Problems in American Education

The American system of education has often been criticized in many circles. By objective measures, such as standardized test scores, the United States lags behind other industrialized nations in scores on subjects such as math and science. The most recent comparisons have the United States ranked sixteenth in a field of the thirty wealthiest nations in science. (Glod, A07) They ranked twenty-third in the same field with respect to math scores. (Glod, A07) The regions with which these students were compared were, for the most part in Western Europe and East Asia.

(Glod, A07) The popular American culture makes light of how uneducated the general population is. Shows like the Late Show with Jay Leno take to the streets and ask people relatively simple questions, which they cannot answer. Game shows such as “Are you Smarter than A Fifth Grader” make light of adult ignorance, and news organizations emphasize the problems in America’s schools. A close examination of the motives, methods and goals of public education in the United States along with a review of public attitudes toward learning shed light upon some of the reasons for the substandard reputation of America’s schools.

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It can be argued that in terms of economic benefits, our schools are adequately successful, but in terms of a social and cultural tool, American schools fall well short of their foreign counterparts, as well as their own stated goals. (Rebell, 37)The reasons for this are lack of proper funding, the treatment of teachers, and the localized control of schools attempting to achieve unrealistic Federal mandates. Schools in America across the board are under-funded. Many studies have demonstrated that the quality of education is greatly enhanced by low teacher-to-student ratios.
The National Education Agency recommends a ratio of no more than 15 students per teacher in Elementary schools. (Roza, Miller & Hill) Across the nation, the average class size for elementary school is 22-25 students per teacher. (Roza, Miller & Hill) Given numerous studies that prove that the smaller ratio yields real, tangible improvements in math and science scores, it is clear that more qualified teachers and more facilities wherein they might teach are needed. (Roza, Miller & Hill) These assets, however, cost money.
(Roza, Miller & Hill) The states and localities are expected to find money for schools, and the method of choice for funding schools has been the property tax. (Roza, Miller & Hill) Coupled with the fact that schools generally serve the neighborhoods in which they are located, and the endemic problem becomes clear: Schools from poorer neighborhoods will have less money because property values are lower. (Roza, Miller & Hill) Both the States and the Federal government have attempted, with limited success to solve these inadequacies.
(Roza, Miller & Hill) The federal government, through the Title I program, has allocated $18 billion to “fill the economic holes” in funding for impoverished districts, but these programs have failed, as the money is often either diverted, or never moved owing to loopholes in the existing laws. (Roza, Miller & Hill) Federal studies have shown that school districts generally favor financially those schools who have the fewest challenges, and that Title I money is frequently funneled to schools with little or no financial need.
(Roza, Miller & Hill) Teacher pay is another area in which the lack of funds has hurt educational outcomes in America. Thirty-six states have a funding gap, with a nationwide dispar¬ity between high-poverty and low-poverty districts of $1,348 per student. Funding gaps and the lack of progress in eliminating them continue to contribute to the overall lack of relative success in America’s public Schools. (Carey, K. ) In twenty-five of a forty-nine state study, the highest-poverty school districts get fewer re¬sources than the lowest-poverty districts. (Carey, K. ) Even more states have a gap for high-minority districts, thirty-one in all.
Those thirty-one states educate six out of every ten poor and minority children in America. The shortfalls, some exceeding $1,000 or even $2,000 per student, are greatly at odds with national goals for closing the achieve¬ment gap. (Carey, K. ) They fly in the face of any reasonable, rational notion of how to support our public schools. (Carey, K. ) Until state policymakers get serious about fixing these problems, they can¬not in good conscience pretend to have fulfilled their basic obligations to those students who are most in need of a high-quality public education. (Carey, K.
) Moreover, these numbers ac¬tually understate the true extent of the problem because they don’t reflect the added cost of educating children in poverty. (Carey, K. ) School funding experts gener¬ally agree that high-poverty schools need more resources to meet the same standards. (Carey, K. ) School funding comparisons that reflect this fact have been a mainstay of academic research and various technical analyses of school finance for a number of years. (Carey, K. ) Recent examples of such analyses include publi¬cations from both the U. S. Department of Education and the U. S. Government Ac¬countability Office.
(Carey, K. ) The average teacher salary in the United States is between $39 and $43 thousand dollars a year, depending on location. (Average Salaries)It typically takes a four-year degree and additional study of content to qualify to be a teacher. (Porter, C) In contrast, other professionals with four-year degrees earn over twice that amount, particularly if their area of study is math or science –related. (Cowan, K. ) It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that qualified math and science teachers are in high demand. The money necessary to lure these types of people into education simply does not exist in the current budgets.
Critics of this analysis argue that substantial raises in teacher pay would be “throwing money” at the problem, and over-compensating a population of underperforming teachers. (Porter, C) This argument is precious. The current population of teachers do not represent the best available, largely because of low salary; as better quality educators become available, the job market will become competitive, and with a very short time, the overall quality of those teachers would rise to the level appropriate to the pay. Related to the low salaries of the teachers are the cultural attitudes that America has toward schools, teachers and education.
