Teacher retention should become very real concern

If people of area counties want a respite from thinking about the partial federal government shutdown, they have the option of focusing on two growing trends in education — four-day weeks and bans on homework — that, who knows, might someday take hold here, for better or worse.

It’s safe to say even now that, whether or not they’re enacted statewide or in individual districts sometime in the future, they no doubt will have spawned much discussion, pro and con, by the time final decisions have been rendered about them. And, that is as it should be.

The important thing now is that Pennsylvania not bury its proverbial head in the sand regarding what’s happening elsewhere. There are reasonable arguments backing up the two changes for which some school systems across America already have gotten aboard.

The day seems destined to come when Pennsylvania education officials, as well as administrators and boards of education in many local school districts, will be evaluating the shifts in thinking to determine how they might work for Pennsylvania in general, its 500 individual school systems and, most importantly, its students.

Meanwhile, as the Wall Street Journal reported in its Dec. 29-30 edition, based on federal government data, teachers are leaving their jobs at record rates. In the first 10 months of 2018, public educators quit at an average rate of 83 per 10,000 a month.

The federal Department of Labor reported that the rate in question was the highest for public educators since such data began being collected in 2001.

Besides limits on homework and the issue of four-day weeks, Pennsylvania needs to keep a serious watch of what’s happening in the Keystone State on the teacher-retention front. The national exodus rate cannot be pooh-poohed as something that is guaranteed to be temporary.

But about four-day weeks:

According to a Journal report on Oct. 10, about 600 school districts in at least 22 states are using a four-day schedule this school year. The Journal said that’s up from about 120 districts in 17 states a decade ago.

Two motivations for the shorter weeks were reported to be saving money and attracting teachers, but they also are seen as providing a better quality of life for students and teachers — although some parents objected, due to extra child-care needs and costs.

Still, the shorter weeks are regarded as a morale builder.

Regarding homework, the Journal, in a Dec. 13 article, said that change implemented in some schools has been in response to parents’ complaints about overload, as well as some education experts’ belief that too much homework can be detrimental.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the average number of hours high school students spent a week on homework increased to 7.5 in 2016 from 6.8 in 2007.

The average hours for students in kindergarten through Grade 8 during those years remained unchanged at 4.7.

The Journal noted the opinion of a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, who found that homework has little impact on elementary students, but that junior high students showed higher achievement when doing homework up to 60 to 90 minutes a night and high school students, up to two hours.

For most people, devoting serious thought to such ideas and issues can be more productive in the long run than becoming overly consumed by Washington’s stubborn, temporary inability to do its job.


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