As was the case in 2011, there is no doubt 2012 will bring drastic changes to public education, from an increase in student learning expectations to funding reductions. For many teachers, the mere mention of education reform in 2012 breeds anxiety.
One of several reforms to education policy teachers can expect this year is a change to President Bush’s 2001 No Child Left Behind Act. According to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, “President Obama is offering states flexibility from NCLB in exchange for comprehensive plans to raise standards; to create fair, flexible and focused accountability systems; and to improve systems for teacher and principal evaluation and support.”
While alterations to NCLB – an act notorious for marginalizing minority and non-native English speaking groups, for lowering learning expectations, and for narrowing instructional focus to standardized testing – may sound appealing to teachers, there are catches. For instance, the reform President Obama will require of participating states will raise student achievement standards, resulting in what will appear to be radical drops in students’ standardized test scores.
Furthermore, changes to NCLB will redefine how officials consider teachers highly qualified. Whereas NCLB uses teachers’ education and subject-area certification to determine their status as highly qualified, revisions to the act will extend beyond a teacher’s record to include real evidence that teachers are impacting student learning in a positive way. Evidence of a positive impact on student learning is critical, but Arne Duncan fails to specify what form that evidence will take, putting teachers across the nation on edge.
Some states have adopted their own teacher evaluation reform, including Michigan, which, according to the Huffington Post, now makes attaining tenure more difficult and directly links teachers’ effectiveness to students’ performance on standardized tests. A teacher who receives ineffective marks for three years can be discharged, while those who attain highly effective status for three years could earn tenure earlier than the standard five years outlined in the new policy. Although assessing teachers based on students’ test scores may seem reasonable, many teachers argue this does not take into consideration the unique population each teacher instructs, from at-risk, low-socioeconomic students to non-English speakers. Teachers also cite non-specific teacher assessment criteria as a concern.
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of education for teachers in 2012 is funding. While the U.S. Department of Education will be requesting “…$48.8 billion, an increase of $2 billion or 4.3% over the 2011 budget…” this year, many teachers doubt their districts will see the benefits of this budget. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 34 states incurred K-12 education funding cuts in 2011, including Colorado, which cut $260 million – roughly $400 per pupil – and Virginia, which cut $700 million in school spending. Teachers in these and other states worry they will be held to higher standards with fewer resources and support, resulting in a sense of apprehension about education in 2012.
While 2012 could prove fruitful for education, both in President Obama’s revisions of NCLB and in his request for more funding for the U.S. Department of Education, teachers still harbor angst about where education is headed. As the economy continues to suffer, and the public pushes for massive education reform, teachers fear for the state of education in 2012, with high student learning standards, changes in teacher assessment methods, and budget cuts among their list of concerns.