It is undeniably clear that we have serious problems with our education system. Talk to any teacher and you will hear the same complaints; overcrowded classrooms, lack of supplies and text books, unfairness of the grading system, discipline issues, drugs, underpaid teachers and the list goes on and on. The result; our children can’t read, spell or solve basic math problems without a calculator. Many students can not even find their own country on a map. In the midst of debates going on in many different levels, the big question is how can we fix these problems?
The National Commission on Excellence in Education delivered a devastating assessment of American education in 1983. According to the commission’s findings; 23 million American adults were illiterate by the simplest tests of reading and writing. Almost 13 percent of all 17 year olds in the United States were functionally illiterate. Illiteracy among minority young was a scaring 40 percent. Scholastic Aptitude tests ( SAT ) showed that average verbal scores fell over 50 points and mathematics scores dropped 40 points from 1963 to 1980.
International comparisons of student achievement revealed that on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and compared to the other industrialized nations, were last seven times. ( http://www. ed. gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/risk. html (3 of 10 ,2005 ). These findings alarmed the nation and in 1989, an education summit involving all fifty state governors and president George H. W. Bush resulted in the adoption of national education goals for the year 2000. The same year, National Council of Teachers Of Mathematics published the Curriculum and evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, a standards based document. ( Schwardz, 2000 ).
Standards based school reform has become a predominant issue facing public schools. In the 1990’s , The Standards-based National Education Goals were set by the U. S. Congress. This movement resulted in the famous No child Left Behind Act of 2001 which is still an active nation wide mandate in the United States ( Schwardz 2000 ). A standards-based system measures each student against the concrete standard, instead of measuring how well the student performed compared to others.
The main goal of this reform is that no student by virtue of poverty, age, race, gender, cultural or ethnic background, disabilities or family situation will be exempt from learning the required material. ( Robinson,2000 ). The school income from property taxes and the federal funds are based on the student attendance. Every public school is required to take attendance every day so the budget can be given to the state accounting department and the money made available. If a child stays home even for one day, the attendance shows less need for money.
Because of this system, we have overcrowded classrooms. The government legislators should realize that fewer students means better classroom management and better education.
The fight for the control of public schools also contribute to the problems we are facing with our education system. In the United States, schools are regulated by laws and regulations at the district, county, state and federal levels.
The most of day to day activities have been influenced by district level government usually by a district bureaucracy led by a superintended and controlled by a locally elected or appointed school board. ( Smith, 2001 ). State and federal governments often mandate programs and reforms or prohibit certain activities by criminalizing them through legislation or court precedent or restricting state and federal funds to schools which are not in compliance. ( Robinson, 2000 ).
In the early days of our nation, our constitution left education matters Mostly in the hands of states. In those days founding fathers did not want the federal government running education. But times have changed. Now we have a mobile society, new technology, and a global economy which has erased district, county and states lines that once had meaning. Nowadays, whether raised in California, Florida, Colorado or Virginia, all children in America need the same knowledge and skills that will help them compete in both national and the international marketplace of jobs.
Tight local control of public education under the influence of provincial attitudes and ideologies can leave our children ill prepared to survive in this very challenging global environment. Federal government leads the way in important areas such as food, drug, product, financial and environmental regulations and policies. Should not education, one of the most essential contributors to the success and well being of our nation, be naturally included in that list? The violation of the separation of church and state issue has also been an ongoing debate in our public schools.
In our constitution, the first amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, this indicates that a person is free to study any form of religion and that the government will not adopt any religion as the official religion of the state or nation nor will they favor any religion above another ( First Amendment to the United States Constitution, retrieved June 29, 2010 ). There are conflicts over school praying and most people agree that allowing some groups of children to pray inside the classrooms could offend other children with different religious backgrounds or the children with atheist parents.
Author Randall Eberts ( 2007 ) states that if we take a look at any humanities course, we will find religion somewhere. He also states that religion is in science, literature and art. The battle of evolution vs. creationism vs. intelligent design never stops. Science teachers can teach about the planets, stars and galaxies but they have no answer regarding how it all started. They can come up with several theories but it is difficult to satisfy many students with various religious background.
In art classes, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel are among the greatest pieces of artistry which are both religious in nature. In order for a student to be able to analyze these types of artwork, they must be able to refer to the religious themes portrayed in the pieces. In literature, Dante’s Inferno is a good example of how religion is approached in a high school literature class. In the text, Dante has established series of rings of hell and categorized which sins would banish a soul to that region for eternity.
Since not all students believe in heaven and hell, teachers must be extra careful how to approach this topic so it won’t appear as if they are trying to enforce their viewpoints on the topic. There has to be a fine line between teaching religion and teaching about religion. According to a study by Christian Smith, ( Smith, 2002 ) religion affects students many ways including the following: Religious students are more likely to be involved in community work. Religious students are less likely to be suspended or expelled. Religious students are more likely to be involved in student government.
Religious 12th graders are less likely to misbehave at school. Religious 12th graders are less likely to skip school without permission. There is a positive correlation between religious students and their involvement in extracurricular activities. Researchers mark Regnerus and Glen Elder ( Regnerus, 2003 ) conducted a research and found out that “when youth from low-income neighborhoods attend church, their academic performance improves primarily due to social influences of the church. It seems like most problems in the schools are the result of inability to make important decisions about the future of education in America.
Valuable time is wasted by infighting and indecision. We seem powerless to fix the problems. All parties involved should have a common agreement about what some of the basic needs of students are. Our culture and the state of society is rapidly changing. In the light of these changes, new ideas about education can be useful to improve our education system. But they should be investigated for their effectiveness. The key to our future depends on highly educated students who are prepared for the 21st century. Our economic future and ability to compete in the world marketplace depends on it.