Why the K-12 Blame Game Benefits No One

By Matthew Lynch

With skyrocketing costs, budget crises, inconsistent curricula, poor standardized testing scores, and poor morale among teachers, administrators, and students, the need for sustainable and pervasive educational change is greater now than ever before. The number of questions related to the quality of the U.S. educational system from multiple sectors of society is at an all-time high.

Many American parents have seen reports that American schools rank well below schools in countries such as China and Japan, or have heard President Obama declare a “dropout crisis.” An abundance of news reports and discouraging case studies has created panic among education stakeholders, who want to know why American school systems are failing. However, many insist on playing the “blame game,” which in most cases is counterproductive.

Many Americans believe that only a small percentage of leaders understand the complexities of the school system, and that individuals who do understand the intricacies of the system use their knowledge to justify the mediocre performance of our teachers and students. It’s not hard to see why this is the typical opinion. Consider these points:

  • The American school system is the best-financed system in the world, but is one of the lowest performing.
  • The American school system as a whole has an appalling performance record. For children living in urban environments, the story is even more alarming. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are often educated in dilapidated schools where the too many educators lack the credentials and skills necessary to perform their duties adequately.
  • High student-to-teacher ratios are found in most urban schools, and these schools often lack the resources to deal with the diverse challenges they face, including unruly student behavior. Education has been called the great equalizer, but for students living in poverty-stricken urban areas it is little more than a babysitting service and a place to get a hot meal.

Many people question whether the No Child Left Behind Act has contributed to achieving academic success. Although NCLB was well intentioned, it has not lived up to the hopes of government or schools. In the eyes of some, NCLB has actually contributed to subpar academics becoming even worse.  If American educators and school personnel do not make a concerted effort to develop effective measures to hold schools accountable for the education of all of our children, then the education crisis will continue.

There is an exception to every rule: some urban school systems are providing a quality education. Unfortunately, however, only a small number of school systems meet the state and federal government student performance requirements. For underperforming urban school systems, the problem usually lies with the inability to sustain existing reform efforts and initiatives. Mayors and school superintendents in these areas often concoct grandiose reform plans that are merely political devices meant to beguile voters into believing they genuinely care about educational reform. The idea that politicians create school reform to gain popularity and votes is sad and sobering. It is discouraging to realize that our children’s futures might be used as a political device to win elections.

Politicians are not the only people at fault for the shoddy education American children are receiving, but no one will take responsibility for subpar educational environments. If administrators were asked who was at fault, they might point to a lack of parental involvement and too few quality teachers. If teachers were asked who was at fault they might also cite a lack of parental involvement and ineffective administration. If parents were asked who was at fault they might blame teachers and school administrators. Society in general seems to conclude that the lack of quality teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors contributing to educational failure.

Whatever the reason, Americans have become the laughing stock of the free world when it comes to K-12 education. The solution, of course, is for the country to unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America’s future via educational excellence without playing the “blame game.” But where does that realistically begin?

2 Replies to “Why the K-12 Blame Game Benefits No One”

  1. I am a Canadian, though I did my M.A. at Columbia University’s Teachers College. As an outsider observing the U.S. school system, my most significant observation would be this:

    Until the “powers” of your society have a personal interest in the educational system, nothing will change. As long as your elected officials continue to send their children to private schools they will have no great urgency to support public education.

    When I was in middle school my ‘average middle class school’ was attended by the daughter of our Atorney General. When the powers that be keep their kids in the school, you can be assured that best attempts are being made to create a positive educational environment. Was it perfect? No. We’re there attempts to improve and get better? Each and every year. Is there dramatic differences between one school and another? No.

    Until the political power in your nation has a vested interest in maintaining a quality educational environment things will continue to decline with the “blame game” you write of above spiralling downward.

  2. Can we find someone to blame for the sorry state of public education in America? While blame games are largely unproductive, in the United States today there are educators, parents, and community leaders who continue to act as if there is no option to a one-size-fits-all instruction and assessment system. They did not envision and build this system, but they hold onto it as if there was no option available. This system is built to:
    >cover content, test students, and sort them into winners and losers
    >teach the same content at the same level of difficulty to all students
    >allow many students to be taught within their frustration zone, week after week and year after year
    >use a limited-time structure for each lesson before moving onto the next
    > use pressure on teachers and learners to try to achieve better results

    Over the last two decades, in the name of school reform, supporters of this system have doubled down on the standardized one-size-fits-all high pressure educational model that is driving good teachers away and convincing a lot of students that learning is not much fun. These mindless supporters of the status quo have:
    >added layers of government control to content and assessment systems based on a one-size-fits-all model
    >moved local control of content standards to state control, and then further toward federal control
    >allowed government sanctions and funding threats to reinforce the importance of assessment systems based on this one-size-fits-all model
    >allowed teacher evaluation and potential economic consequences to teachers based on this one-size-fits-all instructional model
    >spent billions of dollars on reform models all of which fail to question the one-size-fits-all instructional model
    >created a high-stress low-respect environment which is not attracting our best and brightest students to become educators

    Isn’t it time to start building the most effective learning system in human history?

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