Education Policy Issues in the United States

Introduction

Education policy has a significant effect on the entire educational system of a country. Changes to education policy may lead to improved academic outcomes and better socioeconomic conditions for citizens, as well as to underachievement and education crises. Hence, policymakers need to remain informed about issues in education and develop policies that would address these problems appropriately. In the United States, both students and educators face a variety of problems, which can impair teaching and learning. The three primary issues that are evident in the United States with regards to education are tenure, school safety, and teacher compensation.

Ensuring that education policy contributes to resolving these problems is vital because it would help to improve the learning environment and academic outcomes. The present report discusses the issue areas identified above, examines the essential resources that could be used to study these problems, and shows how the film “Waiting for Superman” fits into the contemporary educational context. The final part of the report also offers a reflection on the learning outcomes and key takeaways from the assignment.

Three Leading Issue Areas

Teachers Compensation

Teachers are the primary players in today’s educational environment. They have a significant impact on students’ academic outcomes as they deliver information to students, develop study programs, and grade students’ performance. Moreover, teachers play a significant role in shaping young people’s minds, values, and beliefs. A good teacher can ignite a student’s interest in a particular subject or inspire them to choose a specific career. They can also help children develop critical thinking skills and overcome problems, both personal and education-related. Because teachers play such an essential role in education, the issue of their compensation is of critical value to education policy.

Research from all over the country suggests that teachers today, especially those employed in public education, do not receive sufficient compensation for their work. According to the National Education Association (NEA, 2018), the average teacher salary in the United States is $59,660. While this might seem like a significant figure at first glance, comparing teachers’ compensation to that of other qualified professionals shows that it is inadequate.

On average, teachers in the United States earn 19% less than people with similar education levels and qualifications in other professions (NEA, 2018). It is also concerning that this gap has become more prominent over the past decades: in 1994, the difference was only 2% (NEA, 2018). Furthermore, teacher salary does not show sufficient growth from year to year. NEA (2018) notes that “over the past decade, the average classroom teacher salary has increased 15.2%, but after adjusting for inflation, the average salary has actually decreased by $1,823 or 3.0%” (para. 3). This means that, lately, teachers’ compensation has been deteriorating, and it is now significantly lower than that of skilled professionals working in other sectors.

The problem with teacher compensation has a significant impact on the education sector as a whole. Firstly, it affects teachers’ retention and staffing rates in schools. Without adequate staffing, the quality of education provided in schools decreases, leading to students’ underachievement. Secondly, it impacts young people’s willingness to pursue a career in education. While many people want their future careers to be fulfilling and inspiring, they are also concerned about whether or not it offers them enough money to live comfortably.

Inadequate compensation, particularly in comparison with other professions, makes teaching less appealing. As a result, fewer younger people decide to pursue a teaching career, which contributes to understaffing in schools and decreases the flow of new minds and ideas into the field.

The issue of teacher compensation is subject to controversial views. The importance of adequate compensation is evident, as it would lead to improved retention rates and inspire more people to pursue a career in education. On the one hand, the apparent solution to the problem is raising the minimum salary of teachers and introducing new requirements for determining teacher salary. This would help to ensure that the gap in compensation between teachers on other professionals and reduce and that year-on-year growth covers and exceeds the inflation.

On the other hand, increasing teachers’ salaries would also mean a growth in schools’ expenditure. Hence, the primary argument on the other side of the issue is that the improved teacher compensation policy could draw funding away from other areas of education. For example, states might decrease education funding for underprivileged populations to ensure that teachers receive higher salaries. Hence, this could cause problems with access to education, the quality of schools, and other aspects.

Tenure

Teachers’ tenure is also a critical point of controversy in the contemporary educational landscape. Tenure is a form of employment protection that was first introduced in New Jersey in 1909 (Carruthers, Figlio, & Sass, 2018). Soon after its introduction, the policy spread to public schools all over the country. According to Carruthers et al. (2018), “by the mid-1940s, 70 percent of public school teachers in the U.S. enjoyed tenure protections” (para. 3). Over time, the practice developed almost universally in the United States, with most public school teachers having some form of tenure protection now.

