In 1990, a classroom teacher typically had all but six minutes per class available to teach the lesson plan for the day. We were able to dive into the lesson content, and use best practices reinforcement techniques to engage and challenge students. Children did an hour of homework each night, studied before tests, and enjoyed earning their successes. Children graduated from high school ready for college, and were soon ready for amazing careers. The USA ranked at or near the top of worldwide educational performance.
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Just twenty-five years later the picture could not be more different. Almost 20 nations have passed the USA in educational effectiveness. Both SAT and ACT testing services find only 26% of high school graduates are ready for college. College freshmen are spending their first year repeating high school courses – resulting in more and more downgrades to associate degrees due to lack of college credits. Children in urban high schools average just 1.5 hours per week of homework, and just 14% study the night before a test. Standardized test scores are down and graduation rates continue to decline. 46% of all new teachers quit the profession within the first five years. Charter schools are failing across the nation.
And we have cheated an entire generation of children out of a good education.
Yet we continue to take the easy way out and blame the “big four” for all these problems – bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers. Few people outside the classrooms ever see the real issues that have destroyed effective education in our schools – certainly not the state and federal teacher unions, who ignore local union pleas for help with the real issues, and instead focus on being PACs rather than on education – and certainly not the legislators who gladly take any and all donations so they can kick the can down the road for another generation of failure.
One of the most severe causes is the steep reduction in available teaching time within a class period because of mandates that prevent teachers from teaching. Today, mandates by career DoE bureaucrats have usurped an average of 35 minutes per class period for non-instruction duties, actually preventing the teacher from teaching the lesson plan – yet the teacher is expected to cover the same lesson plan in the reduced time.
Here is a summary look at the major mandates that take a teacher away from the board for every class period. For periodic items (like assemblies) the time is prorated across the entire year.
Pre-1990 duties (6 minutes)
- Fire drills
- Handout/collect homework
Security Mandates (5 minutes)
- Evacuation drills
- Lock-down drills
- Verify student ID use in every class
- Track and continually monitor all children out-of-classroom
Social Mandates (1.5 minutes)
- Assemblies – Allergies (Peanut, latex, perfume…)
- Assemblies – bullying
- Assemblies – LGBT
- Assemblies – Career days
- Assemblies – non-traditional careers
- Assemblies – General (Class elections, PEP…)
Teacher mandates (4.5 minutes)
- ½ days for teacher training (PDPs)
- Days missed developing new common core curricula
- Yearly restraint training
- State bullying training
- Sign posting every class (core reference)
Standardized testing mandates (3.5 minutes)
- Days missed proctoring standardized testing
- Yearly test proctoring instruction
- Days used to develop curricula and materials for standardized test preparation classes
- Assemblies – standardized test orientation
Inclusion, ESL, and SPED Mandates (0 –- 30 minutes)
- Accommodations to individuals and groups in lieu of teaching at the board
- Repeating lesson via diversified learning techniques to individuals and groups within the class
- Yearly ESL and SPED instruction
A vital caveat: the issue is not whether these additional topics are valuable, important, or necessary. Assume, for the sake of argument, that we all agree they are all vital to our children. Then we must also accept that the impact of the decision to replace chunks of the curricula with other topics is a reduction in education, and holding teachers accountable for things completely out of their control.
- There are only 60-70 minutes in a typical class period
- These non-curricula mandates must come at the expense of the lesson plan – usurping an average of 35 minutes per class from the planned curricula
- Large portions of the traditional course content is forced to be replaced with these other topics
- Teachers are still held accountable for “not teaching” the full curricula when the real issue is that they are prevented from teaching because of these mandates
- Teachers proficient in math, English, etc. are held accountable for teaching social issues where they have had no training and have little expertise.
The unintended consequences of these non-education mandates has been devastating. They led to dumbed-down teaching, lower graduation rates, being unready for college, and declining performance.
And our career DoE bureaucrats, with lifetime positions and no accountability, continue to add to the pile year after year with no understanding of the damage they cause in the classroom, and no understanding that you cannot fit 115 minutes of mandates into a 70-minute box. As one simple example, last year all teachers were required (mandated) to post a sign in each class referencing the core standard being taught. Now obviously this sign is a small thing, in and of itself. It would not even be worth mentioning if it was an isolated example of useless bureaucracy. But it is not alone. It is yet another example in an endless set of micromanaging bureaucratic initiatives that burden the system. It is just yet another senseless mandate that takes yet another two minutes out of teaching the core requirements.
Ironically, this sign is defended by the bureaucrats as a “good teaching practice.” But it is simply a very bad teaching practice to anyone with actual classroom experience. None of us can think of any possible positive to education that was in this bureaucrat’s mind when he or she imposed this inane requirement on every class in every school. Did they think any child would memorize the core standard reference numbers? Did they think a teacher needed to have something on the board to remind them what they were teaching that day? Did they think teachers did not always frame every topic, and every lesson, with its context? Was it a subtle push to get teachers to focus on the core standards?
We have cheated an entire generation of children out of a good education by inept bureaucratic mandates that prevent teachers from engaging and teaching our children. We must start looking at every mandate from the state and federal DoEs and start asking a very simple question: Is this what we want as the primary focus in our classrooms, and are we ready to accept the educational consequences if we do? If we continue to hide behind the false mantra that it is “…bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers…” then we will never get to the real fixes.
The 2nd edition of the acclaimed book about today’s failed education system
– Lifting the Curtain: The disgrace we call urban high school education –
is now available, with dozens of teacher submissions from across the USA and nine
new chapters. Both KIRKUS and CLARION praise this important book
“…from the unique perspective of a classroom teacher”
that shows the real problems that have destroyed the education
of our children. Please get a copy HERE or on Amazon.