Education

Briefly Stated: October 12, 2022

October 11, 2022 8 min read
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Many Parents Fear Politicians Are Using Students as Pawns

Back off. That’s the message parents as well as other Americans are sending, via a new poll, to politicians, who they see as using schoolchildren for political gain by banning books and restricting teachers’ abilities to discuss LGBTQ and racial issues in the classroom.

The Ipsos survey results—commissioned by the nonprofit ParentsTogether—touch on the growing political debates around what should be taught in schools.

“The survey makes clear … that most parents don’t really care too strongly about some of these very politicized issues and are much more focused on making sure children can succeed broadly speaking,” said Chris Jackson, the senior vice president of the research company.

Sixty-six percent of all the respondents and 73 percent of parents specifically “think that elected officials and political groups are the most responsible for the recent disagreements over what’s taught in public K-12 schools.” Only 30 percent of the respondents agreed that “state or local elected officials should have input into grade school curriculums,” with most citing teachers and parents as the preferred parties responsible for those decisions.

More than two-thirds of respondents overall and parents specifically believe the laws are “being driven by politicians to advance their careers.” Three-quarters said “politicians are using children in school as political pawns.”

The poll found that school safety, student mental health needs, and adequate school funding were respondents’ top priorities for schools—and areas where elected officials should focus their attention.

The survey complements results from an August National Parents Union poll of more than 1,000 parents, which found the majority think teachers and parents should have more influence on schools than states and the federal government.

Keri Rodrigues, the president of that organization, said laws banning certain conversations in schools are distractions from major concerns parents have.

“We need our elected officials to actually fulfill their fiduciary responsibility not just to fund but make sure that this funding is actually getting us to where we’re trying to get for kids,” Rodrigues said. “And they’re not doing that at all.”

The Headache Persists: Staffing Shortages Bedevil School Leaders in Candidate Quantity and Quality

Forget qualifications. Warm bodies are even hard to come by these days for principals trying to fill positions in their schools.

A federal survey released late last month shows more than 6 in 10 school leaders’ biggest challenge is finding enough candidates, much less fully qualified ones, to apply for teaching and nonteaching jobs alike.

While policymakers may focus on the dearth of overall applicants, experts say the variety of shortages means leaders need to undertake more targeted solutions.

For example, in the National Center for Education Statistics’ ongoing pandemic-related Pulse survey, at least three-quarters of schools with open positions in special education and math instruction reported they are finding it difficult to find candidates who are fully certified to teach in those areas.

Recruitment and retention challenges are different for the two areas, said Dan Goldhaber, a research director with the American Institutes of Research and the University of Washington. He found similar evidence of rising demand for special education and STEM teachers in a forthcoming study of school job postings in Washington state.

In special education, many people get special education training, but those teachers leave special education classrooms at higher rates than we see teachers leave other classrooms, Goldhaber said. “So the challenge is more associated with a teacher-attrition problem.” In contrast, the attrition of science and math teachers looks comparable to general teacher attrition, but fewer candidates are getting endorsed in those areas.

Similarly, the Washington state study, previewed at the Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness conference last month, found that even though elementary teaching shortages have gotten more attention from policymakers, high schools had more vacancies.

The outlook isn’t quite as dire as it was last year, however. In the NCES survey taken in late August, principals reported that hiring for English/language arts, math, and special education teachers turned out to be slightly less challenging this fall than they had expected, but finding social studies teachers was more difficult than predicted.

Supreme Court Will Decide Significant Special Education Case Involving Deaf Student

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case stemming from the denial of services to a deaf child that could prove significant for remedies being sought in lawsuits against school districts on behalf of children with disabilities.

The case of Perez v. Sturgis Public Schools (No. 21-887) encompasses two questions involving the tangle of legal procedures families and school officials confront in disputes over the two main federal laws protecting children with disabilities.

The first is whether the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires families who have settled their particular IDEA claims with a school district to “exhaust” all administrative proceedings under the that law before filing a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The second is whether a family must exhaust IDEA’s own administrative proceedings when it is pursuing a non-IDEA claim for money damages under the ADA or other federal disability laws.