The tenure system in the United States applies protections to teachers who have completed their probationary period. During this time, which usually lasts from one to five years, new public school teachers work under annual contracts, which can be terminated by the school district (Carruthers et al., 2018).

After the probation period is over, however, public school teachers cannot be let go without a just cause, and receive the opportunity to contest the dismissal decision, requiring a third party to decide whether or not it was just. As explained by Carruthers et al. (2018), tenure does not prohibit schools and school districts from firing teachers; instead, it complicates the process and imposes limitations on schools to discourage teacher dismissals. Despite its potential benefits, the policy is considered to be controversial.

The primary reason for applying for teacher tenure in the United States changed little over time. At first, teacher tenure was supposed “to curb political influence in teacher employment decisions and limit political patronage” (Carruthers et al., 2018, para. 5). Over time, teacher tenure became one of the instruments aimed at improving teacher retention and job security, which is a significant factor driving people to the profession. Still, as noted by Carruthers et al. (2018), the actual effects of teacher tenure are varied.

From a positive standpoint, teacher tenure contributes to the appeal of the teaching profession as a whole, thus enhancing the number of people considering teaching as a career. It also ensures that teachers are not fired for unfair reasons, thus reducing the pressure that school principals and districts have on them. Based on these consequences, it can be said that, for many people, teacher tenure fulfills its primary purpose.

However, teacher tenure can also have adverse effects on teachers and their performance. According to Carruthers et al. (2018), increased job security affects teachers’ motivation and productivity, thus having significant consequences for the quality of education provided to students. If teachers know that their chances of being fired are scarce, they are more likely to apply minimal effort while teaching. This, in turn, results in students’ poor academic outcomes and prevents teachers from achieving their true potential. The concerns associated with teacher tenure have led some states to change their tenure policies.

Based on the data for 2018, Florida, North Carolina, and Kansas either reduced or eliminated tenure protections for teachers (Carruthers et al., 2018). In Georgia and Idaho, teacher tenure was eliminated but then re-instituted due to pressure from educators and institutions. Many other states also enacted policies affecting teacher tenure. In 20 states, tenure only applies to teachers whose students meet specific performance standards; in 8 states, the length of the probationary period has been extended (Carruthers et al., 2018). It is evident that teacher tenure is a critical issue in education policy, and further developments in this area are required.

The controversy of teacher tenure lies in its dual effects on teachers and the profession as a whole. On the one hand, job security is of crucial concern in the contemporary labor market, and teacher tenure could be a factor attracting and keeping more teachers in the public school system. On the other hand, teacher tenure affects the performance of educators by limiting their external motivation. While using the threat of firing to keep teachers motivated may be considered unethical, it can contribute to academic outcomes and the quality of teaching. Both the proponents and the opponents of teacher tenure are thus correct, which complicates policymaking about this issue area.

School Safety

School safety has also become a prominent concern in education policy over the past years. Gun violence is a significant problem in the United States, where laws regarding gun ownership and purchase vary from one state to another. The gaps in legislation have resulted in an increased number of mass shootings, and schools have become some of the critical targets for criminals. This instilled fears regarding school safety in students, parents, and educators, but the solutions offered by the government are highly controversial.

Research shows that there is indeed a cause for concern about school safety. In 1999, a shooting at the Columbine High School drew public attention; since then, there have been 68 school shootings (Guns and America, 2019). The frequency of school shootings has increased in the past years, alarming people to the need for action. According to Guns and America (2019), between 1999 and 2014, school shootings occurred, on average, every 124 days. Between 2015 and 2018, this figure decreased to just 77 days (Guns and America, 2019). The 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, ignited the debate on school safety again, making it a central issue in the U.S. education policy.

