Truong: Moving Higher in Education

Education curricula should be in the hands of the federal government.

by Valerie Truong | 9/21/17 12:50am

There is a common saying often heard by husbands: “Happy wife, happy life.” This saying also holds true in the primary and secondary education system: If teachers are happy with their work life, both the administration and the student body will be more likely to thrive. State and local governments currently have too much jurisdiction over education curriculum, which may be contributing to the lack of quality teachers across the United States.

The mantra of the public school district I attended is “Kids First … Every Student, Every Day.” Forget about the kids for a moment. I have seen first-hand the frustrated teachers, the stressed teachers and the teachers who leave after teaching for only a few years — partly because the district focuses on the end result, students, instead of the driving force, teachers.

In the United States, a whopping 8 percent of teachers leave their profession each year for both professional and personal reasons. Although teachers earn approximately 20 percent less than other college-educated professionals, a lower salary is not the primary reason American educators flee the field. Rather, teachers become entangled in the bureaucratic red tape of the standards of the administration and state department. Educators are cornered into teaching students how to pass standardized tests instead of teaching them more valuable methods of learning and inquiry.

Furthermore, in low-income neighborhoods, teachers often are forced to carry the burden of their students’ problems at home. Children may come to school hungry or emotionally distressed about their parents’ acrimonious arguments over finances. However, these students are not blank slates, and the educator does not have the time to counsel and console each of his students. To make matters worse, states often have many unfunded mandates that force teachers to use their own money to buy school supplies such as books and paints for students.

My mother teaches kindergarten in a lower-middle class district. Recently, California state standards adopted the Common Core curriculum, replete with top-down requirements for educators. However, the state did not pay for recommended supplies for lessons. Instead of spending her own money like she had in years prior, my mother found a way to creatively make the necessary supplies out of cardboard and paper she found at home. Although it did not cost her money, it cost her unpaid time outside of school.

Teacher retention rates are especially low in poor inner-city schools. Students that attend these schools due to a lack of financial and possibly familial stability need an experienced teacher who understands how to teach her pupils effectively. However, as is often the case with low-income districts, young, new teachers are assigned to teach these classes. To fill the high demand for educators, these schools began hiring applicants with either no teaching certification or subject qualifications. As a result, these inexperienced teachers quickly became frustrated and left the job only after a few months or years. The high turnover rate becomes a vicious cycle and ends up only hurting the students more because they do not have access to experienced teachers.

Education reform is greatly needed in this country. Currently, each state is responsible for establishing and regulating its own curriculum and teaching methods. States set their own standards for high school graduation, which vary from state to state. Clearly, this is not working well. By shifting the responsibility of education curricula to the federal government, a single, national standard sets the precedent for schools across the country. State and local governments should only support the federal government by enforcing the national curriculum.

The Department of Education must funnel more money toward teachers and educator training for elementary and secondary education. If teachers are well prepared for their field and armed with the right resources and enough funding to accomplish their curriculum, far fewer hurdles will need to be jumped over for student success. If teachers are excited to go to work each day, chances are, their students will be excited to go to school each day.

The problems that exist now in schools will continue to exist for a long time, but gradual change can occur if our federal government realizes that it must begin to focus more on teachers and staff. Student improvement and learning will come naturally when teachers are prepared and have the means to accomplish their job.