POINTS OF VIEW
Teachers and the Uncertain Future of America
By Jane Close Conoley
||‘…(W)ithin the next decade
we must hire two million new public school teachers to fill (workplace) needs…’
We are a nation faced with many daunting challenges. Our country is confronted by trade deficits, national debt, shortages of high technology college graduates, globalization of markets and highly skilled workers, and failure to invest in manufacturing infrastructure.
Without a world class educational system, citizens of the United States will face a future of low-wage jobs, mounting public and private debt, and the continued flight of jobs to lower cost, but highly skilled, workers around the globe.
A recent report from College Board’s Center for Innovative Thought seeks to compel a sense of urgency in Americans’ assessment of the nation’s future prospects. It quotes Thomas Jefferson, who said, “…(T)he important truths are that knowledge is power, knowledge is safety, and knowledge is happiness.”
What are some of the facts associated with the pursuit of knowledge in the U.S.? First, within the next decade we must hire two million new public school teachers to fill the need created by retirements, enrollment increases, turnover, and career changes in a teacher workforce that currently numbers almost three million. This Herculean effort is made even more daunting by the fact that nearly half of all new teachers leave the profession within five years.
In addition, five great challenges must be met if meaningful improvements in teacher quality and teaching conditions are to become reality. These are the report’s recommendations:
must rise. California’s average teacher salaries are high by national standards, about $56,000. However, the state’s cost of living makes this approximately $10,000 advantage over the national average quickly disappear. Salaries must grow by almost 50 percent for teaching jobs to attract college graduates. Teachers in high-need areas (math, science, foreign language) and those willing to work in challenging schools should earn more.
2. Working conditions must improve. Teachers report leaving the profession they love because of unsupportive bureaucracies, poor facilities, large classes, and lack of planning time—making effective teaching seem impossible. Also, they don’t feel parents or their supervisors respect them. The profession needs career ladders so that teachers can remain in the classroom and still enjoy different career opportunities, such as mentoring novices or offering professional development to peers. Real mentoring must be established in every school so that novices feel successful in their first years of teaching.
3. The nation must train teachers who
are well prepared in mathematics and science. The best-trained, most effective teachers of math and science must be paid more and be made available to help eliminate achievement gaps between the affluent and the poor.
4. The teaching workforce must be diversified. Over 40 percent of public school children are members of “minority groups;” only about 17 percent of their teachers are black, Hispanic, or Asian. This imbalance in ethnicity and gender compromises the role model that teachers can offer to poor children of color, particularly black and Hispanic males.
5. Clear, high quality, and diverse paths
must be created to develop teachers. All teachers must have a firm grasp of the subjects they will teach and the teaching skills needed in the classroom. Turf wars between traditional and alternative routes to teacher certification are not supportable and should be abandoned.
Many of our public schools are on the brink of failure unless transformational action is taken to attract and keep the best and brightest citizens in teaching. There is no time left to debate. We must implement the report’s recommendations if we agree that without an excellent, universal educational system, the future of the U.S. is uncertain.
Jane Close Conoley is dean of the
Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.