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Teachers Are Concerned

Teachers still want higher pay, but a comprehensive new Carnegie Foundation study shows that they also wish that more parents cared more about their children’s education and that they fear for the state of their students’ health. They are frustrated by their lack of participation in decisions at their schools. These are the intangibles, “the interior of the teaching profession,” that make people decide to stay in the classroom or leave it, and they cannot be ignored in any policy debate.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching drew its profile of teachers’ concerns from responses from 22,000 educators. The report contains a wealth of general information--pointing out, for example, that the public schools employed about 75,000 more teachers in 1987-88 than they did seven years earlier. Teachers’ salaries increased nearly 60% in that time. “On average, teachers surveyed have 16 years’ experience and most report having less than one hour in a typical day set aside for preparation.”

Californians should especially note that teachers’ typical class sizes range from 19 reported in North Dakota, South Dakota and Vermont to 28 in California and Utah. “In California, 55% of the teachers report having 30 or more students in a typical class.”

In general, the teachers surveyed felt that schools were being asked to do alone what families, communities and churches have been unable to do in bringing up America’s young people. “I’m sick and tired of seeing my bright, achieving first-graders fade into the shadows of apathy and trouble by age 10,” one teacher commented. “Out of 22 students, I have had three parents visit the class,” said another.

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Equally distressing was the teachers’ report on the health and welfare of their students: 69% say that poor health among students is a problem, and 68% say that undernourishment is a problem at their schools. “They describe their students as ‘emotionally needy’ and ‘starved for attention and affection,’ ” the report said.

The teachers’ comments suggest, the Carnegie study added, “that we have not just a school problem but a youth problem in this nation. Many students move facelessly from class to class and have little serious interaction with adults. Teen-agers often lose their identity--starting in junior high--at the time a sense of belonging is needed most.”

These problems of parental apathy and student anonymity are tough to solve, and this report doesn’t try to do that. It points out the concerns. Caring people in each community must tailor their own solutions.

Without doubt, salaries still must go up in many states. Teachers must be more involved in education planning. Textbooks clearly still need improvement. Class sizes must be reduced. These are the standard marks of educational reform. But if reformers ignore the basic problems underlined in this report--problems that keep students from achieving no matter how grand the educational trappings--then theirs will be reforms with no results.


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