Education Reform: a Chance to Get it Right

While many other countries are redoubling their investment in teachers and education, the US continues to restrict and scale back its investment in those sectors. Photo courtesy of Teach Away.

Written by Aditya Garg and Sami Siddiqui

In the aftermath of the presidential election, we are left thinking about how policies will change and what President-elect Donald Trump’s priorities will be. Many in the coming days will comment on the underlying social and economic currents that launched Trump to the presidency. I would like to take this opportunity to discuss a stakeholders group that the president has the chance to take the lead on: education and teachers.

In today’s political and social environment, meager pay, high workloads, and constant criticism all describe conditions all too common for teachers and those entering the education field. Yet, they receive virtually no attention. Indeed, instead of reform, we have heard politicians such as Rand Paul and Michelle Bachmann voice opinions to rid the country of previous educational reforms, funding, and even the Department of Education.

While many other countries are redoubling their investment in teachers and education, the US continues to restrict and scale back its investment in those sectors.

In states across the country, legislators are moving backwards on reforms. In North Carolina, for instance, the General Assembly passed a bill in 2013 eliminating teacher tenure, automatic pay increases for teachers who earn a master’s degree, as well as the NC Teaching Fellows Program.

I am glad to see that our country has such great values.

Rather than encouraging teachers to enter the field, the US education system has made it harder with legislative roadblocks and limits.

Teachers are the foundation of our society, the stimulators of intellectual curiosity and experimentation, the progenitors of a future that will only be marked by increased complexities. And yet, what do we do?

We continue to pay them one of the lowest salaries of any profession. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, teachers have an average national starting salary of just over $30,000.  Professions with comparable training and education levels, such as computer programmers, public accounting professionals, and registered nurses all make around 50 percent more.  

We continue to repeatedly restrict their classroom budgets and capabilities. Teachers spend over one and a half billion dollars of their own money on supplies for their students, according to Dave Nagel of The Journal.

We continue to discourage bright talent from entering one of the noblest of all fields. Studies and surveys done by the National Education Association show that nearly 50 percent of new teachers leave the profession within five years of teaching. 37 percent of teachers who quit attribute their decision to low pay.

Such a sense of oppression and frustration is simply unacceptable. Our society rests on the shoulders of our teachers and yet we show no sign of appreciation or gratitude. Instead, we pelt them with continued restrictions and abuses such as the common critique that teachers “get summer off”.

According to PayScale, the vast majority of work that teachers do like planning curriculum, grading, tutoring, etc., happen outside of the traditional 40 hours without additional compensation.  Also, teachers are not paid during summer vacation and frequently have to take on additional jobs to supplement their income.

Education is important. It changes lives. It ends poverty. It invites prosperity. The future of our society depends on the teachers that build it. If nothing else, we must stop the continual demoralization of teachers and the use of education policies as a means of expressing political or ideological differences.  

If we do not give teachers the respect they deserve, the pay they are worth, the resources they need, we are digging the hole for our own future.

There have been multiple bills introduced in Congress and it is time to enact comprehensive education reform. Teacher pay should be increased. Funding for school supplies and early childhood programs should be increased. These should not be controversial issues. Yes, the cost may be high but the potential reward is unlimited.

I hope legislators are listening.

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