While many are gearing up for the academic year, the stories of failure have started to float in from major centers in North America. Though for college and university faculty, these stats may seem unrelated, the bottom line is that the students we teach have to go through high school first. When high school and middle school fail, inevitably our jobs get much harder and we too run the risk of failing students. We have to be concerned about the state of education across the board and form coalitions to support each other and our students. Further I would argue that we at the University level need to take a new look at our mandates and decide how we will meet them in a world full of underfunded and understaffed feeder schools.
Here are the distressing stats:
- 80% of teachers in “poor performing schools” in Chicago leave their jobs after 5 years
- The most qualified teachers are the most likely to leave underfunded and “poor performing” schools for private schools or other professions
- low wages was cited as one of the major reasons teachers and professors did not take jobs or did not stay in them
- low wages can be offset by better working conditions – copies, technology, air conditioning, heat (& don’t think that is just pre-college, I have worked at universities where these were all issues that drove me to the brink)
- teachers continue to spend their own money for supplies and books – this trend is higher the early the school age but I remember itemizing last year and discovering I had spent $5,000 on non-book job related items
- recent concern about the reversing of brown vs. board of ed may decrease the number of faculty of color hired in private schools, well funded school districts that tend to have less students of color as well, and regions of the country with minimum percentages of people of color in general
- Only 20% of students of color in California are getting the required college prep courses they need to go on to college, even at schools where college is listed as a priority for 70% or more of the student population (including white students and students of color)
- similar studies in Chicago and NY show similar low trends
What is being done:
- I was present at an informal meeting of educators across the curriculum about school reform this past week. We identified key areas of improvement and broke them down into state and county issues (like funding and hiring), pedagogy issues, and service issues. Our next step is to strategize around how to involve people who can actually induce positive change on each issue. It was, in short, a depressing meeting. Hopefully something good will come out of the trends we identified.
- The Southwest also has a coalition that meets on educational reform with an emphasis on success of students of color. Their board includes faculty from colleges, administration from high schools and middle schools, social service providers and concerned parents. They have an annual conference on the state of education for students of color in the summer and have recently received a grant to study trends in education. There is some concern that the leadership change this past year’s end is negatively impacting the focus and efficacy of this group.
- The California legislature is looking at a standard A-G college prep curriculum for all its school districts. This would eliminate disparity between well funded schools and poorly funded schools college prep offerings, as well as disparities between white students and students of color’s access to these courses. Individual school districts are also looking at implementing these programs on their own rather than waiting for the state.
There seems to be a general trend of service programs, school districts, and state funded colleges and university faculty working together in informal networks to meet the need left by a president who has underfunded schools and maligned their efficacy at all levels and tax payers who prefer tax breaks to school systems until they see the impact their irreversible decisions make on the community.
As the academic year begins, I would encourage all of us to seek out these networks and become active members. I would further urge us to all work toward their formal recognition by the state through legislative action, funding requests, and statewide curriculum proposals. If we work together across seemingly divided areas – social services, middle schools, high schools, and colleges, and the legislature then we all win. I for one want to stop teaching basic writing in my upper division courses and assigning less and less reading each year as my students inform me time and time again that they have never had to read more than 2 pages per night for the vast majority of their previous classes (and my colleagues confirm this). Trust me when I say, better education from the start is something that should matter to professors as much as it does to grade school teachers.