We peek ahead (with your help!) at what's in store for you this year.
By Cynthia Kopkowski
Too often, speculation about the future of education feels so removed from reality, it might as well be about teachers buzzing around the classroom on hovercrafts and cafeteria robots dispensing lunch in capsule form. (Yay, it's pizza pellet day!) But for many teachers and support professionals, that's not the practical look ahead that they want. As the school year gets under way, they're wondering what's in store for them in the next 10 months.
How will events outside and inside the classroom affect them? We went to the experts—folks whose job it is to divine the tea leaves in their fields—and asked for their educated guesses.
And since nobody gives a better educated guess about their own situation than an actual educator (a concept that not all legislators and policymakers have grasped), we talked to NEA members to see what they think lies ahead. Come along as we take a sneak peek at 2008–09. No hovercraft necessary.
It's a presidential election year so the airwaves are going to continue to buzz with candidates' concrete plans for fostering great public schools for all children, right? Er, don't count on it. NEA leaders have been imploring candidates to address education priorities substantively in public appearances throughout the primary and general election, yet in most debates there has been more talk about American flag lapel pins. It's not going to get any better through the election or in the aftermath, says Larry Sabato, the political pundit, author, and university professor at the helm of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Sabato's "Crystal Ball" Web site has been dubbed the Web's most accurate political analysis, and he is a mainstay on cable news shows.
"This is a so-called 'big ticket' election year, dominated by Bush, Iraq, the economy, food, gas prices, the housing crisis, and the like," says Sabato. "As important as education is, it is not going to be a focus of this election." After November 4, the new President's term will likely be dominated by the same big ticket items, says Sabato. "Unfortunately, education tends to be an issue on the shelf, and it's taken off the shelf only in calmer times. As we all know, it is so central to the nation's future that it ought to be in the top three issues every election year."
Here's what members predict will happen as a result of the November elections:
Here's what members predict will happen as a result of the November elections:
"The economy gets worse and my pay doesn't keep up with costs. Geraldine Transue, Colchester, Connecticut
"There will be greater appreciation of education and less emphasis on NCLB." Luann Smith, Virginia Beach, Virginia
"There won't be any immediate effects." Carol Gibson, Devils Lake, North Dakota
"Hopefully, the new President will do something about No Child Left Behind, so that we can focus a little bit more on students learning information instead of learning for tests." Nikki Royal ,Granite Falls, Minnesota
"The promises will end, the rhetoric will stop, and I'll be left trying to figure out how to pay for pencils." Bobee-Kay Clark, Sparks, Nevada
"Things will change more culturally and financially than professionally. Eric James, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
"Funding for the educational system will decrease." Connie Spivey Memphis, Tennessee
"I hope to see a change in leadership at the Department of Education with a better understanding of how to implement effective teaching strategies and less of an emphasis on testing." Dottie Handley-More, Seattle, Washington
"I think it will bring the nation's attention back to American soil. We need to be worried about bridges, roads, energy, education—the foundations of our country." John Horton, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Economic woes will continue pummeling members and threatening retirement and health care benefits. As states wrestle with cash-strapped budgets, they'll be making increasingly onerous demands of members at the bargaining table, says NEA health care analyst Carole Malone. That includes pressuring employees to start paying for more of their health care premiums or pushing them into plans with higher deductibles. Additionally, "employers are going to membership and to the leaders saying the employees have to bear more responsibility for their personal health care decisions," says Malone, including demands that they shop for lower-cost services.
Similarly, public pensions will see their investment returns drop below where they were last year. "That will increase the pressure on public pension plans to either change benefits, eligibility, or move to a defined-contribution plan," says Nancy McKenzie, senior pension specialist for NEA. Maneuvering to reduce employee representation on retirement plan boards will abound in attempts to quell voices of those concerned about employers switching to noxious defined-contribution plans that threaten retirement security.
Don't get discouraged, though. Key victories for public employees—thanks to the National Public Pension Coalition (which includes NEA)—give hope and guidance for the battles ahead. For example, in West Virginia, teachers voted in June to switch from an underwhelming defined-contribution plan to a traditional pension plan. They are now eligible for a system that gives them a defined pension based on their salary at the time of retirement and their years of service.
The year has just started, and teachers and education support professionals already know that for many of their colleagues it will be their last:
"The turnover at my school will be about 20 teachers, based on previous years." Sheila Diaz San Pedro, California
"Twenty-one just retired, but no one in my school will retire this year to get out of the profession. If anyone does quit, it will be because they want to stay home with their child/children. We have a very unique school." Stacy Kasse Cherry Hill, New Jersey
If you're nervous that you're going to need a bank loan just to get gas or groceries, don't expect relief. Also, fallout from the real estate market collapse (think trillions of dollars lost) will continue dragging down the economy. To put it bluntly, it's going to be a bad year for the wallet, says David Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy Research. "We're going to be in a recession." Teacher Kerri Brown summed up what's happening in Hutchinson, Kansas. "Our insurance alone is going up $900. Gas and the mileage to our country school will more than eat up what is left" of a $1,500 raise. "We need so much more to make ends meet."
