As much as we would like to be able to assert that American public schools are the best in the world, time and time again we have been proven wrong, at least partially. The American system of public schools is failing those it serves. It has failed to provide equal educational opportunities to all students, it has failed to train them to take jobs and advanced careers, and it has failed to secure the future of American prosperity by failing utterly to create the kind of necessary professional and skilled labor balance that is critical to our continued prominence as a nation.
On structural, financial, and curricular levels, the system is not designed to succeed. What it does do well is prepare a very small number of people who come from wealthy families to have any opportunity they want to take advantage of and leaves the vast majority of the nation to fend for itself – often without the tools, support, or ability to do so.
The American public system of education bases its curriculum on several overarching principles: generalization, focus on the liberal arts, and an emphasis on individual achievement and self-selection (meaning that individual students determine the course of their own education and career path rather than being funneled into specific schools and programs as is common in other countries). Each of these, philosophically, is designed to help students achieve the greatest level of self-reliance and independence while providing the broad liberal foundation that can be, theoretically, applied in any situation, in any calling.
Those are the benefits of a liberal foundation, but the detriments are that without specialization in education, students aren’t able to focus intensely upon their particular subject area until as late as college, and perhaps a small amount in high-school. The result is that students focusing on a general education for 12 years are allowed only 4-5 years of specialization (Browser, 10). Other nations, notably Japan and Germany, employ a system of education that, as early as elementary school, begins to identify potential school types and careers for students and puts them through specialization 4-6 years earlier than the US (Browser, 10).
This results in many of these nations excelling in math and science where the U. S. falters. But, this is not the only point of failure of the U. S. system, the 2005 study of reading and mathematical proficiencies of 4th and 8th graders nationwide found that less than 40% of all students tested were grade-level proficient in those subjects (Standard & Poors, pNA). This figure gets worse when the schools are dominantly African-American or Hispanic in Graduation
Graduation rates are similarly dismal – only 69. 7% of American high school students matriculate (“High School Graduation Rates in the United States”, pNA). The American public school curricula is failing its students. There are a variety of opportunities throughout the continuum of public education to directly assist students in determining the career path that best suits not only their individual skills and needs, but those of the nation as well.
In my own experience, I witnessed high school programs that taught industrial arts, and job-related programs that had been designed to provide students who would not be going to college with the skills necessary to enter the workforce upon graduation get cut out of the curricula entirely. The reasoning given was that the school wanted to focus on achieving higher levels of college entrance, and to increase the numbers of college-prep courses available.
This, on paper, sounded great, but in reality it left many students completely without post-high school support. If the American dream requires college, then we are absolutely failing our students by allowing (in some districts) more than half of the population to fail out of school entirely. If we take a realistic look at how students could benefit from industrial arts, business training, home economics, and other job-related training, providing intensive specialization in high-school would allow for a much higher success rate and a higher graduation rate.
Our system is failing its students in terms of investment in their present and their future. Schools get the majority of their funding from locally levied taxes with additional state and federal support. It should be no surprise, then, that the districts with the largest tax base to population ratio results in a much larger amount of money available for schools than in districts with a low tax to population ratio. For example, in Nevada, there are two primary sources of funds for schools – property tax and gambling revenue taxes.
In districts with the highest value of homes, the tax base is very high, resulting in significantly more money per pupil available than in districts with less expensive homes or those dominated by apartments and low-income housing which do not pay nearly as much in property tax per resident than do the more affluent communities (“America Goes Back to School”, pNA). The impact, then, is not only significant regional differences in the amount of money available per student, but these differences can be found at the district by district level throughout the entire country.
Not surprisingly, those schools with the highest per-capita spending capability are also among the highest ranked schools in the nation (there are no inner city urban public schools in the top 100 high schools in the nation). Therefore, by failing to provide a balanced financial opportunity for every school district, we are pre-determining the level of success, graduation, and career opportunity for entire swaths of students.
The poor, the Black and Hispanic, and the otherwise disadvantaged will remain so because they (as a community) will never be able to catch up in terms of opportunity and performance with the more successful communities until we balance the amount of money spent per student throughout the entire nation. On a structural and statistical level, in terms of money and curricular focus, our public school system is failing its students and the communities it is supposed to serve.
Despite a continual “focus” on education, our graduation rates and basic skills passing rates are absolutely dismal. Our generalist curricula has absolutely failed to contribute meaningfully to reducing the massive gaps in our workforce. Finally, the severe imbalance in spending and available funds from district to district and community to community has led to a near permanent state of success and failure for the entire student population in each of those districts.
Ultimately, then, the system has failed and is continuing to fail to properly educate, support, and allow our students to contribute to the betterment of society and our success in the international community. References Browser, Jack. Educating America: Lesson Learned in the Nation’s Corporations. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1989. United States Department of Education. “America Goes back to School” www. ed. gov/Family/agbts/index. html. Online. Internet. Info Acc March, 2007. Standard & Poors.
“United States Public Schools & Districts: How Students Performed on National Reading and Math Tests”. SchoolMatters. com Online. Internet. Avail: http://www. schoolmatters. com/app/location/q/stid=1036196/llid=162/stllid=676/locid=1036195/site=pes. Info Acc March 18, 2007. Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. “High School Graduation Rates in the United States”. Manhattan-Institute. org. Online. Internet. Avail: http://www. manhattan-institute. org/html/cr_baeo. htm. Info Acc March 19, 2007.
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