It’s almost a given that education is going to be a major issue in politics. But it’s also the case that education is in the midst of a particularly dizzying series of changes that have a significant impact on teachers in the classroom, and that’s going to mean controversy.
Not only the much-discussed higher academic standards, called Common Core, but the impact of more use of technology in classrooms and new teacher evaluation requirements — it’s a long list. No wonder that Lottie Beebe, the head of St. Martin Parish schools, says “We are spinning like a top.”
But beyond those issues lies the equally thorny question of whether reform initiatives are pushing teachers from the classroom.
The state Department of Education was mandated by the Legislature to collect information on why teachers leave their jobs. A total of 12 percent of teachers left the profession from 2013 to 2014, the same percentage as 2012-13 and just higher than the 11 percent in 2011-12, the review says.
Retirement was listed as the top reason, 28 percent, followed by those taking education administrative jobs, 23 percent. Those are probably about the same percentages as pre-reform days, we suspect. All too often, teachers seeking higher salaries have to take a principalship or other administrative job to get more money.
Pay was cited by just 1 percent of the nearly 6,500 teachers who took part in exit interviews in all 69 of Louisiana’s school districts.
“As the nation’s and the state’s economy grows stronger, teachers are more likely to make significant career and financial decisions, including retiring or changing professions,” according to the study. True, and the aging of the postwar baby-boom generation is also contributing to a rise in retirements.
But still, as Beebe and other critics of the department’s initiatives say, there is bound to be some friction as the job of teaching gets harder. The report also said that 42 percent of new teachers nationally leave the profession within five years of entry, and that trend has been rising for the past two decades — before the latest wave of reform initiatives.
We have seen many ways in which the department, headed by Superintendent John White, has tried to put more emphasis on teacher training and providing workshops and online resources, but the principal employers of teachers are local school boards and systems.
Those are often hard-pressed for money, as economically stressed voters have been often reluctant to back new taxes, and state revenues have allowed few increases in state aid to local schools in recent years.
Nevertheless, all this change requires professional development for teachers that comes to the level of the word “professional,” and that is going to cost time and money in schools. Perhaps — not certainly, but perhaps — that will help teachers cope with change.