cites numbers for both trends:
- The number of students in California’s public schools is projected to increase (4% in the next decade)
- The number of teachers and college graduates seeking a teaching credential is decreasing (3.4% in last three years; 50% for first and second year teachers)
What frustrates me is that everyone in the educational policy arena—whether Republicans promising “No Child Left Behind,” Democrats promoting a “Race to the Top,” or billionaires who believe they can solve any problem because they profited massively from the right technology at the right time—think they can fix the problem through greater teacher accountability.
They all see the problem as making sure teachers are better. George Bush, Arne Duncan, and Bill Gates all agree that the solution is to provide a “highly qualified teacher in every classroom.” So they each propose variations of creating standards and assessments to measure how teachers are meeting the standards, and they throw a whole lot of money at their own solutions, which in turn gets spent by a few non-educators to produce systems to control the quality of the millions of teachers who actually do the work of teaching.
Instead these policies are destroying the profession. Rather than improving the quality of education, education policy makers are undermining teachers—who spend every day with our children in the classroom—by eroding their passion, enthusiasm, power, and dignity. And they are also rupturing the pipeline of future teachers. With all the negativity being directed toward teachers, young and talented college graduates are less likely than ever to enter an already difficult career path.
But real classrooms, just like real students and real teachers, are not simple or easy. Teaching is incredibly complex, and policy makers need to stop focusing on the latest “snake oil,” whether high-stakes testing, school accountability report cards, or public teacher effectiveness ranking.
Invariably these approaches take the premise that teachers are the problem, and so the solutions serve to further disempower the profession. But there is no giant reservoir of effective teachers just waiting to fill the vacancies as ineffective teachers are culled from the system.
The disconnect between education policy and classroom reality is the result of those who can’t teach making education policy. Instead of more assessment and stricter accountability, we need to focus our collective energy on encouraging existing teachers to stay and enticing new college graduates to enter the profession.