This Education Week blog post, The Teaching Profession in 2015, contains some interesting findings about the teaching profession and education.  While it focuses primarily on the status of public education, the statistics are relevant to trends that apply to US education in the broader context.

Here is a short summary of what is covered.

  1. 70% of teachers remain in the teaching profession, while only 17% left the profession within the five years of this longitudinal study.  The idea that 50% of teachers leave the profession after 3-5 years may be a myth.
  2. There doesn’t appear to be a shortage of teachers in the US, based on the trends in overall number of teachers to the student-to-teacher ratio since 1960.  While a teacher shortage may not exist in urban environments, there are shortages in some rural or inner-city school environments.
  3. The data on student poverty is quite interesting.  Fifty-one percent (51%) of students in US public schools qualify for the free-and-reduced lunch program, which mirrors their family’s poverty status.  This represents a 12% increase since 1989.  When will we be honest with ourselves that unless we make significant headway addressing issues related to poverty, we cannot expect to make progress addressing problems with our education system.  This is a systems problem with many facets, requiring a systems approach.
  4. “Bias is an ongoing issue in education.”.  In a Stanford study, teachers were found to show bias towards disciplining black students, rather than white students, especially on their second violation.
  5. An increase in the suicide rate for young black children over the past two decades is a troubling statistic.  While the actual number is not large, the increase of about 60% from 2002 to 2012 is certainly cause for concern and action.
  6. “In 2015, 10 states had fewer than 10 girls take the AP Computer Science exam. No girls took the exam in Mississippi, Montana, or Wyoming.  No one took the exam in Montana at all.” When it comes to STEM, we have a long way to go to encourage young women to enter fields that are highly technical.  We know that girls lack of interest in these fields has anything to do with their ability.  In fact, in four states girls out performed boys in the 2015 AP Computer Science exam.  We have to work hard at enrolling girls in STEM courses and STEM careers, but we can’t force a “square pet in a round hole.”  Girls may be attracted to STEM courses and careers, especially computer science, only when we recognize the need to retool our approach to teaching these disciplines.
  7. With the Common Core putting more emphasis on teaching language arts using non-fiction texts, we are seeing more teachers infusing non-fiction into their curriculum.

What we do with this knowledge is an entirely new question?  We certainly can’t expect to make great progress in US education unless we pay close attention to what this data tells us.  We can’t merely teach students coming from under resourced backgrounds, expect them to learn the same things in the same amount of time as their peers from wealthier backgrounds, unless we address the influence of poverty on their readiness to learn.  Schools can’t fight this battle alone, it takes a village of caring people, including policy makers, to help address these complex issues.  Now is the time!