K-12 classroom teaching in America is at a crossroads. This is a profession that everyone agrees is critical to the social and economic growth of our nation, yet teachers are increasingly pilloried by parents, administrators, policymakers, and outside groups. Why is it that we demand so much from K-12 teachers but treat and reward them so poorly? And why are teachers cut out of the decision-making directly related to their classroom work and then blamed for the continuing slide in academic preparedness?
In a new book from the Upjohn Press, Michael F. Addonizio delves into this paradox: while the importance of education continues to grow, so does the opposition to teachers and the power of their unions. This animosity, according to Addonizio, is a key reason why the profession is in crisis with a growing number of teachers leaving for other fields and fewer entering teacher preparation programs.
Addonizio covers a wide range of topics that impact the labor market for teachers. He describes the major reforms and institutions impacting the profession, chronicles the rise of public-school teacher unions in the 1960s and 1970s, and discusses how charter schools in the U.S. embody efforts to privatize public education but weaken the influence of classroom teachers in matters of curriculum, pedagogy, school governance, and working conditions. He then traces the origins and current state-of-the-art of teacher evaluation and accountability methods and discusses research on “value-added” modeling which dominates teacher evaluation and accountability at the state and federal levels. He also discusses the #RedForEd movement and offers reforms aimed at strengthening the classroom teaching profession.
Massachusetts vs. Michigan
It may be unfair to characterize public education as a failing entity nationwide, as the range of success across states varies widely. To demonstrate the types of reforms that work and others that do not, Addonizio looks at two divergent states: Massachusetts and Michigan. Educational outcomes in the Bay State generally rank the highest in the U.S., while Michigan’s, despite numerous reforms, are trending downward. Addonizio explains how state and local policies impacting classroom teachers in both states have contributed to the growing disparity in outcomes.
Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic
Finally, in the book’s epilogue, Addonizio addresses the ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on K-12 classroom teachers. One thing is clear, he says, the pandemic highlighted the inequities between affluent and poor schools and communities. Stresses placed on teachers and schools—especially in poorer areas—resulting from pandemic-related impacts on classroom teaching have taken a toll. According to a RAND Corporation survey taken in 2021, some one in four teachers said they were likely to leave the profession by the end of that year, compared to one in six prior to the pandemic. Even more troubling, that number was nearly one in two among black teachers. Addonizio suggests that that these negative impacts may be mitigated by fairly allocating one-time federal emergency aid to schools and by permanently increasing state support.