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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Across Four Decades

This September marked the fortieth “opening day” of my career as an educator. (Sadly, I remember when I once considered anyone forty to be old) Much had transpired in public education through those four decades, with far too many changes to count.

However, there are several fairly dramatic changes that have impacted education across those years. Of course, there are the obvious factors, such as federal interventions in the form of special education, title IX, and extending to programs and concomitant regulations like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. We attempt to make the list short by using acronyms (NCLB, RTTT, SPED, AIS, ESL,…) that depict programs with long term implications.

Those broad, sweeping federal mandates/initiatives are common to public school districts throughout the country. Lesser known, because they lack the power of headlines and the effect of simultaneously inflicting pressure on all schools at once, are the varied sources of unwelcome concern that have leaked into school buildings over the years like toxins that neither emit sound or detectable odors and challenge the capacity of schools, heretofore oriented primarily on the 3R’s, to respond.

Among these vexing issues that had previously not inserted themselves into public education on such a scale or depth are: more prominent mental health related issues (growing rates of stress and anxiety, suicide, acts of violence); the tumultuous dynamic of families (increased divorce rate, blended families, grandparent led units, homeless…);  technology aided social platforms (cyber bullying, sexting,…); technology assisted intrusions (hacking school financial accounts or data);  In regards to the last two categories, I certainly do not mean to infer that technology has spawned malice and mischief. There is no question that technology has provided a significant and lasting constructive force in teaching and learning, but it has been accompanied by opportunities of exerting negative influence as well by those with devious intent.

Public schools are contending with non-instructional issues at a level unprecedented in my forty years in education. Most public schools serve both breakfast and lunch. All public schools must accommodate the needs of the homeless through compliance with the federal McKinney-Vento legislation. As much as the school offers a vital safety-net for those traumatized and displaced from their home, the accommodations are unexpected financial burdens on already stressed budgets. Social workers and school psychologists are employed in much higher numbers than they were decades ago. Programs providing valuable and needed services to children suffering varied mental health illnesses have multiplied at a much faster pace than instructional programs. The different issues that plague learners is often a strong distraction that can interfere with instructional achievement. It all adds up to a significant challenge that leaves those obstacles I faced years ago as a pale and distant memory.

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