Respect for Teaching: Why is Education So Low on the Priority List?

By Matthew Lynch

Most patriotic Americans agree education should be the most important issue in the country. After all, a country that lacks knowledge lacks power…. right? Common tells us that in order to secure a thriving future for our nation’s children, we must become high achievers in the areas of math, reading and science. Unfortunately, the collective concern for education continues to wane. This may explain why education in the United States is considered average when compared to the rest of the world.

Often employed by public officials looking for a platform, the issue of education continues to make headlines, but very little actual progress is being made. In fact, teachers across the country continue to express their dissatisfaction with leadership, salary cuts and a lack of resources. Our children are in crisis; our future is in jeopardy and with each passing day, we become more vulnerable to the darkness of ignorance and unawareness.

According to the Pew Research Center, education ranks among the public’s top ten policy priorities, coming in at number six. At first glance, this may seem impressive, but Pew also reports that in general, Americans have a declining interest in education. Not surprisingly, the economy, job creation and terrorism are the public’s top three priorities, and there’s no question each would have grave consequences if not addressed. While most agree these topics should be focal points of interest, however, many argue the public has lost sight of what should matter most: education.

The reality is our country is guilty of becoming increasingly apathetic about education. As a rule, teachers are grossly undervalued; their significance is continually diminished and their contributions go highly underrated. The majority of school teachers love what they do and consider themselves blessed to be afforded the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child. Their profound impact on the world of academia, and their willingness to sacrifice high-paying salaries should be applauded. But at what point do we, as Americans, stand up and say that our treatment of teachers is simply unacceptable? When do we decide that a number six priority ranking for education is not good enough – and that our students and teachers mean more to our collective society than that?

Student Achievement, By the Numbers

Here are some facts you may find alarming: according to data collected by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), the performance of American students as compared to their international equivalents is mediocre at best. PISA is an international study that evaluates education systems worldwide every three years. This involves testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in more than 70 participating countries/economies.

Scores from the 2009 PISA assessment reveal the U.S. performs about average in reading and science and below average in math. Some of the top performers on the PISA evaluation were Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Finland, Shanghai in China, Singapore and Canada. Out of 34 participating countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math. These statistics are staggering.

As reported by the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, a recent study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) suggests that if the U.S. could boost its average PISA scores by 25 points over the next 20 years, it could lead to a gain of $41 trillion for the U.S. economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. Therein lies the solution to every major problem facing the American people — including the economy, job creation and terrorism awareness.

Based on research provided by Dr. Steven Paine, a nationally renowned American educator, the OECD has offered a number of simple and practical lessons to the United States. According to Paine, money is not the answer to boosting our country’s international educational status, nor will it bring about a greater classroom experience. In studying the world’s highest achievers — Finland, Singapore and Ontario, Canada — Paine suggests our lack of respect for teachers is the nation’s number one enemy of education. “The major difference between those systems and the one in the U.S. had to do with how teachers are valued, trained and compensated,” he noted.

Paine stated in his report to the OECD, “In Finland, it is a tremendous honor to be a teacher, and teachers are afforded a status comparable to what doctors, lawyers and other highly regarded professionals enjoy in the U.S.” The report also suggested the teaching profession in Singapore “is competitive and highly selective, [a country] that works hard to build its own sense of professional conduct and meet high standards for skills development.” The study of Ontario revealed similar findings.

Paine insists, “The U.S. must restore the teaching profession to the level of respect and dignity it enjoyed only a few decades ago. This will not be easy, particularly in the current economic environment with states and localities strapped for funds. But improving the regard with which teachers are held is not principally about how much they are paid.”

Paine continued, “OECD countries that have been most successful in making teaching an attractive profession have often done so by offering teachers real career prospects and more responsibility as professionals — encouraging them to become leaders of educational reform. This requires teacher education that helps teachers to become innovators and researchers in education, not just deliverers of the curriculum.”

The report concluded that the U.S. has the resources and talent to compete more effectively and raise its level of educational achievement. This is contingent upon our willingness and ability to “demonstrate with action that it truly values education, display an understanding of the vital importance of having an educated workforce that can compete globally, and develop the political will to devote the necessary resources for educational reform.”

To make that happen, every American who cares about the economic future of our nation must come together and work to help make that plan a reality. It starts by giving our teachers the support, and financial compensation, they deserve.

We, the People, must take action to rightly place education where it belongs — as our number one concern. Get involved; make your voice heard and take a stand.

Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

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