A few thoughts as we near the back-to-school season

It’s the onset of fall and that means, as it does every year, that school is about to start. This is a process we take for granted.

Because we take it for granted, we underestimate its complexity. But the sheer size of the undertaking is mid-boggling. Here in the United States, our K-12 public school system involves 50 million students, 100,000 public schools in 14,000 school districts, 3.1 million teachers and $620 billion of expenditures.

And in this huge system, what in-school factor has the greatest impact on student performance? It’s far and away the teacher. According to a Rand Institute study, "a teacher is estimated to have two to three times the impact of any other school factor, including services, facilities, and even leadership."

Given the importance of teachers to our students, schools and society, one would assume that we would take the prudent route: care for our teachers, and by doing so, care for ourselves. But this is not the case.

As in all education research, different studies paint different pictures. But when it comes to teacher satisfaction with their jobs, there are some ominous sets of data:

n According to the 2013 Global Teacher Status Index, which measures "the level of respect for teachers in different countries and of their social standing" in 22 countries, the U.S.A. ranks ninth.

n According to the Organization for Economic Development, teacher salaries rank 12th out of 30 countries. The same report tells us that the teacher to student ratio in the U.S. is higher than in most of the countries.

n According to a recent Gallup poll, the percent of teachers who "feel a lot of daily stress" in their jobs is almost 50 percent, equal to doctors and nurses. The same report that only 30 percent are engaged in their job.

n According to a recent Consortium for Policy Research in Education report, approximately one-third of teachers leave the profession after six years, a slightly higher percent than those who leave police forces.

n According to a recent Gates Foundation/Scholastic poll, 47 percent of teachers disagree strongly/disagree somewhat that "students enter my classroom prepared for on-grade-level work."

n According to Department of Education data, enrollment in teacher preparation programs dropped by 10 percent from 2004 to 2012.

Teacher dissatisfaction and disenfranchisement is neither a secret nor new topic. It has been the subject of discussion for some time and a series of remedies have been suggested andor implemented including, but not limited to, salary increases, loan forgiveness, better professional development, mentors, more time for collaboration, and increased say in school and education policies.

But the results simply are not there. According to the 2014 Met Life Survey of the American Teacher, teacher satisfaction rates declined to 30 percent, a 23 percent drop since 2008.


n Remind teachers that the vast majority of citizens respect them and what they do. Most people realize the vital and fundamental importance of their work with young people.

n It is time to mobilize public support for equitable teacher salaries. The public must insist on better rewards for the productive teacher.

n Schools must provide better technology to help assure readiness for entry-level jobs.

n There should be stronger ties between elementary and secondary education and community colleges.

The president of the United States and most progressive governors and business leaders believe community colleges, with the united support of public education, can address much the jobs issue and help return viability to the middle class.

The clock is ticking on many fronts but all of them necessitate positive action by and for teachers.

Gene Budig is the past chancellor and president of three major state universities and of Major League Baseball’s American League. Alan Heaps is a former vice president of the College Board and a recognized researcher of educational issues.