Following the shooting in Florida, the Trump administration proposed a policy to enable qualified school teachers to carry a firearm on school grounds. The proponents of this policy argue that this would offer teachers an opportunity to protect students and stop the attack in case of a school shooting. Nevertheless, many educators, parents, and policymakers are against this policy. Litvinov, Álvarez, Long, and Walker (2018) report that “seven in 10 educators said arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools and two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed” (para. 14).

From this viewpoint, increasing the number of guns in schools would not eliminate the threat; instead, it would endanger both students and staff in the absence of an attack. Arguments on both sides of the issue are valid, making it more challenging to achieve a resolution in this area of education policy.

Resources for Studying Education Policy Issues

Studying education policy issues in great detail is essential for developing policies that would help to address them adequately. However, in the age of the Internet, there is an excellent variety of resources available online, and the quality of the information contained in them is often doubtful. For instance, blogs and private websites may present inaccurate information, whereas news articles often include a one-sided perspective on problems in education. This section will review reliable sources of information on education policy that can be used by people willing to study the aforementioned issues in greater detail. These include various education organizations, independent research organizations, and scholarly databases.

Education Organizations

National Education Association

National Education Association (NEA) is one of the primary sources of information on education policy. There are two websites related to this organization that can be used to study teacher compensation, tenure, and school safety in-depth. Firstly, the main website of NEA, nea.org, contains information on the core issues evident in the U.S. education sector today. The website also includes links to NEA’s legislative action and reference centers, thus allowing educators to connect with policymakers and impact their decisions.

Secondly, NEA also runs a website neatoday.org, where it publishes articles, research reports, and opinion pieces related to education policy. Both resources offer an excellent opportunity to examine the issues presented above more thoroughly while also discovering and learning about other topics in education.

The American Federation of Teachers

The American Federation of Teachers is a professional organization that works with both educators and policymakers. The mission of the organization is to promote positive developments in education, healthcare, and public services. The website aft.org contains a variety of resources for educators and people who wish to study education policy. The publications are separated by policy and issue areas, such as early childhood, PreK-12 public education, and higher education. The articles and reports published on the website contain information about education policy issues, including those mentioned above, and potential solutions.

The National Council on Teacher Quality

The National Council on Teacher Quality is another professional organization that publishes resources on leading education policy areas. The goal of the organization is to promote high-quality education in the United States by engaging in research and providing data to support policy decisions. The website nctq.org contains a broad range of publications presenting research findings, and can thus be trusted to provide reliable information.

The publications are distributed by policy areas, such as staffing, training and recruitment, evaluation and support, and compensation. The NTCQ blog, which is also located on the website), offers a range of articles by experts in education policy that review problems and solutions. Therefore, this source would also be useful for people wishing to explore the problems of teacher compensation, tenure, and school safety.

Independent Research Organizations

Pew Research Center

Independent research organizations are a useful source of information because they present factual statistical data that can be related to issues in education. Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan provider of research data on major trends and problems faced by American society, as well as communities all over the globe. The website pewresearch.org contains publications and reports on various subjects, including U.S. politics, social trends, religion, technology, and science. The site also features a topic search that allows finding all publications related to education. The range of articles contained on the website covers most issues in education policy, including teacher tenure, compensation, and school safety.

Economic Policy Institute

The Economic Policy Institute is also a research-driven organization that publishes useful materials on various topics. Similar to the Pew Research Center, the EPI is a nonpartisan organization, meaning that the data published by it is reliable and objective. The website epi.org contains publications in a wide array of research areas, including education. Hence, the data from this website can be used to support the study of education policy issues discussed in the paper.

The Brookings Institution

The Brookings Institution is a public policy organization aiming to support policymaking through rigorous research. The organization researches and reports on various issues facing local communities, American society, and the global population. The website brookings.edu is a useful source of information on education policy issues since it is one of the primary focal areas of the organization. The website contains various articles reporting on issues in the U.S. education sector, including tenure, school safety, and teacher compensation.