It is these attitudes that contribute to the problems that Educators in this country face when trying to compete with other nations. (Porter, C) Americans have long been used to the notion that a “free and appropriate” education for their children was a fundamental right. (Porter, C) As a result, many schools have devolved into nothing more than quasi-educational daycares for all American children. (Porter, C) The fact that American parents express more satisfaction with the schools than do their European and Asian counterparts illustrates the US cultural complacency with respect to education.
(Porter, C) Students in these foreign schools work harder for a number of reasons. First, they are under more parental scrutiny, second, their cultures do not denigrate learning and academic achievement, and third, admission to favorable careers and higher education is based on close assessment of learning achievement in high school. (Bishop, J. ) In contrast, students in US schools do not recognize the benefits of education for a number of reasons. (Bishop, J. ) First, the U. S. labor market does not reward high school achievement. (Bishop, J.
) Statistics indicate that for the first eight years after high school, achievement does not correlate to increase in wages for the high school educated. (Bishop, J. ) Most employers do not look deeply at grades of high school graduates, and many schools do not send transcripts to prospective employers, even when requested to do so. (Bishop, J. ) Another key contributing factor to the lower expectations of benefit for American students in high school is the fact that college admissions are not based on high school performance as much as on aptitude tests. (Bishop, J.
) The result is that neither students nor parents are motivated to push for higher academic standards, since they would jeopardize GPA, SAT scores and class rank, the three key statistics examined for university admission (Bishop, J. ). The fact that parents and students to not regard the field of education as important in its own right is caused by several factors. The first is the sense of entitlement that parents have about education. (Bishop, J. ) They feel that students have a “right” not to learn, but to get a Diploma, go to college, and achieve the financial success associated with college education.
(Porter, C. ) Parents and students across the board assume that this is an entitlement, rather than something to be earned through effort and ability. (Porter, C. ) The basic notion is that education is something “done to” a child, rather than something the child “does”. (Porter, C. ) This attitude, shared by parents, students and even some administrators dovetails into the lack of respect for educators that is reflected by poor pay. In no other profession, are professionals questioned, criticized and scrutinized by their clients than in education. (Porter, C.
) Despite teachers having obtained a four-year degree, additional training for teaching, and how ever many years of experience they might have, their clients (parents) are still convinced that they know more than the professionals as to how their student might learn. (Porter, C. ) The notion that “those who can’t do, teach” and the underlying notion that teachers have that job because they cannot do anything else contributes to this lack of professional respect. (Porter, C. ) Low salary validates this viewpoint. The underlying assumption is that if a teacher were competent, they would be doing something else that yields better pay.
Often, this attitude is displayed by school administrators, who often treat teachers as fungible units of work, with little or no consideration for their abilities, expertise, experience or suggestions. (Porter, C. ) The fact that administrators are often acting according to governmental or budgetary guidelines does not detract from the perception created by their conduct. (Porter, C. ) In European cultures, as well as many Asian ones, the opposite assumption is held. Parents expect very high output from not only teachers, but students as well. (Bishop, J.
) The question is not “can you teach my child,” but rather, “can my child learn from you what he or she needs”. (Bishop, J. ) While salaries for European or Asian teachers may not be as high comparatively, the level of respect afforded to the profession is much higher. (Bishop, J. ) This begins with students believing and understanding that education is their responsibility, not that of their teachers. (Bishop, J. ) This causes the students to put in maximum effort to learn, which in turn solves a vast majority of the problems experienced in the American system. (Bishop, J.
) A teacher who is unable to perform in an environment of students who are highly motivated to learn is not competent, and would need to be retrained or replaced. (Bishop, J. ) The recognition of the real value of education by the public makes the raising of funds to pay for quality teachers and facilities much easier as well. Since all of the community and the government recognize the economic need for quality education, it is given budgetary priority. (Bishop, J. ) Despite these deficiencies, the political will to spend the money needed to improve schools is not present.
When a study is done which ranks US education as below international standards, there is often an outcry, and much talk about improvement, but very little actually happens. The Federal government has issued edicts such as “No Child Left Behind” which articulates goals without a roadmap or funding to achieve them. (Neill, M. ) This mandate has contributed significantly to the inability of schools to meet their educational goals. It is taken as a given, even by proponents of the “No Child Left Behind” program that it is under funded, but that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of this issue.
(Neill, M. ) The federal government has, in this law, issued what is known as an “unfunded mandate” by insisting the States meet certain standards without providing the means to do so(Neill, M. ). This is merely one of numerous problems with the “No Child Left Behind” concept. (Neill, M. ) Modeling the concept after an initiative in Houston, the “No Child Left Behind” program has been unable to reproduce that success in other places. (Neill, M. ) Studies of the Houston plan show that the success illustrated there was never really present to begin with (Neill, M. ).