As housing prices fall, owners are losing home equity. Those approaching retirement who were counting on that equity as a retirement savings plan are in even worse shape and will have to cut spending. At the same time, inflation is likely to accelerate, an increase that will be felt most noticeably in food and energy prices. Educators will be hit hard as local governments facing mounting deficits and increased operational costs try to save money wherever they can—especially in wages, says Baker. Also, the price on goods imported from Europe and China are going to escalate noticeably, he says. That's a scary thought when most of the wares on the shelves now are stamped "Made in China."
Asked if they'll get a raise that stays ahead of inflation, members' pessimism prevailed: Yes—11% No—89% O
"Our local actually works to make that happen." Deborah Barnes Milwaukee, Oregon
"If you're not ahead of inflation now, you certainly won't be anytime soon." Carimenia Hampshire Green Cove Springs, Florida
"This is a maybe. Or better yet, Lord, I hope so!" Terri Fletcher-Herring Greensboro, North Carolina
"I am anticipating a raise of about 6.2 percent." Donald Wiest Superior, Nebraska
"Are you kidding?!" Deborah Rosenman Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
It could mean significant changes in your classroom when it happens, but the chance that Congress will move to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the so-called No Child Left Behind law or NCLB) before the election, hovers "between zero and minus-five percent," says Joel Packer, director of NEA Education Policy and Practice. "It's not happening." President Bush and Congress are in a stalemate over the law. After the election, though, is a different story. A President Obama would likely mean a "strong driving force" on fundamentally overhauling the law and allocating more money for its implementation, says Packer. A President McCain would be harder to read, he says, because the candidate hasn't offered many details on his policy regarding the law, other than vocalizing support for it.
Chief among the questions swirling around NCLB if it's tackled in depth next calendar year is how much flexibility there will be with the testing and sanctions that now constrict schools. Namely, observers are wondering if states will be allowed to demonstrate students' progress with anything other than test scores, such as graduation rates or alternative tests. In the upcoming year, we hope legislators and the White House will realize that the mandate that all students be at 100 percent reading and math proficiency within the next five years is unattainable, says Packer.
Most immediately pressing: It's going to be harder in every state to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) this year. That's because it's the last year in a three-year cycle in which the bar moves up on states. "You'll probably have more and more schools failing this year," says Packer. Without any policy changes to advocate for this year, it's crucial that education advocates (that means you!) continue to make the case to their Republican and Democratic representatives and senators that the law needs an overhaul. And come election day, those who grasp that need get voted into office.
This year members are wondering whether changes to NCLB will affect their professional certification. They said: Yes, it will change—36% No, it won't change—64%
"My degree is in language and literature, plus secondary ed, plus reading specialist, plus a master's in curriculum and instruction. If they need more than that to teach junior high school I will walk away." Kerri Brown Hutchinson, Kansas
"I have a master's degree plus 30 some hours and a permanent certificate. But who knows? Teachers always have the bar raised. " Megan Nickolette Avon Lake, Ohio
"If anything, I expect the powers that be to make it even more difficult to be a teacher." Frank Sharbono Glendale, Arizona
War in Iraq and Afghanistan
With roughly 150,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq and another 32,000 in Afghanistan, thousands of teachers and education support professionals continue to be on a psychological frontline, working with service personnel's children. That means helping students with related separation anxiety, stress, discipline problems, and absences. All the while, some educators are also dealing with their own anxieties over the safety of deployed loved ones or colleagues. In some cases, they themselves are facing active duty. This year will mean "more of the same," says Joyce Raezer, executive director of the National Military Family Association in Alexandria, Virginia. "More redeployments, and deployments that are still way too long.
Educators play a critical role. For practical tips on how to help, head to www.nea.org/ref?war
Members gave a snapshot of how many of their students will have parents serving in war zones this year:
"Since I am a librarian serving 2,000 students, I think I may have about 20 students whose parents are serving. Right now one of my fellow teachers is over in Iraq." Shelly Curran Deptford, New Jersey
"Hopefully none. My own son was killed in Iraq on July 21, 2007, and a family member of one of my students was killed in Iraq two weeks before Christmas. With a student population of only 130 students K–12 in our school, losing two family members in five months was way too many." Patty Shuemecker Atkinson, Nebraska
" At least 70 percent." Sheila Diaz San Pedro, California
"Some of our students graduating this year will be serving in the years ahead if we don't get out of there." Lisa Barret Shavertown, Pennsylvania
"Two thousand (in the district)." Carly Weisthal Winston-Salem, North Carolina
"Three. Living in a high-income school district, many of our students' family members are not involved in the war." Eric O'Brien Westbury, New York
Any notion that educators are somehow intimidated by new technology should be out the window this year, says Kathy Schrock, an NEA member who is the administrator for technology for schools in the Nauset Public Schools district in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and the teaching technology guru for the Discovery Channel. As teachers become more savvy Internet and computer users, they understand the possibilities now to use "2.0 tools" to connect with students, colleagues, and parents and are anxious to delve into the how-to, says Schrock. "Before we would have to feed them successful practices and then they would take their leap," she says. "Now they know where they want to be, they just don't know quite how to get there."
