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Enny Olaleye

Professor Malcolm Campbell

UWRT 1104

4 April 2018

Boom or Bust: Public Education in America

For a nation that proudly acknowledges that no child shall be left behind, it is perplexing

that the actions of the American public-school system suggest otherwise. The American public

education system is failing on the international scale. This is no longer the opinion of just a few

people; it is being proven time and time again over the years by many agencies reporting upon

academic achievement of students worldwide. How is it that a country that boasts about being

“#1 in the world” is actually ranked #17 when it comes to education? In fact, that is just overall

education. According to Pew Research Center, iIf we delve into more specific subjects such as

math and science, our ranking becomes lower and lower, going as low as ranking 38th out 71

countries for math placement.

The United States is often referred to as the best country in the world in many areas. It

may be, but far from it in education. Despite America’s status as a country, America’s education

is failing because of the large emphasis on standardized education, and the flaws of students,

parents and schools. How to fix our education system remains to be a problem that we haven’t

solved. Formatted: Font: Bold, Pattern: Clear

To understand how to solve a problem, we must first understand what we are trying to

fix. For example, can a carpenter without any medical experience repair a heart valve? Of course

not., Hhe or she must first obtain the proper education necessary to perform such a complex

operation. The same can be said about the American education system. Throughout America’s
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history parents, educators, and government officials have been debating what changes must be

implemented for American children to receive every opportunity possible to gain an education

that will prepare them for the future. However, these cries for reform are so demanding that

many times the reforms created to please the people are pushed through so fast that

consequences are never completely considered. These latest cries for reform came after the

annual report by Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) was released in

December 2010 stating that 15-year-old American students ranked average in mathematics,

reading, writing, and science (Duncan, 2010). “Average” might not be much of an alarm to

many; however, when companies, such as Microsoft, have to hire software engineers from other

countries to fill positions because American’s are unqualified, it brings everything to another

level (Guggenheim & Chilcott, 2010).

The United States is often referred to as the best country in the world in many areas. It

may be, but far from it in education. Despite America’s status as a country, America’s education

is failing because of the large emphasis on standardized education, and the flaws of students,

parents and schools. How to fix our education system remains to be a problem that we haven’t


The impact of socio-economic status

Impoverished children are ranked well below the national average among the group of

fifteen-year olds tested in the PISA, or the Program for International Student Assessment.

Schools with less than ten percent of students on free or reduced lunch, had scores at an average

of 551. Schools with more than seventy-five percent scored 446 on average, which is below the

American average of 500. These results were consistent to show that low-income levels led to

lower scores. According to PISA, “Children raised in low-income families are at risk for
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academic and social problems as well as poor health and well-being, which can in turn

undermined educational achievement” (Riddle). Students who do not speak English also fall

under the category of impoverished children. A lack of understanding in a primary language

spoken in the United States will prevent a child from fully understanding the topics taught in


The socio-economic status of a student, whether wealthy or poor, is not the fault of the

student, since other factors (parents status, job opportunities, etc.) play a major role. ” Jennifer

Hochschild, a Harvard professor who currently teaches African and African American studies at

the university points this out in her scholarly article, “Social Class in Public Schools.” Very often

people from a racial minority group or a lower income family do not have a family history of

higher education. If the parents or grandparents have notnever had access to education, the child

that comes from such a family is not likely to have had anybody read to them or even have had

theo opportunity to be exposed to many books. Ultimately, this can be seen as a disadvantage

when these children are placed in a class where many other children have had tremendous

exposure to the written word. An encouraging environment and a little focused help can go a

long way in helping disadvantaged students catch up and this needs to be handled with empathy

and sensitivity. However, the idea that race, class or gender could not play a role in education is

sadly unrealistic.

Parents…knock it off!

