Crisis in Teaching Quality May Explain Stagnant Learning Recovery, Report Finds
Receive stories like these directly in your email inbox by signing up for Newsletter.
Updated as of July 28th.
New research indicates that, more than three years after the start of the pandemic, a crisis in teaching quality may be hindering academic recovery. The report, released last week by the Center on Reinventing Public Education at Arizona State University in collaboration with the RAND Corporation, reveals that many educators are resorting to "outdated and ineffective" methods and teaching content that falls below grade level due to exhaustion, staffing shortages, and frequent student disruptions.
The report is based on interviews conducted with 30 education leaders, primarily superintendents and chief academic officers, from five traditional districts and charter school systems.
According to the findings, teachers have been forced to cover additional classes due to staff shortages, resulting in the loss of preparation periods and opportunities for collaboration with colleagues. Many have gone for years without receiving feedback from their principals through classroom observations and are dealing with higher rates of challenging student behavior. These challenges, coupled with a competitive job market that relies heavily on early-career educators who may not have the experience to handle them, are contributing to the crisis.
Consequently, educators have resorted to older and more basic teaching strategies. For example, students have been asked to work in groups without receiving direct instruction from the teacher, unnecessary reliance on screens or technology, and frequent disengagement.
Lydia Rainey, one of the co-authors of the American School District Panel reports that investigated how school leaders were responding to the pandemic, explained that just as there has been a noticeable decline in student learning, leaders also observed a decline in teaching quality.
While teaching quality is not solely responsible for the lack of academic progress, the report highlights that high-dosage tutoring and technology supports, integral parts of recovery plans designed to address academic gaps, have been challenging to implement.
Furthermore, the report suggests that teachers’ classroom choices may have been influenced by political disputes over curricula. Rainey stated that when individuals are stressed, experiencing mental health issues, or have not fully grasped the requirements of educational policies, they tend to resort to familiar teaching methods based on their own prior schooling experience.
Both researchers and the education leaders interviewed were shocked by the extent to which the quality of instruction had suffered in the aftermath of the pandemic. This was an unexpected consequence that was not anticipated when drafting recovery plans.
Leaders described the current teacher practice as being in "survival mode." One urban charter system leader on the East coast remarked that it is difficult to identify a model classroom at this point.
Efforts to improve instructional quality have been hindered by staffing and mental health crises that have placed significant strain on teachers. Leaders recognized that teachers were already "exhausted" and were hesitant to ask them to take on additional responsibilities.
Accelerated learning has become an almost insurmountable challenge due to multiple factors. Ambitious school district recovery plans have not been realized, with difficulties encountered in implementing tutoring programs, ineffectiveness of retention bonuses, and technological tools not working as expected.
Despite these challenges, teachers have been tasked with bringing pandemic-affected students back on track without the planned support of key interventions, such as high-dosage tutoring.
To address these issues, the report recommends making federal Title I funding more flexible to enable schools to address both student learning loss and teaching loss. Additionally, states are encouraged to subsidize and evaluate high-quality tutoring options. Principals should continue to directly inquire about the support teachers need and provide regular feedback based on classroom observations.
By implementing these recommendations, it is hoped that schools can overcome the crisis in teaching quality and facilitate academic recovery for students.
New Challenges Faced by Schools: Teacher Shortages, Repetitive Meals, Delayed Buses, and Class Cancellations
Furthermore, they proposed that leaders make use of valuable resources already present in the community, such as involving parents in tutoring, as demonstrated by Oakland Reach. Additionally, they suggested exploring innovative approaches to support students who may graduate with significant gaps in their knowledge, such as considering gap year programs.
Although the findings may not apply to all public schools in the United States, they provide some insight into the national trends in academic performance. The systems mentioned in the report cater to student populations ranging from 6,000 to 40,000, with a predominantly diverse student body comprising students of color and a significant proportion of low-income students.
Rainey remarked, "These five systems are demonstrating that they cannot overcome these challenges alone. This is truly a moment that requires the collective effort of everyone involved."
Receive stories like these directly in your inbox by signing up for Newsletter.