America's Failing Public Education System--Problems
Send your children to a public school to ensure they will be ill-prepared for life, as America's education system is failing us, as it appears to be doing so by design.
America's Failing Public Education System--Problems
The public education system in America is failing. Dropout rates and test scores are just two ways that progress is measured. The factors contributing to the failing education system are so vast that it is impossible for any one factor to be the most detrimental. Similar to the synergy effect that makes 1 + 1 = 3, these factors have a negative synergistic effect, i.e. (-1) + (-1) = (-3). But in reality, this effect looks more like this, (-1) + (-1) + (-1) + (-1) + (-1) = (-10). Finding the problems is easy, but defining how much each factor contributes to the system’s failure is not possible. There are so many thin lines and gray areas, and to make matters worse, no one is willing to step up and take responsibility; they just blame everyone else. So who is to blame? Us.
Every parent, every student, every teacher, and every citizen who is aware that there is a problem and does nothing about it is responsible for the perpetuation of the rapidly declining education system. How can anyone expect the people who caused the problems to begin with to care about the consequences of their actions? The problems have been created through teachers unions and the government. These two forces are inter-locking because the teachers unions act as a lobby for their own self-interest and causes politicians to bend to their requests and demands. From the results of these exchanges, legislation is often passed that affects funding, curriculum requirements, and protection of un-effective teachers.
Every other problem that exists stems from those mentioned above. Dropout rates, low test scores, and un-motivated students; all leading to an under-qualified future work-force. These are the problems being faced right now. They are not new problems, because the education system has been declining for years. So what is so special about right now? Why are these problems becoming so prevalent today as opposed to several years ago? There is a simple answer. The world is evolving into a global marketplace.
Competition for jobs is increasing as people with a quality education are moving to the United States for work. Of the 120,000,000 jobs that will require a higher education, only 50,000,000 Americans will be qualified, which will force those companies to find job candidates in other countries, according to Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010). This statistic shows who is really “taking our jobs”, as opposed to the malcontent toward Mexican immigrants who are thought to be “taking our jobs.” Those who may blame the loss of jobs on Mexican immigrants are those who have lost those particular jobs. They do not see the higher level jobs and who has them because they are not affected by them directly. In reality, these high quality jobs are being given to international students and graduates because there are not enough qualified Americans. These companies are sending representatives around the world to recruit qualified individuals.
There are some statistics that may seem surprising regarding the proficiency of math and reading among 8th graders, as brought to our attention by Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010). For math, Alabama boasts a womping 18%, Mississippi 14%, New Jersey 40%, Connecticut 35%, New York 30%, Arizona 26%, and California 24%. When it comes to reading, most scored between 20% and 35%, with the worst score of 12% found in Washington, D.C. These statistics cannot be ignored.
Another key problem that demonstrates the failing education system is something called a “dropout factory.” This term was used in Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010) to describe over 2,000 high schools that receive children from poorly performing elementary and middle schools. A specific school mentioned in Los Angeles was Locke High School, that goes from about 1,200 students freshman year down to about 300 to 400 students sophomore year. Why is the dropout rate so high? These children are pushed through a failing system without having the tools they need to be successful in high school. This takes a toll on the neighborhood and surrounding community. This is where it is evident that poor communities are not responsible for poorly performing schools, but quite the opposite. It is the poorly performing schools that result in a poor neighborhood.
One of the serious problems that results from a high dropout rate in any neighborhood is the proclivity to become involved in criminal behavior. This lands several young men and women in prison, with a high rate of return to crime when they are released. The amount of money it takes to house an inmate for four years in Pennsylvania is approximately $132, 000, in contrast to thirteen years of private school, which would cost about $107, 900, as explained in Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010). Knowing that the lack of a proper education is a key factor in the potential to commit a crime, just think about those numbers and do the math. This is a prime example of why the education system continues to fail despite obvious solutions staring everyone in the face.
If you think it’s time to do something about all these problems, you are right, however, there are still a few more problems that need to be revealed. There are federal laws in place, but each state also has its own unique laws. These laws range from curriculum requirements to maximum allowed calories for a school lunch. These variances from state to state have caused such disunity among students in several areas, from academic achievement to scholarship and grant opportunities. As explained in Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010), a student can fail a proficiency test in one state and drive across the border into another state and pass a similar test. This is a result of “conflicting regulations and mixed agendas” between the federal government, state government, and school boards according to Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010). It is such a tangled web that so many children get caught up in, and it is no fault of their own. We depend on our elected officials to do what is right, and we hold our teachers to a high standard to teach our children. School boards are generally comprised of residents of the town in which the school is located.
