If you measure success by how much money you collect, then the United States Department of Education has to make your list of winners. That’s because Obama’s 2016 budget proposal includes $70.7 billion in discretionary funding for the department, $3.6 billion more than last year and a jump of $14.7 billion since he took office and brought Arne Duncan with him.
He’s also proposing $145 billion in new mandatory spending and reforms over the next ten years.
The result: an alphabet soup of reforms, including the $4.3 billion RTTT (Race to the Top), which helped institute Common Core and the $5 billion RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Initiative designed “to support efforts to transform the teaching profession.”
And where has all this “help” gotten us so far? Here are a few facts:
• Roughly 500,000, 15%, of our teachers now either move or leave the profession every year.
• Nearly 20%, of teachers, one in five, at high-poverty schools leave the profession every year, a rate 50% higher than those in more affluent schools.
• 40% to 50% of new teachers leave the profession with the first five years on the job.
Even Teach for America is seeing a decline in the number of applicants the past two years. Along with charter schools, the organization is seen by reformers and the federal government as education’s golden child and cure-all for what ails our public schools, and so it enjoys a healthy operating budget. In 2013, that stood at $193.5 million—one-third of which is picked up taxpayers.
At the same time, 324,000 mainstream teaching jobs were eliminated between 2008 and 2013 due to budget cuts.
Amid all the reforms heralded by the administration, politicians, and businessmen like Bill Gates, teacher morale has been plummeting. In fact, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, teacher job satisfaction is at its lowest level in 25 years. In 2008, it found that 62% of survey teachers were content with their jobs; in 2012, that number had dropped to 39%.
One major reason for teachers’ growing disaffection is value-added measures, or VAM, whereby their evaluations and very job security are based on students’ standardized test performance. Researchers consistently object to this practice; nevertheless, it’s widespread, and don’t the kids know it! As one 9-year-old just told me, “If you don’t like your teacher, do bad on the tests, and they’ll get fired.” Honest.
Here, then, in no particular order, are some other reasons:
• Federal government mandates
• Low salary
• Lack of empowerment
• Scripted curricula
• Lack of well-developed curricular materials
• High-stakes testing pressures and time spent on test prep
• Job security concerns
• Increasing class sizes
• Deep cuts in services, such as librarians, nurses, & counselors, and programs, such as art, music, even recess
• Weakening labor unions
• Attack on tenure
• Merit pay efforts
• Ineffective professional development programs
• Too little time for collaboration and lesson planning
• Declining parental participation and support
• Poor working conditions
• Increasing reliance on virtual learning
• Unmotivated and/or belligerent students
• The Common Core State Standards
Another unintended consequence of the government’s reform efforts is that fewer college students are choosing careers in teaching. Indeed, in 2012, there were nearly 90,000 fewer teachers in training than there were in 2008, and the number keeps growing.
That then, along with the mounting teacher dropout rate, begs the question: Who will teach our children going forward?