Scholarly Databases

Scholarly databases are an excellent source for scholars and educators wishing to explore education policy and the issues faced by students, families, and teachers. Peer-reviewed scholarly articles published in reputable journals present accurate information on specific research questions, and the variety of studies conducted in education is significant. Some examples of scholarly databases publishing peer-reviewed research are Taylor and Francis, Springer, and Elsevier. Google Scholar is a useful search tool for identifying academic articles on various topics. Still, it is essential to ensure that the article is peer-reviewed to evaluate the level of evidence it provides.

Waiting for Superman

Waiting for Superman is a 2010 documentary film that examines the issues faced by both students and educators in the American public school system. Following its release, the film received national attention and increased public awareness regarding the problems that require action to improve public education in the United States. The plot of the film revolves around several students who try to enter charter schools, which are known for providing high-quality education and better future academic opportunities. Waiting for Superman represents some of the issues examined in this paper while also reviewing other problems evident in American education.

With the main characters of the film trying to win a lottery to enroll in charter schools, the low quality of education is the primary topic of the film. While showing the reasons as to why public, neighborhood schools are not sufficient for the characters, Guggenheim (2010) focuses on teachers. Public school teachers discussed in the film are inefficient since they do the bare minimum to teach their students. Teachers do not worry about engaging their students, inspiring them, or helping them to achieve high test scores. According to the film, this is the result of teachers’ high job security, as they are protected by both influential unions and tenures.

The film fits into the debate on teachers’ tenure by showing that it contributes to poor quality of education. It is implied that, when teachers are not afraid of losing their job, they will not put substantial effort into teaching. Instead, they will focus on meeting the basic standards in terms of students’ academic performance, not attempting to exceed them. This stagnates the professional development of teachers, as they are less likely to pursue growth opportunities and enhance their practice.

The film does not discuss the issues of teacher compensation or school safety. The latter is most likely because it was created before the recent school shootings that stirred the debates on gun use in schools. Still, the film examines some other issues in education policy, including standardized testing, support for students from low-income families, and the inefficiency of teaching practices. Using personal stories of students, the film draws attention to these problems and urges for action. This makes the film inspiring and educational to various stakeholders involved in education. Nevertheless, the film was subject to critique after its release, and there is a substantial foundation for concerns.

As explained in a review by Elizabeth Dutro (2011), released by the National Education Policy Center, the film lacks depth and comprehensiveness of analysis. It points to a one-sided view of the problems that exist in the American education system, focusing on public schools as villains and students as their victims (Dutro, 2011). What the film fails to recognize is that education policy issues are complex and involve a variety of stakeholders who should be taken into account.

For example, Waiting for Superman does not acknowledge the impact of teacher compensation on their motivation and professional development. Also, the film does not examine the complexity of reasons for students’ underachievement. Teachers are indeed responsible for the academic performance of their students; however, there are also other factors at play that impact this outcome, including school resources, funding, and teachers’ education and training (Dutro, 2011).

Another critical problem in the film is that it simplifies the issues faced by students. While poverty is among the core problems studied in the film, Waiting for Superman “lacks a deep analysis of poverty and of systemic inequities that reach well beyond schools” (Dutro, 2011, p. 4). For instance, the film ignores the evidence linking financial resources and educational performance, as well as the influence of the government on citizens’ socioeconomic status and welfare (Dutro, 2011). These gaps affect how the film can be utilized for education policy analysis.

On the whole, the film’s primary purpose was to encourage the discussion of problems in the American education system. Waiting for Superman achieves this goal using the narratives that show the problems faced by public school students in the United States. The film fits into the discussion of education policy issues by examining them from the perspective of regular students and their families. This allows highlighting the harmful effects of specific education policies, including teacher tenures. However, the exploration of the problems in the film lacks depth and is mostly one-sided.

