These days, the education discussion is focused on getting school buildings re-opened and continued debates about the Big Standardized Test. But while these issues are eating up ed conversation oxygen, four other issues are in need of attention.
Teachers of Color
There are too few of them. About 80% of the teaching force is white; but under 50% of U.S. students are white. That imbalance is striking enough on its own, but breaking the data down reveals even more alarming gaps. For instance, a study by Research for Action, a Philadelphia-based research group, found that 184 Pennsylvania school districts employ zero teachers of color.
The research and arguments for increasing the non-white teacher corps are solid. Attracting and retaining teachers of color has been a problem in public education for decades, and remains a rare topic on which folks on all sides of various education debates agree. Some states have programs in place, and advice is out there for districts trying to do better. We can hope that organizations like the Center for Black Educator Development will be successful, but the issue has persisted for decades and deserves, at the very least, more attention.
Career and Technical Education was starting to enjoy a bit of resurgence before the pandemic hit. But while math and reading can be converted, however imperfectly, to a distance learning model, it’s pretty hard to hone your welding or construction skills on the internet.
We need this kind of education, the non-college training for jobs that, as Mike Rowe always said, “make civilized life possible for the rest of us.” We were just getting traction for the idea that four-year college is not necessarily the best education path for every single student. Now that pipeline is taking a serious hit.
Every day my inbox contains story pitches from organizations that claim they have fixed, will fix, or know how to fix the digital divide. Meanwhile, the teachers I know are taking extra hours of their day to hand carry paper copies of work to families that cannot get the work any other way.
The pandemic has underlined the problems of pretending that the digital divide is no longer any big deal. As a nation, we have two choices. Either stop proposing educational solutions that assume that everyone has a reliable internet connection, hefty bandwidth, and adequate hardware, or else start making sure that every family actually has those things.
The Teacher Pipeline
This year, across the country, college seniors are completing their student teaching experience in less-than-ideal conditions. They will graduate in the spring, and next fall, when they enter a “normal” classroom, for many it will be the very first time.
We already know that one of the reasons teachers leave the profession is a lack of support, particularly when starting out. Next fall’s new crop will be in particular need of support, as they deal with situations that they never faced when dealing with hybrid or distance learning. Schools will be busy trying to get themselves back to normal; here’s hoping that they remember to provide ample support and assistance to their new hires.
These are certainly not the only education issues simmering on the back burners these days, but they deserve more attention, coverage and discussion than they are currently getting. Otherwise they’ll bring more trouble in a post-pandemic world.