From the ongoing crisis of racial segregation and unequal funding to the lack of adequate resources for students with disabilities, there’s plenty that needs fixing in America’s public schools. Same as it ever was, right?
And we’ve all seen how the rise of the pandemic created new challenges: implementing reasonable safety precautions against COVID-19, the need for more social, emotional learning, and protecting student’s rights to holistic learning.
But what were the biggest concerns of educators and students in 2022? In the course of reporting, Word In Black’s education team talks to so many students, teachers, administrators, parents, and activists, and this year, we noticed some issues came up more than others.
1. Diversifying and Retaining Teachers
It’s no secret — teachers are burnt out and leaving the teaching profession in unprecedented numbers. The remnants of COVID-19, an increase in workload, and the continued threat to remove key curricula from students’ learning experience have pressed some educators to do what they’d never imagine — leave the classroom.
Records show between January and November of 2020, more than 800,000 people working in state and local education quit — more than the 550,000 private sector employees who left their jobs, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
So the question becomes: How do we keep teachers, particularly Black teachers, in the classroom during a time of this “Great Resignation”? Well, that depends.
In cities like Philadelphia, veteran educators like Sharif El-Mekki are picking up the torch. El-Mekki’s dedicated his career to recruiting, training, hiring, and retaining quality educators through his non-profit Center for Black Educators Development.
This school year, other “grow-your-own” programs, like Pathways2Teaching, have grown in an attempt to recruit other people of color to pursue a position in education and teach within their own communities.
2. Reversing Learning Loss
A national survey of educators facilitated by YouGov found that 90% of teachers can “identify learning gaps that need to be addressed” and “84% of teachers believe mastery learning” — a flexible instruction model that allows kids to move at their own pace — can help address the pandemic learning loss. Educators are seeing this method to prove effective through test scores and in-class interactions.
Studies show the average U.S. public school student in grades 3-8 lost the equivalent of a half year of learning in math and a quarter of a year in reading. Schools with highest shares of students from low-income backgrounds missed two-thirds of a year of math learning in comparison to the quarter of schools with the fewest low-income students only losing two-fifths of a year.
In response, states and districts have leaned on the $190B in federal aid to provide tutoring, extended days, and summer school, which isn’t nearly enough to address all the learning loss that took place during the pandemic, but it’s a start.
3. Teacher Salaries and Equitable Funding for Students
As the nation grapples with the Great Resignation, along with the potential 55% of teachers who say they will leave the profession soon, it brings into question one of the main reasons why teachers are leaving: the money.
It’s become evident, even more so than years prior, teachers are not sticking around for low wages. With skyrocketing inflation, rising rent, and the student debt crisis, many people simply can’t afford to be teachers. According to a 2021 report from the National Education Association, nearly one in five Black educators owes more than $100,000 in student loans.
So, how do you convince struggling teachers to stay in a career that doesn’t pay what they deserve?
For some states, inequitable funding applies to students, just as much as Black teachers.
A recent report by the Education Trust, titled “Equal Is Not Good Enough,” and its companion interactive data tool reveal how districts with the most students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, and English learners are still getting the short end of the stick.
The report uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s school district finance survey and newly collected data on spending in schools that shows what’s already known — students living in poverty or whose first language is not English continue to be deprived of equal funding — ultimately impacting their overall student experience.
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