Here are Schrock's predictions for what's going to be hot, and what's not, this year when it comes to the digital classroom.
- Laptop computers
- Mini-computers that cost less than $400.
- Flash drives that let students load up computer contents and take them anywhere.
- Posting documents to a 2.0 site accessible from any computer using a program like Google Docs.
- Second Life, the virtual 3-D world of social networking, to interest students in classroom discussion. (They can meet online for group work or network with students across the globe.)
- Second Life for professional development sessions that cross district and state borders allowing for national collaboration.
- Online collaborative Web 2.0 applications.
- Digital cameras to enhance classroom activity.
- Microblogging tools like Twitter.com for professional development. (Put a question out to the Twitter community and within minutes get answers back from across the globe.)
- Giving students school email accounts.
- Desktop computers (too cumbersome!)
- Proprietary software. It can be costly and clunky and it's tied to one specific computer.
- Typed papers and hard copies of teaching documents. Sending documents to students and parents via email. Textbook-and-worksheet-only instruction
- Boring professional development sessions on uncomfortable folding chairs with people in your school only
We learned that educators have their eyes on some gadgets when we asked what new technology they will experiment with this year.
Palm Pilots - Tom Whalen Erie, Pennsylvania
SMART Board - Migdalia Rivera Kissimmee, Florida
Clickers - Dolly Handel Colorado Springs, Colorado
Biotechnology equipment - Marilyn Bowe Hinesville, Georgia
In the Classroom
Increased pressure to raise student test scores means you can expect more questioning from parents about their children's performance, according to the president of the national Parent Teacher Association. "Parents are really going to start being much stronger advocates for their children," says Jan Harp Domene. That's a good thing, as research indicates that children whose parents are actively engaged in their schooling perform better. What's crucial, though, is making sure that there is a two-way flow of communication. "We have to focus on parents and teachers as partners in this," says Domene.
On the down side, expect to see more signs of stress from the economy affecting your students' families. "They're losing their homes, having a hard time filling their gas tanks, and that's going to put a big stress on families," says Domene. Another trend Domene expects to grow: fathers being more engaged in their students' education. Economic woes mean that in many families both parents are now working if they weren't before, so fathers are "picking up some of the slack and becoming active participants with teachers," she says.
What are you most nervous about teaching or dealing with at school this year?
"Teaching creationism." Jerome Hardin, Pensacola, Florida
"Starting a high school band." B.J. Hascall Nipoma, California
"I work with students in crisis and see an increasing number of students who need to be evaluated for depression, anxiety, bullying, suicide, abuse, and other life-threatening situations. The quantity is overwhelming and with further staff reductions, I am nervous about handling an increasing number of crisis situations." Ranae Lapin, Boca Raton, Florida
"Keeping teacher morale up while reducing resources and supplies." Andee Aceves, La Mesa, California
"Absolutely nothing." Tory Cooper, Jacksonville, Oregon
"Educating my school about disability awareness (students and faculty/staff alike)." Tracy Black, Mansfield, Massachusetts
"Continued debacle of Iraq and students whose parents are there." Luann Smith, Virginia Beach, Virginia
"I am concerned about having my students meet the bar for writing requirements. They come to me at so many levels of skill that it's always hard to move them along together successfully so that those who struggle will do better and those who do well can go beyond." Jennifer Squillaci, Wayne, New Jersey
"Nanotechnology." Sandra Ferland, Hebron, Maine
"Becoming a new mother!" Angela Dickey, Portland, Oregon
"Fundraising." Pearl Lawson, Cupertino, California
Miscellaneous Classroom Concerns
How much money will educators spend on school supplies?
"Less than $20—I am lucky enough to get help from our PTO to meet the cost needs of my classroom." Ranae Albert, El Dorado, Kansas
I spend about $5,000 a year to supplement my books, standardized testing materials, and supplies for my students. Judith Livingston, Simsbury, Connecticut
How many times will the copier or SMART Board break?
"Is a million too many?" Cheryl Best, Staunton, Illinois
How many hours will you work each week on average (for full-time employees)?
55 (Average answer from all respondents)
What new teaching technique will you try this year?
"Never know. The teachers of the students I transport often help me with student-specific strategies to make the bus experience better." Deedra Pederson, Boise, Idaho
"More Web-based projects." Charles New, Memphis, Tennessee
"I want to become "green" and will ask the students to do the same." Lisa Barrett, Shavertown, Pennsylvania
"More stations for experimentation." Kimberly Ihle, Pflugerville, Texas
"Developing primary source documents for Civil War and voting rights units. (Trying to engage students and get them to use reliable sources and databases instead of Google is tough.)" Shelly Curran, Deptford, New Jersey
"Anything that works!" Deborah Rosenman, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
Find more on NEA.org
Visit www.nea.org/ ref?future to give us your predictions for the year ahead!
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