Although many think that teaching can be measured in numbers, we who are in the classrooms know that there is so much more that happens every single day in our classrooms that cannot be measured.

- A Teacher

Educational Policies

I don’t want to say that our educational system is broken, but it is damaged. The only reason our education system is as good as it is is because of the outstanding teachers (and administrators) that exist at every school. It needs to be recognized that it is through the hard work of teachers that our education system attains the educational quality that it does, and it seems like the demand to work even harder increases every year.

There is educational opportunity in every school, the truth is that too few take advantage of that opportunity. The biggest problem I faced in my classes was the fact that relatively few disruptive students could destroy the learning environment for all students. The second biggest problem was lazy students who could not be motivated to work hard for any reason, who were seduced by the ease of entertainment and distraction. When a significantly large number of students do not want to learn, for whatever reasons, the result is that a learning environment ceases to exist, and teachers do not control that environment. Classroom management has become more of a science, but no teacher can force a student to learn.

Administrators and policy makers continue to operate (and make decisions) as if teachers do have that control, which places teachers in a no-win situation. Teachers are caught between the reality of students who cannot be made to listen, pay attention, or work hard – and the increasing expectation of administration and policy makers to produce documentable results showing significant educational gains.

What are the biggest problems facing teachers? There are many. Following is only a partial list:

Demand by administrators and policy makers to reach every student (the 100% rule). This is impossible, and a focus on the most reluctant students harms those students most eager for learning because of time and resource limitations. Teachers are not supermen (and women).

This expectation to show yearly educational gains in every student demographic butts up against students who are legally protected by the students with disabilities act. Teachers are legally required to meet certain requirements which include modifications that require singling out those students for attention, to create and implement alternative teaching methods, and lowered standards, while at the same time are expected to have time (and higher academic expectations) for students not protected by law, meaning normal students.

What I am describing is a battle between students on one hand and administrators on the other with the teacher caught in the middle. The best a teacher can do is create some kind of balance between the two.

Teachers want to teach, and if they are given tools and freedom they can achieve great success.

My recommendations:

  1. Eliminate the focus and expectation that teachers reach 100% of their students. The focus should be on what I call “area under the curve”, which is to have the most educational attainment by the most students. The American ideal has always been the greatest good for the greatest number, we need to apply that in the classroom.
  2. Change the Americans with Disabilities Act. The legal protection some students have ties the hands of teachers, placing them in a situation that harms the education of the majority of students in the classroom. I point to this act as the single most important factor (though not the only) leading to the decline of educational quality in America. Advocates need to face reality: they have harmed the education of the many in order to serve the needs of the few. There is no question that the disabled population has a right to a quality education, but when that right harms the education of the rest of the population there needs to be accountability. A teacher cannot enforce higher standards in the classroom when some students have lower standards for academic performance by law.

What I am asking for is policy makers to acknowledge the tradeoffs that exist when making policy. Education is certainly not a zero sum game, but time and attention are as much a resource as supplies and equipment, and a movement of resources towards one population is a movement away from another.

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