We need to restore trust, respect in public schools

Monday, February 24, 2014

A recent Harris poll of 2,250 adults reveals a troubling educational trend. When surveyed about their K-12 experience compared to today, far fewer adults believe teachers respect parents (64 percent, down 27 points) or students (61 percent, down 25 points). Similarly, a decreasing percentage of parents (49 percent, down 42 points) and students (31 percent, down 48 points) respect teachers. So what has changed that contributes to these double-digit drops in mutual respect among students, parents and teachers?

To be certain, the current landscape of education is marred by a negative narrative involving teacher preparation, accreditation, standards of learning, school safety, student conduct, choice, parent involvement and a litany of challenges not easily solved. Addressing these challenges from many perspectives has informed and enabled improvements on every front. And yet these same challenges have served to polarize educational stakeholders and galvanize belief systems in a way that has the cumulative effect of eroding trust and respect for K-12 education.

Many parents express concerns about classroom management that does not meet their children’s needs, challenging expectations for achievement and attendance, demands for extended learning and a lack of understanding about all that is going on during the school day. Teachers are concerned that parents are insufficiently involved in their children’s learning, not “parenting” when it comes to misbehavior, and offer too many excuses for unmet needs. Teachers also say that many students simply are not motivated and willing to accept responsibility for their learning. Students comment that “real” learning begins after school lets out and they have access to their social media devices and other technology supports. These same students cite busywork and irrelevant lessons as the source of apathy and disengagement from instruction.

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