The most challenging issue in education today is having to do more with less. I don't know if that is a new issue; I rather think it isn't. We go into this profession because we feel called to bring knowledge to the next generation. Most of us go into this career to make a difference. Few become teachers assuming we'll make a lot of money. In spite of low salaries and long hours, most of us welcome the ups and downs of the school year. However, we public school teachers are facing extreme pressure to push our students harder in order to match the scores set by students in other nations while at the same time getting less support from the public.
School districts all over the US are tightening their monetary belts, and that increases the challenge in education. I know people who think that education gets enough financial help, and if only they (read: schools, school boards, departments of education) would manage their money better everything would be okay. That is likely true. However, that thinking does not help the teacher in the trenches with an over-large class of students who are reading below grade level. The resources that might have been there in the past to help have dwindled to trickling. The school that used to pay for after-school tutoring can no longer afford to, yet the teacher is still expected to offer tutoring. The teacher used to get a decent supply budget, but now she is finding that she spends almost $1000 a year for basic classroom supplies out of her own pocket. True, she wouldn't have to do that, but then there would be kids in her classes who didn't have paper or pencils or resource books or a healthy snack when they needed it.
Pressure to excel adds to the challenge in education with test scores becoming the litmus test of teacher ability. High standards in education are absolutely a good thing; however, when a teacher's job is on the line because of how well his students do on some standardized test that they do not have any personal stake in, that's not a good thing. Too often the students do not care about how well they do on those tests because they are not held accountable for their scores. The teacher is, however. Because of this, teachers find themselves spending more and more time prepping their kids for that high-stakes test. Especially in smaller districts where the poverty level is high (and that is often judged by the free and reduced lunch percentage), teachers are expected to reach almost impossible standards with students who are more worried about whether they have enough to eat than whether they master the content.
With less support, we face more challenges. These challenges are not going away any time soon, so those of us in education must gird ourselves for the battles we are bound to face. Luckily, we teachers are good at doing more with less. Whether we should have to be good at that is an issue for another day.