School Choice Empowers Teachers, Too

Ginny Gentles | May 13, 2024

(RealClearEducation) — A report released by Pew Research Center last month revealed that the vast majority of K-12 public school teachers feel that their jobs are frequently stressful and overwhelming. When asked if they would advise a young person embarking upon a career to become a teacher, 52% said no. Half of the teachers described the academic performance and discipline of the students in their schools as “fair or poor.”

The majority of teachers are struggling to educate students who were utterly failed by the K-12 system during the COVID era. Pew Research found that about 80% of teachers “say the lasting impact of the pandemic on students’ behavior, academic performance, and emotional well-being has been very or somewhat negative.” One-third of teachers report that the impact has been “very negative.”

Almost half of surveyed teachers identified chronic absenteeism—students missing more than 10% of school days—as a major problem at their school. The pervasiveness of teachers’ concerns is understandable with chronic absenteeism rates doubling since 2019 and hovering around 30% nationwide. High school teachers are especially concerned about students missing class, with 61% viewing chronic absenteeism as a major issue.

The more students miss school days, the further they fall behind, which causes them to become increasingly frustrated and restless during class. Chronically absent students are more likely to distract both teachers and other students on the days they are in school. As Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, points out, “Chronic absenteeism affects more than just the absent students. Teachers tasked with helping absent students catch up find it harder to stick with lesson plans, maintain consistent expectations, or fully engage students with more regular attendance.”

Too many public school teachers work in unsafe schools. Among the teachers surveyed by the Pew Research Center, 68% reported experiencing verbal abuse from a student, including being threatened, and 40% of teachers have dealt with a student being violent toward them. With 66% of teachers saying that their school’s discipline policies are “very or somewhat mild,” there is little hope for improvement as discipline issues disrupt classroom learning and endanger teachers and students. Even if teachers wanted to discipline their unruly students, their hands are tied by irresponsible discipline policies imposed by K-12 bureaucracies. More than two-thirds of surveyed teachers (67%) believe that school districts do not grant teachers enough influence over discipline practices at their schools.