The perspectives of educators are not addressed sufficiently, and the impact of the government on the lives of students and their families is not clarified. Hence, while the film fits into the discussion of education policy issues, it should not be used as a primary source. Instead, educators and scholars should support the information gathered from the film with reliable data from reputable sources. This would help them to create a comprehensive picture of the American education environment, study the problems in greater depth, and propose practical solutions.

Conclusion: Learning Outcomes and Key Takeaways

The assignment provided an excellent opportunity for exploring education policy in the United States and the key issues surrounding it. By examining each critical problem using publications from reputable sources, I have developed a deeper understanding of the problems faced by students and educators in America. Focusing on the issues of teacher compensation, tenure, and school safety, as well as watching the film Waiting for Superman, provided me with three key insights.

First of all, there is a need to improve the quality of education in the United States. As evident from the film, the public school system in America requires considerable changes to fulfill its purpose. Issues such as social inequality and poverty that are apparent in the United States are inherently connected to the quality of education students receive. Students from low-income families have fewer opportunities in terms of education. They go to free, public schools, where teachers often lack the motivation to develop students’ potential and improve their performance. As a result, students do not have access to high-quality higher education opportunities, which limits their career choice and affects their future success.

Students from high-income families, on the contrary, have more educational opportunities, which makes them more likely to succeed in later life. Hence, education acts as a link in the cycle of inequality that affects the socioeconomic conditions and welfare of American citizens. To address systemic inequality, it is crucial to provide high-quality education in all public schools. Improving teaching practices would lead to better academic outcomes throughout the student population. This, in turn, would help students from poor socioeconomic backgrounds to enroll in colleges and build a successful career.

Secondly, the research shows that education is a highly complex policy environment. For each of the policy issues considered in the paper, there were valid arguments from different sides of the problem. For example, increasing teacher compensation could improve retention and attract more people to the profession while harming schools’ resources and education funding. Similarly, teacher tenure is beneficial for teachers but may be associated with poor performance and academic outcomes.

The debate on school safety, which has become particularly prominent over the past few years, is also highly controversial. The Trump administration’s proposal to arm teachers could indeed protect students during school shootings; still, it would lead to ongoing safety concerns in the absence of a real threat.

The examples provided in the paper show that the complexity of education policy decisions is primarily due to a large number of stakeholders involved. This makes it crucial for policymakers to consider the positions of different stakeholders on the issue. Taking into account the views and perspectives of teachers, school district officials, students, and families may help to understand how the issue impacts each stakeholder group, as well as to examine their concerns about different policy options. This means that understanding different stakeholders and creating policies with them in mind can assist in developing balanced solutions to issues presented in the paper.

Finally, the third key takeaway from the assignment is that decision-making in education policy is impossible without reliable sources of information. As part of the research, I have reviewed a variety of publications on the chosen topics, but few of them were valuable and presented an objective view of the problem. Based on the results of this assignment, educational organizations offer great resources for studying policy issues.

Most of the publications by such organizations offer statistics and other objective information essential to studying a problem in great detail. Nevertheless, they only represent the viewpoints of educators and do not always translate the views and opinions of parents and students. This creates the need for additional sources of information that would help to create a well-rounded view of a particular issue.

Academic research and reports by independent research organizations can be used for this purpose, as they usually provide reliable, objective data. Hence, policymakers in education need to appraise the entire range of high-quality evidence available to gather various perspectives and make balanced decisions to improve education policy. Similarly, scholars who study education policy have to engage various reliable sources of information in their research to offer valuable insights and solutions.

References

Carruthers, C., Figlio, D., & Sass, T. (2018). Did tenure reform in Florida affect student test scores? Web.

Dutro, E. (2011). Review of ‘Waiting for Superman’. Web.

Guggenheim, D. (2010). Waiting for Superman. Web.

Guns and America. (2019). Are school shootings becoming more frequent? We ran the numbers. Web.

Litvinov, A., Álvarez, B., Long, C., & Walker, T. (2018). 10 challenges facing public education today. NEA Today. Web.

National Education Association. (2018). Teacher compensation: Fact vs. fiction. Web.