An extended version of my original blog on the Huffington Post
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-plus 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.
Just twenty-five years later the picture could not be more different. Nearly 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 average just 1.5 hours of homework per week, 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 falsely place all the blame on the “big four” for these problems – bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers. Few people outside the classrooms – certainly not the state and federal unions focusing on being PACs rather than listening to their local union pleas for help with destructive mandates, and certainly not the legislators who gladly take all donations so they can kick the can down the road for real fixes – ever see the real issues that have destroyed effective education in our schools.
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One of the most severe factors is the steep reduction in 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 held accountable for covering the same lesson plan in the reduced time. The least disruption (25 minutes) is found in honors-level courses, because they typically have fewer inclusion student mandates. The most (45 minutes) is in a typical standard-level class with 12-plus inclusion students. My classes averaged 18 inclusion students.
A vital caveat: the issue is not whether these additional topics are valuable, important, or necessary. Assume, for the sake of argument, 100% agreement that all are vital. Then we must also accept the painful tradeoff that they replace portions of the traditional curricula. If an assembly for allergies is mandated to be more important than a math class, so be it. But it is then irrational to hold the math teacher responsible for being unable to teach the complete lesson plan because the children were out of the classroom again.
Here is a summary look at some of the major mandates that take a teacher away from the board for every class period and prevent teaching the complete lesson plan. For periodic items (like assemblies) the time is prorated across the entire year. (Mathematically, losing one day per school year is the same loss of teaching time as losing 23 seconds from every class that year.)
Pre-1990 duties (6 minutes)
- Fire drills
- Handout/collect homework
Security Mandates (5 minutes)
- Evacuation drills
- Lock-down drills
- Physically verify student ID use in every class
- Track and continually monitor all children out-of-classroom
Social Mandates and Student Assemblies (1.5 minutes)
- Allergies (Peanut, latex, perfume…)
- Career days
- Non-traditional careers
- General (Class elections, PEP…)
- Internet usage
Teacher mandates (4.5 minutes)
- Half days for teacher training
- Days developing new curricula
- Yearly restraint training
- Bullying training
- Sign posting every class (core reference)
Standardized testing mandates (3.5 minutes)
- Days missed proctoring standardized testing
- Yearly proctoring instruction
- Days to develop curricula for test preparation classes
- Assemblies – student orientation
Inclusion, ESL, and SPED Mandates (0 – 30 minutes, 15 typical)
- Accommodations to individuals/groups in lieu of teaching at the board
- Repeating lesson via diversified learning techniques to individuals/groups
- Yearly ESL and SPED instruction
The unintended consequences of these non-education mandates has been devastating. By replacing traditional lessons, they led to dumbed-down teaching, lower graduation rates, students unready for college, and an increasing loss of good teachers. Teachers are 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 now held accountable for teaching social issues where they have no training and little expertise.
Our career DoE bureaucrats continue to add to the pile year after year with no understanding of the damage they cause in the classroom, and no comprehension that you cannot fit 115 minutes of mandates into a 70-minute box. As one simple example, all teachers are now mandated to post a sign in each class referencing the core standard. Now obviously this sign is a small thing, in and of itself. But it is not alone. It is yet another example in an endless set of useless bureaucratic initiatives that burden the system.
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. No teacher can think of any possible benefit to education that was in this bureaucrat’s mind when this inane requirement was mandated. Did they think any child would memorize the core standard reference numbers? Did they think a teacher needed to be reminded what they were teaching that day? Did they not understand teachers always frame every topic, and every lesson, with its context? Was it micromanagement to get teachers to focus on the core standards? No – it is just yet another senseless mandate that takes yet another two minutes out of teaching the core requirements.
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 do we accept the tradeoffs in education if we do?
Education is failing our children because mandates by career DoE bureaucrats prevent teachers from teaching, and force a dumbed-down education. If we continue to hid behind the false mantra that it is simply “…bad funding, bad unions, bad children, and bad teachers…” then we will never get to the real fixes. We will simple pour more good money after bad.
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