The case centers around a deaf Michigan student who was denied a sign-language interpreter for 12 years while attending school in the Sturgis, Mich. district. Lawyers for the student told the court that a lower-court decision in favor of the school district “will inflict great harm on students with disabilities and their families,” by requiring them either to forfeit their rights under other disability laws if they accept an IDEA settlement, or undergo lengthy administrative proceedings even when the school district stands ready to remediate an IDEA violation.

The case involves Miguel Luna Perez, who is deaf and communicates through sign language. He attended Sturgis Public Schools from age 9 until 20. His legal papers say that the district assigned a classroom aide to him who did not know sign language and who would sometimes abandon Perez for hours a day. Perez’s parents contend the district led them to believe their son was proceeding toward high school graduation, but they were informed that he only qualified for a certificate of completion.

The court granted review in the case on Oct. 3, the first day of its 2022-23 term. Arguments in the case will likely be held early in 2023, with a decision expected by next June.

What’s a Big Factor in Stress Of Teachers? Principals

New school year. New faces. New ways of doing things. And that old anchor continuing to weigh down many teachers: stress.

A new international study that measured teacher stress and burnout across 20 countries finds that teachers are mostly on par with people in other professions in dealing with stress since the pandemic, contrary to some media reports. Still, teaching is stressful.

Bosses, for one, can be a contributing factor in teachers’ stress levels. The researchers, led by Andrea Westphal of the University of Greifswald in Germany, found that principals’ leadership and management approaches significantly affected educators’ ability to deal with changes and challenges in the classroom.

“There is some indication that when school principals contribute to a supportive school climate and avoid demanding practices, teachers experience less stress and burnout,” the researchers said.

Teachers whose leaders ramped up pressure and tried to control teachers’ behaviors more during the pandemic had significantly higher levels of “emotional exhaustion.”

The study found the most effective interventions combine stress- management support with training, such as in technology use.

Danna Thomas, the founder of Happy Teacher Revolution, which works with schools to improve teacher support, said while it’s important to incorporate direct supports for teacher well-being into day-to-day work, “principals need to be self-aware when it comes to communication with their staff about burnout and self-care.”

She often sees leaders mistakenly “sending staffwide emails saying, ‘Make sure you take care of yourself and read this article on self-care—oh, and here are all the things that are due by close of business.’”

“That kind of mixed messaging leads to even more animosity and angst, not only toward the leadership but also toward self-care and well-being itself,” Thomas said.

Loan-Forgiveness Deadline Looms for School Workers

Boo!

Halloween is baying at the door, and when it’s over, something scary will have happened. A waiver that makes it easier for public employees—including teachers—to apply for student-debt forgiveness expires, and advocates fear many eligible borrowers may be unaware they qualify.

It’s not just the employees who can profit. Being freed of a large debt could be a significant recruitment and retention tool for districts, said Tara Thomas, a policy analyst at AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

The waiver applies to the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which is designed to forgive qualifying debt for borrowers after 10 years of repayment if they were employed at public institutions and some nonprofit organizations.

In a separate action, President Joe Biden has promised to forgive up to $20,000 of eligible student-loan debt for all Americans with incomes under $125,000.

Some advocacy groups and district leaders have pressed the Biden administration to extend the waiver deadline.

“Staff members will show up to their schools on November 1 with the same passion, work ethic, and empathy they had on October 31, and their financial circumstances will be the same as well,” Chicago school district CEO Pedro Martinez wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to Biden.

Fewer than 2 percent of public-service workers in Illinois had their debt forgiven at the time of Martinez’s letter, he said, adding that many employees might not realize they are eligible.

Educational administrators can play a big role in ensuring their employees are aware that the waiver exists and tools are available to help them.

Chicago, for example, does weekly outreach to employees about the waiver, Martinez said in his letter. The AASA created a template that superintendents can use to inform their employees.

And since districts will be involved in signing off on applications as part of the verification process, administrators should ensure that it is speedy and accessible for employees, Thomas said.

Evie Blad, Staff Writer; Sarah D. Sparks, Assistant Editor; and Mark Walsh, Contributing Writer contributed to this article.
A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2022 edition of Education Week as Briefly Stated

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