I keep reading over the state Department of Education’s final report on what educators, parents and stakeholders said during the eight public forums. The more I read, the more obvious it becomes that improving public education is a complicated task, a heavy lift by any measure.
There are many findings in the report which will be discussed and debated leading up to and during the anticipated special legislative session on education reform—charter schools, education savings accounts, increased wrap around services, changes in the school funding formula, increased flexibility for successful schools, and on and on.
But there is one finding that stands out and keeps coming up in research about public education: too many teachers do not think they are valued for what they do. Some will dismiss that as self-absorbed whining, but it’s no small matter.
“Participants (in the meetings) conveyed that restoring social respect and prestige to the teaching profession” is just as important as their compensation. Let’s deal with the pay issue first.
The forum participants—and, yes, teachers dominated the forums—cited higher pay as “a critical component to addressing low morale and staffing shortages.” West Virginia teachers are underpaid.
Figures released last month by the National Education Association put the average teacher salary in West Virginia this year at $47,681. That’s 49th in the country, followed only by Mississippi at $45,574. It is worth noting, however, that West Virginia is among the seven states where the average teacher pay was below $50,000 this year.
Salary is important not just for paying the bills, but it is also a statement of value and appreciation. However, the respect and prestige void are not just about the pay; it’s also about what happens in the classroom and how the profession is perceived.
The education forums report said 59 percent of students “observe classroom disruptions and mental health issues on a daily basis.” Fifty-two percent of students said every day they witness “a lack of respect for teachers.”
Being an educator is a profession that requires a college degree, pedagogic skills, patience and passion, but our culture has lost some of the value placed on teaching. The 2018 Global Teacher Status Index, in a survey of where teachers are most valued, found that the United States ranks 16th. The report said the top three countries—China, Malaysia and Taiwan—place teachers on the same level as doctors.
The devaluing of teaching as a profession is reflected in a PDK Poll of the public’s attitudes toward public schools. The survey found that “54 percent of Americans say they would not want their child to become a public school teacher, a majority for the first time in a question initially asked in 1969.”
The failed Senate Bill 451 included many changes that would benefit public education. Hopefully, most will be taken up again and approved in a special session. They are necessary because our school system is neither thorough nor efficient, as required by the State Constitution.
However, there is a larger core issue here. The value we place on public education and teachers is not equal to the outcomes we expect.