Why The U.S. Education System is Failing: Part I

Once upon a time, enthusiasts designed a formal education system to meet the economic demands of the industrial revolution. Fast forward to today and, with the current global economic climate, it seems apparent that the now established education system is unable to meet the needs of our hyper-connected society – a society that is in a constant state of evolution. This blog series aims to examine the problems preventing the U.S. education system from regaining its former preeminence. I would love to hear your reactions to each piece. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Lack of parental involvement. Of all the things out of the control of teachers, this one is perhaps the most frustrating. Time spent in the classroom is simply not enough for teachers to instruct every student, to teach them what they need to know. There must, inevitably, be some interaction outside school hours. Of course, students at a socio-economic disadvantage often struggle in school, particularly if parents lack higher levels of education. But students from middle and upper class families aren’t off the hook, either. The demands of careers and an over-dependence on schools put higher-class kids at risk too when it comes to the lack of parental involvement in academics.

School closures. It’s been a rough year for public schools. Many have found themselve on the chopping block quite literally. Parents, students and communities as a whole feel targeted, even if school board members are quick to blame unbiased numbers. There is no concrete way to declare a winner in these cases, either.There is no formula for determining right or wrong. There are times when a school closing is simply inevitable but communities should first look for other solutions. Instead of shuttering underutilized public schools – icons of the community – districts should consider other neighborhood uses. Maybe a community center. Maybe adult education classes. Maybe a cooperation agreement with a local college that opens up the building for paid courses. Maybe even a health center, or location for other district office space. Closing public schools should not be a short-sighted procedure. The decision should look beyond immediacy, and 10-year plans. The decision should focus on the only investment that really matters: a quality public education for all our nation’s children.

Overcrowding. The smaller the class, the better the individual student experience. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 14 percent of U.S. schools exceed capacity. At a time where children need more attention than ever to succeed, overcrowded classrooms are making it even tougher to learn and tougher still for teachers to be effective.

Screen culture. I am an advocate for technology in the classroom. I think that by ignoring the educational opportunities that technology has afforded us puts kids at a disadvantage. That being said, screen culture overall has made the jobs of teachers much more difficult. Education has become synonymous with entertainment in many ways. Parents are quick to download educational games as soon as kids have the dexterity to operate a touch screen, and with the best of intentions. The quick-hit way that children are learning academics before and during their K-12 careers makes it even more difficult for teachers to keep up in the classroom setting, particularly since each student’s knowledge base and technological savvy varies.

Lack of diversity in gifted education. The “talented and gifted” label is one bestowed upon the brightest and most advanced students. Beginning in early elementary grades, TAG programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives. Though the ideology is sound, the practice of it is often a monotone, unattractive look at contemporary American public schools. District schools need to find ways to better recognize different types of learning talent and look beyond the typical “gifted” student model. The national push to make talented and gifted programs better mirror the contemporary and ever-evolving student body is a step in the right direction. Real change happens on a smaller scale though – in individual districts, schools and TAG programs. That progress must start with understanding of the makeup of a particular student body and include innovative ways to include all students in TAG learning initiatives.

Well that is the end of part of on my series. Stay tuned for par II and remember to comment.

0 Replies to “Why The U.S. Education System is Failing: Part I”

    1. Some additional thoughts on “Screen Culture”: Sophocles once said, “Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse.” I believe the effects of technology on society are vast, and I believe we do not fully internalize the negative aspects because they (technologies) are so pervasive.

      There is copious research proving the adverse affects of television on the human brain (particularly young brains), for example. There are proven links between violence and the consumption of violent video games; between media consumption and poor performance in school, etc. We don’t hear about these phenomena because media, understandable, does not report it. One must read real research to know these facts.

      Education may be enhanced by technology, and maybe not. We know students that are not technology savvy will be at a huge disadvantage, but this fact does not necessarily support the notion that mega technology is good for society; I argue that it is not. Perhaps it is good, and bad.

      As for our crumbling education system, the primary underlying destructive force is corporatization. Read Dr. William J. Cook Jr’s Unencorporating Education, 2005, Cambridge Group. Corporation driven “reforms” have all but destroyed the process and practice of education.

  1. I’m curious what people think about the Joplin Plan (1954) and how it closely resembles the RTI and MTSS initiatives. How can we address individual needs if we don’t assess and then teach with homogeneous instruction – be it for a student who needs extra practice and instruction or a a student who learns quickly and needs a different pace?

  2. “Lack of diversity in gifted education. The “talented and gifted” label is one bestowed upon the brightest and most advanced students. Beginning in early elementary grades, TAG programs separate student peers for the sake of individualized learning initiatives.”

    Parents of the gifted would be lot less offended if this were actually true. Perhaps in your high-income school districts, it is true, but it is not true in the rest of the U.S. Low- and middle-income districts, even in states with gifted mandates, are lucky to have an hour a week pull-out of fun-and-games-and-field trips, that may run from 3rd or 4th to 8th grade. Nothing individualized, and nothing teaching our kids anything new. No wonder the rest of the parents think their kids deserve “gifted education” too. They do deserve this enrichment!

    Rather than pit gifted students and their parents against other students by publishing falsehoods like this, why not work to change education for all to make it more enriching and exciting, and change gifted education to something that only the gifted kids would want?!

  3. When I volunteered in my daughter’s class, it was very clear which kids had parental involvement. In a 1st grade class you had kids still learning the alphabet and other kids reading chapter books. The more advanced kids were bored, and the kids behind got more lost with new material. I feel bad for the teachers in the lower grades having to deal with such diversity in knowledge. The school system here separates the older grades by knowledge. The separation has helped my gifted daughter not get so bored in school.

  4. You hit the nail on the head. It’s like a perfect storm hitting the system. Apple and perhaps other companies seduce starving school districts with free or cheap iPads and apps, overwhelmed teachers use them for everything and they get thrown at bored and gifted kids. Short term: it shuts them up. Long term, this educational system is being killed. Good education takes investment. People rave about Finland. And guess what? Finland is not obsessed with standardized testing or the whole accountability movement. They do, however, value teachers enough to give them all masters degrees. What if we invested in our system like that? We’d have more resilient, creative, and innovative kids coming out of our system.

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