Parents have a very large impact on a child’s education, which leads me to partially

blame the parents for our inadequate education system. The MetLife Study of an American

Teacher says, “Parents report that schools with high parent engagement perform better on a

range of measures.” It can pressure a student to do well and meet parent expectations.
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Unfortunately, parent involvement has declined over the past decade. The same study states,

“There are significant declines in the percentages of teachers and parents reporting the most or

many parents take too little interest in their children’s education, fail to motivate their children,

or leave their children alone too much after school.” Without parents emphasizing education, a

student is less likely to excel in his studies. It can lead to students who do not concern

themselves in their education, which can in turn lead to them earning lower grades. Even though

parents are to blame, the problem does not solely lie on the parents, but also on the schools.

Henry M Levin, former research associate of the Brookings Institute and author of “The failure

of the public schools and the free market remedy”, believes that if we were to allow schools to

start competing for children, there would be a massive increase on the educational impact of the

child because the schools would be more focused on the needs of the children.

The Need for Effective Teachers

An effective teacher can truly make all the difference for a student. A teacher can be the

reason for the success or the failure of their students. Schools need good teachers, but apparently,

firing unqualified teachers takes a bit more effort than one would expect. Too many teachers lack

the ability to educate their students and prepare them for the future, and too few of these

ineffective teachers are actually losing their jobs. In order to get a teacher fired (unless for

immediate serious reasons, i.e, abuse, assault, etc.), it requires the union, the school board, the

principal and the judicial system to get involved, along with thousands of dollars in legal fees if

the teacher fights against it. It is seldom that teacher is rarely fired. One school in California

spent 80,000 dollars to fire one teacher protected by tenure (Stephey). The trouble that schools

must go through to fire an inept teacher often deters schools from actually firing the teacher.
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Therefore, the teacher will keep his/her job and continue to poorly educate students and prepare

them for the future.

Standardized Testing is a No-Go

In 2002, the No Child Left Behind Act, a government program that required stated to

regularly give out state-run tests, was passed. Students are put through these regulated tests from

the very beginning of their educational journey (elementary school) all the way to it being a huge

deterrent on whether they get into their dream college or not (high school). After the law was

passed, the United States fell from 18th to 31st place in the math section of the PISA (CON

Standardized Tests). The No Child Left Behind Act created the system of teaching to the test. In

fact, much of the time in the class room is taken to prepare students for these tests, instead of

preparing them for the material. According to the article, “Students Should Be Tested More, Not

Less,” forty-four percent of schools have an average of 145 minutes a week taken out class to

prepare for standardized tests. The idea of “teaching to test” also causes a decline in creative

thinking. In 2007, a University of Maryland study found that, “…the pressure teachers were

feeling to ‘teach to the test’ since NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was leading to declines in

teaching higher-order thinking, in the amount of time spent on the complex assignments as well

as the actual amount of content in the curriculum. Standardized testing reduces the ability to

complete more complicated work and allows students to only be able to complete basic


Hungarian Education is No Joke

Education has a very important place in the society. The education arms with the

domestic education determine the final development of the adult personality. As Clay P. Bedford

says, “You can teach a student a lesson for a day; but if you can teach him to learn by creating
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curiosity, he will continue the learning process as long as he lives. So, not only the teaching, the

daily lesson is important, but also learning that instills curiosity in children for a lifetime.”

The organization of the Hungarian educational system differs from the American. First, in

Hungary the education is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. Since the Hungarian social

net is very strong the families may use the benefit of the free pre-school and kindergarten, but the

latter ones not obligatory. Children stay at the elementary school until their age 14 – class 8.

After that they elect grammar school or training college schools according to how they perform

on the national examination and based on their year-end period results and their interest then.

Further study in institutes of higher education is by competitive entry so that less than one fifth

of all students go on to colleges and universities. The possibility to get into the schools are based

on threshold, changes every year. In the prestigious schools the oversubscription is more than

threefold. School is serious business in Hungary, and the competition to qualify for free higher

education starts when children are quite young. In the United States, there is nothing to prevent

those who wish to learn. You can attend free elementary and middle schools or choose payable

state-certified private schools. As for the stimulation of children to learn, the Hungarian system

does not focus on praise or recognition bases. It is natural and expected that their school work is

well done, but also expected that they should be punished, not getting rewards if their work is not

well done. In my opinion, this appears rather harsh, on the other hand, this educational system has

seemed to make the Hungarian people good problem solvers, independent, and work lovers.

