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2018 - Critical Issues in Education


As the new year begins amid a governmental shutdown and political divisiveness across the country, U.S. education will continue to grapple with some important hot button issues.  There are many current issues that are faced by educators each day, but these five are some of the big ones that permeate education throughout the country.


  • Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education

Last year, educators across the country watched with distress the inability of Ms. DeVos to answer basic questions relating to U.S. education laws. She seemed unfamiliar with the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), and did not seem to know that as federal law it applies to all states.She further confused questions on measuring student and school proficiency vs student growth.When asked about school accountability, Ms. DeVos answered that she did not feel accountability measures should apply to all schools.As a strong proponent of charter schools receiving full state and local funding, her answer would seem to indicate that she still supports giving public funds to charter schools with little or no accountability measure in place.And an area that concerned many educators greatly, was her lack of support for campus “gun free” zones.


As the U.S. Secretary of Education, Ms. DeVos will make decisions impacting all schools.She has never had involvement in public schools or in education other than as a philanthropist and volunteer.Her formal educational background is in business economics.And given that Ms. DeVos lacked some basic policy knowledge to answer questions in her senate confirmation hearing, this becomes even more concerning.


  • Charter School Expansion

Charter schools can serve a much-needed function in an area where public schools are weak.It affords parents an opportunity to make school decisions for their children without having to pay for a private education. However, sometimes the lack of accountability and the laws of each state on this matter are rather surprising. Schools are receiving full public funding, and can be operating for profit, without having the same accountability measures that public schools must follow.Additionally, the lack of regulation, sometimes rather high percentages of non-certified teachers, and rapid growth in our country, give cause for concern as they can siphon funding from an already strained public school system.The percentage of students educated in charter schools has almost doubled in the last decade, from 2.6% in 2007 to 4.8% in 2017.Studies have shown that many students are not making additional growth in charters, from their public-school peers, and that charter schools are increasingly more segregated by economics, race, and disabilities, than their public school counterparts. All of these factors are important to consider as charter schools grow.


  • Student Mental Health Needs and Services

One only has to watch or read the news to realize the vast mental health crisis in our country.Schools experience this just as much, if not more, than other sectors of society.Additionally, jails are filled with youth who didn’t receive the help that they needed, which could have averted a crime and saved the victim, as well as the perpetrator.Studies cite that 20% of school age children receive services at least once a year for problems that range from inattention and behavior, to anxiety or depression, cutting, eating disorders and even suicidal/homicidal ideations.Additionally, it has been found that almost 80% of the students who need help, do not receive it for a variety of reasons.Some do not have qualified staff, some can only provide limited assistance or make referrals, funding often prohibits the hiring of needed personnel and underprepared schools can allow students to “fall through the cracks.”Unaddressed needs can lead to chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive and attention seeking behavior, or worse, to suicidal or homicidal actions.This need for these services will not diminish over time and must be addressed for the health of our children.


  • Standardized Testing

The issue of a curriculum and testing that is one size for all continues to be problematic for schools and students.Test driven standards are what most schools consider the curriculum now, regardless of students’ needs.This has actually only served to widen the ever-growing gap between students based on the community that they come from.The median educational attainment level, and income of a student’s community is a large predictor of academic achievement.A child’s zip code often predicts their academic success.This narrow vision of schooling does not foster critical thinking, creativity or individual growth.Arts education, so important to brain development, has often been neglected to spend further time on measuring standards.This type of schooling only measures proficiency of given standards, some of which may be irrelevant to the students.Also, as this is often used as a gauge of teacher and or school effectiveness, graduation, and funding, the myopic vision of this type of curriculum and measurement can be catastrophic.


  • Retention of Qualified Teachers

There have been countless studies or the problem of teacher retention.Research shows that the issue of retention of early service teachers is the main problem.Studies have shown that almost 40% of new teachers leave in the first five years of service.While the percentage varies by the type of school, public or non-public, the problem is a critical one for all school settings.


Educational programs and colleges, as well as state laws, have often addressed the problem by increasing standards and sometimes salaries.Teachers have been shown to earn much less than similarly college educated peers.However, most teachers are aware of this when they choose education as a profession.Often, it is other factors that cause them to become disillusioned with their chosen vocation.


Research, including my own conducted with non-public school teachers, has shown that salary, while important, is not the deciding factor in most teacher’s retention decisions.Teachers want some individual empowerment to teach what and how they choose, within the given standards.Teachers also want to feel heard and supported by their administrators and valued for what they do.Teachers who feel they have some voice in decision making, as well as administrative support and trust, are far more likely to remain in their chosen profession.



The issues at hand continue to loom large over the education landscape.  These are not issues that are easily “fixed,” nor will they go away in time.  These important issues need to be addressed and will be critical issues to watch in 2018 and beyond.

Sources:

DeVos, Betsy; Secretary of Education - Biography. (2017, April 26). [Biographies]. Retrieved from https://www2.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/devos.html?src=hp

Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/08/31/464727159/mental-health-in-schools-a-hidden-crisis-affecting-millions-of-students

NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions (National Center for Education Statistics). (n.d.)

Revolving Door Of Teachers Costs Schools Billions Every Year. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2015/03/30/395322012/the-hidden-costs-of-teacher-turnover

Tienken, C. (n.d.). Students’ test scores tell us more about the community they live in than what they know. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/students-test-scores-tell-us-more-about-the-community-they-live-in-than-what-they-know-77934