Higher student:teacher ratios and no part-time staff support were this week’s headlines. Our Superintendent made it clear: 86% of the county budget is in personnel so this will be the area hardest hit by budget cuts, or will it? At present we have a 21:1 student teacher ratio in 3rd grade. This number promises to increase 30% to 1:27 by next fall. When teachers are already struggling to cover the curriculum efficiently enabling students to pass required state tests, how much harder will this be to accomplish when one teacher is serving 27 students? Who is hardest hit? I think it will be the students. Hearken back to 50′s when some teachers were responsible for 40+ students. How did those teachers make it work? Did they have to individualize, differentiate, accommodate students at the same time appeasing parents? Hardly. They didn’t have nearly the accountability teachers face today.
How many of you have viewed the classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail? If you have then the image of the Black Knight should easily come into focus.There may even be a smiling forming on your lips at this very moment. What does he have to do with me/us and the current state of affairs in education? It’s simple. Every time we, as teachers are asked to perform the task of teaching under increasingly difficult circumstances, we are confronted by impossible odds for success. The increasing layers of orders for compliance, demands for data, burgeoning class size and the lack of viable means to accomplish these goals, leaves us as helpless as the black knight. He/we are valiantly shaking our heads and defending our students rights to learn but we haven’t a leg to stand on.
So what does all this mean for the future of education? Something’s gotta give and when it does change will have to follow.The change will be painful but necessary. All the lip service about 21st century teaching and learning will never amount to anything unless we as educators and community members are forced to make major changes in instructional delivery. A paradigm shift will have to occur in order to save money and delivery quality education. I see the necessity for blended learning programs taking off. Alternatives to the traditional 5 day school week will collapse under the pressure to save fuel, electricity and to address individual student needs. Clusters of learning coops will spring up in homes to receive instruction in a facilitated study-group setting with access to a classroom entered synchronously online complete with two-way video streams. Students may only attend the physical plant location 2-3 times a week.
The reality is, we have been heading in this directions for years by creating a demand for outside forms of educational support. Look at any strip mall and you will find small businesses poised to deliver educational support and enrichment. You will also find families paying up to $60 an hour for elementary school tutors to ensure students pass the gateway tests and are promoted to the next grade. Homeschooling too has been on the rise. What is wrong with this picture? Clearly schools are not able to meet the needs of all students and parents find themselves spending above and beyond the school tax allotment to address their child’s educational needs. Something has to change, and it won’t be easy.
With less disposable income and more at stake in the classroom than ever before, parents are going to reach a breaking point. When they look around and see more money going into Special Education programs and less and less going into the regular ed sector there is bound to be some kind of backlash and an outcry for equity. Change is painful but in if we can hang on through the storm we should actually come out better and stronger on the other end. Ingenuity will triumph over crisis.