Hungary is the home to revolutionary discoveries and inventions ranging from the ballpoint pen to

the Rubix Cube. They must be doing something right.

How Can We Fix This?

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Standardized education continues to hold America back, but the students, parents and

teachers are the most responsible for the failing education system. Standardized testing limits a

child’s potential and ability, while attempting to bring everyone to the same level. The truth is;

Everyone is not on an even-level playing field. At times, I wish that were the case, but factors

such as race, gender, class, status and more play such huge roles in making that not possible. The

fact that for over a decade, the improvement of our nation’s education ranking is not only trivial

compared to other countries but has persistently decreased over the years, yet the government

still insists to spend taxpayer money on it, is incredibly disappointing.

Also, students need to put more effort into their studies. As a student myself, I have

accepted the fact that I am partially responsible for the decline of our educational ranking.

However, certain factors like socio-economic status can affect a student’s performance. The

solution? That is something, we as a country and as a society filled with people of all races and

backgrounds will have to figure out together. Parent involvement is critical to a student’s success

but is sadly missing in many families. In my opinion, since parents are, typically, paying for their

students to attend schools, a school’s administration needs to be more receptive to the parents

and children’s needs, so that parents can have a bigger pull as to what happens on school

premises. There are two overall goals education is supposed to accomplish; provide and teach

enough literacy to allow children to have an understanding of the common heritage that is

necessary to be functional in a stable and democratic society and to disregard the disparities in

income and opportunity (race, social class, etc.) in order to properly educate a child (Levin


If we want our children to have the ability to contribute to society, and be able to succeed

in life, a proper education must be made available to them. Not an education of learning how to
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take tests but an education of knowledge—an education given to them that teaches students how

to apply mathematics in their lives, that teaches them to uses sciences to understand the world

around them and that teaches them the ability to read and how to benefit from it. Public schools

are supposed to place that students want to go, not feel obligated to. A student should be able to

not view school as a stress-infused environment due to an upcoming exam. Educational

institutions should be a place where all students have the freedom and opportunity to learn. Our

country needs to focus more on how students can apply their knowledge to their everyday lives.
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Works Cited

DeSilver, Drew. “U.S. Students' Academic Achievement Still Lags That of Their Peers in Many

Other Countries.” Pew Research Center, 15 Feb. 2017,


Duncan, Robert H. “Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) - Overview.”

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S.

Department of Education, U.S Department of Education, 9 Dec. 2010,

Gates, Bill. “A Powerful Film About Education in America.”, The Foundation

of Education Reform, 20 Sept. 2010,


Guggenheim, Davis and Ronald Chilcott, directors. Waiting for Superman. Waiting For

Superman, Sundance Film Festival, 22 Jan. 2010,

Hochschild, Jennifer L. “Social Class in Public Schools.” Journal of Social Issues, Blackwell

Publishing, 18 Nov. 2003,

4537.2003.00092.x/full. 2018 March 31

Lahey, Jessica. “Students Should Be Tested More, Not Less.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media

Company, 21 Jan. 2014,


Levin, Henry M. The failure of the public schools and the free market remedy. Brookings


Lynch, Matthew. “18 Reasons the U.S. Education System Is Failing.” The Edvocate, 3 Apr.

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Markow, Dana, and Andrea Pieters. “MetLife Survey of the American Teacher.” For

Individuals, MetLife, 2012 Jan. 15AD,


Riddle, Stewart, and Bob Lingard. “PISA Results Don't Look Good, but before We Panic Let's

Look at What We Can Learn from the Latest Test.” The Conversation, Program for

International Student Assessment, 30 Mar. 2018,



Stephey, Thomas, and Matthias Gafni. “Firing a Tenured Teacher in California Can Be Tough.”

The Mercury News, The Mercury News, 25 Jan. 2013,


Thomsen, Anna Brix. “The Paranoia of Standardized Testing (Part 3): Teaching to the Test:

DAY 28.” A Teacher's Journey to Life, Education Behind the Veil , 31 May 2016,