April 26, 2023

Voices from the Classroom 2023: An opportunity to reflect 40 years after A Nation at Risk

The success of our students, our families, and our nation directly depend on our education system. Without teachers – teachers who are well-supported and well-resourced – this system can not work and students will not thrive. 

The tie between the success of our nation’s economy, security, and global standing and our education system came to the forefront with the 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk. The publication of the report – and its recommendations for the adoption of “rigorous and measurable standards,” assessments that measured learning toward them, and consistent content across schools and districts – kicked off the standards-based reform and accountability movement. This 40-year period produced exciting results for many students, but not all.

American education leaders and the broader public have come to recognize that K-12 education is a game played on an uneven field, something the authors of A Nation at Risk largely overlooked. 

The ability to look at the educational experiences across student subgroups and understand educational inequities is one of the best things that came about from the past 40 years of education reform efforts. With the help of data broken down by student subgroups—something not required until 20 years post-publication with the passage of No Child Left Behind—policy leaders have shifted education reform efforts from equality efforts to those rooted in equity and improved schooling. Yet, the COVID-19 pandemic led to the largest drop in academic achievement in decades, widening achievement gaps and, in some cases, wiping out much of the progress of the past 40 years.

By reflecting on the past, we have a prime opportunity to better understand what works to help ALL students succeed, but too often, teachers are left out of these conversations and the decision-making process. Compared to any other aspect of schooling, teachers have the greatest impact on students. A well-trained teacher is likely to send more students to college, and can boost a class’s lifetime income by $250,000. Despite the clear impact that teachers have on student learning, they are rarely looked to when it comes to developing education policies and initiatives. 

Educators are the key when it comes to creating policies that will support students – our future leaders, future workforce – and ensure they are well-positioned for success. They have a first-hand perspective of how students learn, the supports they need, and the many variables that impact student learning that also need attention. Voices from the Classroom 2023 could not have come at a more critical time. The insights presented through this survey reflect the opinions and beliefs of teachers across the country and can serve as a cornerstone for local, state, and federal policy changes. And with two-thirds of teachers stating that their schools are not meeting the needs of students, especially those who are struggling the most, the time for change and supporting what works is now. 

With more diverse students and recognizing their diverse academic, social and emotional needs, teachers have an expanding role and unsustainable workloads. In fact, 87% of teachers report that the role of the classroom teacher today has too many responsibilities, making it difficult to be effective. But, we see from the survey results that there is no “silver bullet,” “quick fix” when it comes to supporting teachers. Teachers are significantly lacking the resources and support they need in order to help their students thrive. From assessments to culturally relevant materials to adequate salaries, our education reforms need to address the system as a whole. 

When we better understand teachers’ strengths and needs, we can create policies that directly address these challenges and truly benefit teachers and students. In this survey, teachers are laying the path forward.  At this point in time, there are several key priorities that we’ve outlined that will better support teachers and, thereby, help students learn:

Funding research and innovating to identify and scale what worksIncreasing and differentiating teacher compensation.

 Our 2023 Voices from the Classroom survey results show us that teachers are struggling. We hope you’ll join us in our efforts to ensure that future education policies support teachers and directly address the challenges that they have laid out in this survey. At E4E, we will use these survey results to update our own national policy agenda and align our efforts to teachers’ current needs.

Today, only 14% of teachers would recommend the profession to others. American education cannot be the great equalizer it is promised to be if the backbone of the system, its teachers, are so unhappy that they would not encourage their children—or anyone at all—to follow in their footsteps. If we do not work urgently to improve the conditions of the profession, in 30 years, there may be no one left to educate our nation’s children.

When we take a step back to look at the impact of 40 years of education reforms, we should celebrate how education has been positioned as a cornerstone of our society and wellbeing. However, our policies, investments, and resources do not reflect this position, and specific student groups continue to battle against historic opportunity gaps. If we truly hope to no longer be a “nation at risk”, we need a more sustainable, more effective, and more equitable K-12 public education system, and that starts with understanding what teachers want and need to help students succeed. 

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Voices from the Classroom 2023: An opportunity to reflect 40 years after A Nation at Risk