By Dr. Elizabeth Primas (Program Manager, NNPA ESSA Public Awareness Campaign)
The latest data from the Center for American Progress shows that the average salary for an attorney is more than two times that of elementary and middle school educators. The Washington Post reported last week that nearly 1 in 10 hosts who rent out their apartments, homes and spaces on Airbnb are teachers. Low salaries, compared with other college graduates, may inhibit highly-effective professionals from pursuing a career in education; specifically for people of color who currently make up just seven percent of public school teachers.
I come from a family of educators. My mother, both of my grandmothers, and one of my sisters were teachers. However, the family tradition of educating children ended after me. None of my daughters, nieces, or nephews decided to pursue a career in education. Data comprised from surveys completed during the NNPA’s National Black Parents’ Town Hall Meeting echoed this sentiment. When asked what they believed is needed to close the academic achievement gap, respondents selected community participation and funding over the acquisition of highly-effective teachers.
Many reasons have led to frustrations with teaching in the United States. Work-to-pay ratio, a lack of resources, and an increased focus on standardized testing has made it increasingly difficult for teachers to be highly-effective.
This year, teacher strikes broke out in several states concerning school funding and teacher pay. Teachers in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia left the classroom for the state house to protest the lack of resources in the profession. NPR reported in April that teachers have begun to seek support outside of the educational bureaucracy; forming “supply shops” where teachers can swap educational materials for free or at a dramatically reduced cost.
A first-year teacher who attended the National Black Parents’ Town Hall Meeting in Norfolk, VA, said that she stepped into the role of teaching, initially excited, but found by the end of the year she was extremely drained physically and emotionally. “I stepped into the role, mid-year, with no lesson plan. What can be done to keep teachers teaching and encourage new teachers coming into the program? I really want to teach, but there is very little support.”
Highly-effective teachers require competitive pay, professional support, and access to innovative resources. President Barack Obama signed the current national education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015 with educators in mind. Title II of ESSA provides program grants to states and districts that can be used for teacher preparation, recruitment, support, and continued learning. ESSA also ends the requirement of states to set up teacher evaluation systems based significantly on students’ test scores which should reduce the pressure teachers feel to teach to the test. The Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program provides grants to districts that want to try out performance pay and other teacher quality improvement measures. ESSA became effective this 2018-2019 school year.
With data compiled from 26 school districts, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) found that on average there were small differences in the effectiveness of teachers of high- and low-income students, hiring patterns and teacher transfer patterns were consistent, with only minor differences, between high- and low-income students, and that in 3 of the 26 chosen districts there was meaningful inequity in access to effective teachers in math. Data showed that access to highly-effective teachers was relatively equal across the board. Yet, inequities in educational outcomes between low-income students and students from wealthier families persist throughout the United States.
As a new teacher, the constant challenge for me was parental engagement. A working parent’s schedule often left little time during school hours to participate in their child’s education and those who were free during school hours, failed to realize the importance of their presence and participation. Today, meaningful parental engagement remains a challenge for educators.
So, this is a call to action for all parents. Let’s listen to teachers. They are calling for more support and increased pay. Let’s attend to school meetings to find out how to provide them additional support. Let’s attend city and the state meetings to advocate for competitive pay. Let’s vote for leaders who support the academic advancement of our children through access to additional resources.
Dr. Elizabeth Primas is an educator, who spent more than 40 years working towards improving education for children of diverse ethnicities and backgrounds. Dr. Primas is the program manager for the NNPA’s Every Student Succeeds Act Public Awareness Campaign. Follow Dr. Primas on Twitter @elizabethprimas.
Learn more about the Every Student Succeeds Act at nnpa.org/essa.