Results were manipulated by excluding non-performing students from counts, and even with that provision, the race-gap was not addressed in Houston. (Neill, M. ) By dividing student groups up by race and other demographics, studies have also shown that the more diverse the culture of a school district, the less likely they are to meet the “No Child Left Behind” standards of achievement. (Neill, M. ) In fact, some studies have shown that given current demographic shifts, virtually all schools will eventually fall short of the improvement standards set by the initiative. (Neill, M.
) Since the sole measure in the “No Child Left Behind” initiative is standardized tests, the entire focus of education has become test preparation. (Neill, M. ) This narrows curriculum, and puts undue pressure on students, teachers and administrators. (Neill, M. ) It also forces curriculum away from higher level thinking skills which are far more useful assets for future academic, financial and social success. (Neill, M. ) “No Child Left Behind” demands that English-language-impaired and special-needs students meet proficiency standards without any means of making this happen.
(Neill, M. ) The theory is that the mere institution of the requirement, coupled with the threat of punishment for failure, will force the schools to improve in this area. (Neill, M. ) By privatizing tutoring and support funding, “No Child Left Behind” not only takes money away from public schools, but also promotes the perception that failures of student performance are based on incompetent or lazy teaching, rather than anything associated with student efforts, or any other factor. (Neill, M.
) “No Child Left Behind” labels certain schools as failures, which causes the quality teachers within such schools to transfer out, and creates a difficult climate for the schools to recruit quality teachers. (Neill, M. ) The initiative in no way addresses socio-economic causes of academic struggles, making no effort to feed, clothe or house underachieving students in order to make them able to focus on academics. (Neill, M. ) Finally, the remedies offered by “No Child Left Behind” have failed to “fix” schools which prove to be “in need of improvement” according to their own standards.
(Neill, M. ) In fact, the initiative actively prevents measures which have proven to offer improvement for schools with poor performance records. (Neill, M. ) Portfolio assessment, teacher training, proactive parent involvement, and other proven methods of improvement are shoved aside in favor of artificial standards based on tests that fail to address the actual goals of education, and whose contents are ridiculously unrepresentative of competent content. (Neill, M. )
Lack of proper funding, the treatment of teachers, and the localized control of schools attempting to achieve unrealistic Federal mandates have caused United States Schools to under perform in comparison to their European and Asian counterparts. The culture of contempt for education professionals and disengaged parents have created a system which is deeply flawed. Resolution of these problems would involve wholesale restructuring, massive rebuilding and huge amounts of money.
Given the continued economic strength of the United States despite perennial failures in education, it is likely that the government will allow the “top ten percent” to gain benefits from public education, while everyone else, including parents, teachers, administrators and most students are left mired in a tangle of misguided regulation, spurious funding, unrealistic expectations and public contempt for their efforts. Bibliography “Average Salaries of Public School Teachers” The National Education Agency Website 2004-5 The National Education Agency 2002. http://www. nea. org/edstats/RankFull06b.
htm Bishop, J. “Incentives for Learning: Why American High School Students Compare so Poorly to Their Counterparts Overseas” Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (CAHRS) CAHRS Working Paper Series 1989. Accessed November 14, 2008. http://digitalcommons. ilr. cornell. edu/cgi/viewcontent. cgi? article=1399&context=cahrswp Carey, C. “The Funding Gap 2004: Many States Still Shortchange Low-Income and Minority Students” The Education Trust Website 2004. The Education Trust. 2007. http://www2. edtrust. org/NR/rdonlyres/30B3C1B3-3DA6-4809-AFB9-2DAACF11CF88/0/funding2004. pdf Cowan, K.
“List of Best Degrees by Salary” PayScale Website 2008 PayScale, Inc. 2000. http://blogs. payscale. com/salary_report_kris_cowan/2008/07/list-of-best-co. html Glod, M. “U. S. Teens Trail Peers Around World on Math-Science Test” The Washington Post Wednesday, December 5, 2007; Page A07 http://www. washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/04/AR2007120400730. html Neill, M. “No Child Left Behind”… After Two Years: A Track Record Of Failure” Time Out from Testing Website. 2008 Performance Assessment 2001 http://www. timeoutfromtesting. org/pr/PR_Neil_NoChildLeftBehind.
pdf Porter, C. Interview (personal) 12 November, 2008. Rebell, M. “Professional Rigor, Public Engagement and Judicial Review: A Proposal for Enhancing the Validity of Education Adequacy Studies. ” Teacher College Record Volume 109, Number 6, 2007 Pg. 1-73. http://www. schoolfunding. info/resource_center/research/professional_rigor. pdf Roza, M, Miller L. & Hill, P. “Strengthening Title 1 to Help High-Poverty Schools” The University of Washington website 2005 The university of Washington,2008 http://uwnews. org/relatedcontent/2005/August/rc_parentID11695_thisID11712. pdf

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