Education reform starts with teaching standards

Despite numerous education reforms for public schooling, American students still rank below average in academic achievement compared to their peers in other developed nations.

The policies so far have concentrated on creating support systems for struggling students, but there has not been enough emphasis on establishing systems for struggling teachers. Considering the increasingly high teacher attrition rate to expect any commendable improvement in students’ performance, better support systems for teachers are necessary.

Steep teacher dropout rates may undermine the ongoing policies for education reform. According to Education Week, up to 50 percent of new teachers “leave within the first five years of entry into teaching.” In some regions, like the School District of Philadelphia, the teacher dropout rate is even higher than the student dropout rate. As the proportion of teachers who leave in the early stage of their career increases, more public money is wasted in recruiting and training more new teachers, the buildup of a skilled teaching force becomes more difficult, and the quality of educational institutions would suffer.

However, putting all the blame on young teachers for their lack of commitment to their careers shows a poor understanding of the primary cause of this critical issue. While pre-employment training is insufficient to equip them with all the skills needed for successful teaching, the current system fails to provide adequate induction programs that help starting teachers improve. They are often restricted to the confines of their classrooms, working in isolation from colleagues or senior teachers. The lack of community causes quick exhaustion and emotional drain, leading to early retirement.

Fortunately, recent policies, such as reforming No Child Left Behind and the RESPECT Project launched by the Obama Administration pay more attention to teacher induction. Nevertheless, it is unclear how productive the induction programs across the nation have been. The programs vary across different regions, and their effectiveness has yet to be tested. As a result, the teacher attrition rate is still soaring, despite more teachers reporting they have received some form of an induction program. Teachers commonly cite physical exhaustion and emotional toll among the reasons for quitting.

More comprehensive and systematic induction programs must be devised and implemented. There should be more emphasis on policies that create a standardized system that can train novice teachers once they are employed. Without improvement in teachers’ job satisfaction, there cannot be any significant progress in American students’ performance. Indeed, no struggling teachers should be left behind.


A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 23 print edition. Kenny Kyunghoon Lee is a contributing columnist. Email him at [email protected]



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