Farther down the line, the disparity between federal and state governments prevent poor performing schools from getting the resources they need to even begin to make a turnaround. If a school is performing poorly, they will receive less money than a highly performing school, which will only result in the poorly performing school getting worse, and in recent history, many schools end up shutting down completely. Taking money away from poorly performing schools is only widening the gap. Why does this happen? Is this system designed to fail on purpose? I won’t comment on this, but I will leave the facts at your disposal. Draw your own conclusions and do something.
Not quite last and certainly not least, and probably more significant than the rest of the problems, are the teachers unions. Teachers unions exist to protect teachers, and representatives of teachers unions are required by law to serve their best interests at all times. There are many more problems that stem from teachers unions, and many teachers will most likely disagree with me on this. But it is imperative that the purpose of teachers unions are understood. They are in place to protect the interests of the teachers, not the students. It is not their fault that they believe they are helping students. It is what they have been conditioned to believe.
Teachers have something called “tenure,” which guarantees a teacher’s job until retirement. This is a major problem because this allows teachers to potentially “slack off” or put less effort into their teaching because they know they can’t be fired. This obviously results in many students not receiving a proper education. Another problem is the fact that there is a salary cap. Poor performing teachers cannot be penalized and high performing teachers cannot be rewarded. This keeps teachers of all levels on a level playing field. Basically, there is no incentive for going above and beyond the call of duty, nor is there a penalty for being lazy. Are teachers unions really helping students? Let me tell you about the “dance of the lemons,” a phrase used in Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010). The dance of the lemons is when principals from various schools take their worst teachers and send them to different schools in exchange for bad teachers from other schools. Lemons refer to the bad teachers, in case you missed it. Over $100 million dollars a year is spent on tenured teachers in New York who wait out their days in the reassignment center, which is for teachers waiting on hearings due to various allegations as revealed in Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010).
The problem with teachers unions does not stop here. Something important to note here is that teachers unions are strong supporters of both the Democratic and Republican parties. This keeps many politicians at the mercy of the teachers unions. A prime example of what I mean by this is what happened in Washington, D.C. In the most recent mayor race, former mayor Adrian Fenty was pitted against current mayor Vincent Gray. Adrian Fenty is who appointed Michelle Rhee as chancellor of D.C. schools. Despite the controversies that arose because of all the things that Michelle Rhee was doing, the teachers unions helped Vincent Gray’s campaign significantly. While the Washington Teacher’s Union did not fund his campaign directly, they did fund a separate, private campaign that heavily endorsed its praise of Gray and its dissatisfaction with Fenty. Fenty lost, and Michelle Rhee resigned. I’m not going to connect the dots for you, but this is something you need to think about.
Finally, the culmination of all these problems does not address one particular fundamental root cause of why students are not learning what they should. This fundamental root I am talking about is the curriculum that is taught in schools. What is taught versus what should be taught is a question I have been wrestling with for quite a while. Curriculum includes what is taught and also the method in which it is being taught. Lesson plans, class activities, and teaching methodology are all part of this. The success of the curriculum is a direct result from the effort each teacher puts into it. According to Waiting for Superman (Guggenheim, 2010), poor teachers get through only about 50% of the curriculum for the given school year, whereas a high performing teacher gets through about 150% of the curriculum in a given school year. So ultimately, the overall success of any given curriculum is the responsibility of the teacher. As far as the content of the curriculum, which are the subjects being taught, it could be improved upon. Reading is fundamental, yet so many children struggle with it and never become proficient enough to do well in high school or even higher education. The whole structure of how reading is taught needs to be re-evaluated and reformed. Then there is a variance in graduation requirements across the country. These differences create gaps between students who later attend the same college or university. Schools with rigorous standards will most likely produce the highest performing students in higher education, conversely, schools with more lenient standards will produce average performing students in higher education.
Remember, this pertains to public education. Advances that have been made in private school, charter schools, and magnet schools are astounding, but many have not made their way into the realm of public education. Maybe this is because of money, or maybe it is because those in power believe a quality education needs to come with a high price tag. There is no room for speculation, however it is strongly recommended to look at the facts. For a deeper understanding of the problems we face in our education system, watch the movie Waiting for Superman and read the book as well.