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Examining Disadvantages of U.S. High School System Essay

In light of a lot of controversial issues over education matters, different people take different sides and give out individual opinions. There is a common belief that good education would provide a country with a lot of benefits such as more promising economic growth and higher living standards. As the global economic recession is taken more seriously, more and more people are now turning their attention to education in America, the most powerful country in the world, asking whether it will be still up to its name in the future and what kind of improvement to education can make contribution to the social economy. In addition, media also gives data on America’s stagnant education outcome. In a study released in September 2009, what stands out is that U.S. students scored the lowest in Math and Science, with a Math result “in the bottom quarter of all the countries that participated, including Finland, China and Estonia”(Lattimore).

As well, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan claimed that students are going to struggle in the global market competition without intellectual growth. Thus, education issues become outstanding among all the challenges people are going to meet in the recent future. Since secondary education plays a fundamental and transitional role in one’s whole education journey, here are examinations of important factors in the current U.S. public high school system that cause its education quality to decline. Students are not being helped by tests because standards are not rigorous in American high schools. According to Dr. Kristy Vernille, an expert in Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction, American students usually move from grade to grade easily and “without having to demonstrate competency in any subject matter”, as a result of the loose and vague test standards in America (Vernille 5).

Although American students are often asked to take a lot of standardized tests, based on the American Federation of Teachers, the tests results of students usually do not influence their progress through the system. Furthermore, state and commercial tests have lower degree of difficulty and focus on less-advanced problem solving than the international tests; at the same time, international tests include more open-response items (in which students have to show how they solve the problems), whereas “the United States tests are predominantly multiple-choice items with little intellectual demand associated with determining the answer” (AFT 15). Under these circumstances, U.S. students are not motivated for further study or higher academic accomplishment, resulting in their lower competency than their international peers.

However, establishing more rigorous test standards in the U.S. public school system will improve American students’ academic performance. To demonstrate, in China, there is a highly standardized test named “the National College Entrance Examination”. It also appeared in Time magazine as the “most pressure packed examination in the world” (Siegel). The Entrance Examination is held for the sake of selecting students for higher education and leadership, and is taken by every Chinese twelfth grader every year. In every state, schools are informed what to teach students and what will probably appear in the exam (Schaack 5). During the preparation for the exam, students have to receive an extremely large amount of information from teachers and finally implement it into the Entrance Exam. Those who perform extraordinarily well are admitted to the nation’s top universities; “the rest find spots in provincial universities or two- and three-year colleges” (Siegel).

Due to the fact that Chinese students are under such kind of pressure, they are more likely to learn things in order to be competitive and prepared for their future. To a large degree, their academic achievement is related to their educational policies and environment. They don’t have many alternatives in their testing system, which is considered to be fair and standardized. This method can be adopted by American public school system to reduce their test alternatives, in other words, to make a standard in the testing system. With a more clear and rigorous standard, American students are going to have better understanding of what teachers convey and what skills they are supposed to pick up. Thus, academic improvement will subsequently be fostered. Besides the lack of a rigorous testing standard, American schools set up their curriculums based on the education policy approved by law, resulting in negative consequences.

Since the No Child Left Behind program was signed into law in 2002, test scores have become the most basic measure of school quality (Ravitch 15). Schools then had to modify the curriculums to enhance their test scores in order not to lose students. How does education make sense when the purpose of testing goes beyond the substance of learning? Diane Ravitch, a historian of education and educational policy analyst, writes this program “demanded that schools generate higher test scores … It ignored such important studies as history, civics, literature, science, the arts, and geography. Though the law required states to test students eventually in science, the science scores didn’t count on the federal scorecard”(Ravitch 16).

She watched her hope for better education fall though she was initially supportive of the so-called education reform. Under this circumstance, coupled with the contemporary, vague, unchallenging test standard, schools are rather unlikely to have curriculums that can help students develop fully or help them attain high scores in those more advanced and comprehensive international tests. To illustrate, data collected by NCES (National Center for Education Statistics) shows that U.S. students perform the worst in areas like Math and Science. Especially in Math, U.S. high school students scored much lower than other countries that participated (Lattimore).

Nevertheless, the situation can be changed if the whole school system revises the curriculums for the sake of students’ better development, which is the original intention of education. After that, tests should be based on the curriculums that schools are providing. How is it possible for students to achieve good grades while the test does not at all correspond to the courses they are taking? Although many people believe that the freedom of teaching and the freedom of learning are both significant, experts claim that a well-educated person has a well-furnished mind, “shaped by reading and thinking about history, science, literature, the arts, and politics”, and is armed with knowledge and skills that help him read, listen and also explain (Ravitch 16). Without basic knowledge and skills, people are unable to think critically, to debate or to question, let alone able to solve problems in tests or in their real lives. The continuous education reforms really expose the effort that America is always trying to make for its nation. Nonetheless, paying too much attention to testing other than curriculum will only lead to a blow up of its previous efforts.

Moreover, school resources, computer technology especially, are not being used effectively by teachers and students, causing a reduction in school productivity. It is now in the midst of the information age when technology use is widely spread. Although the goal of President Bill Clinton, “a computer in every classroom”, has practically been realized by American public schools and “the number of computers in U.S. schools has grown dramatically” (Evans 272), a research conducted by Harvard University economist Caroline Hoxby has shown that the productivity (the ratio of student performance to spending) has not increased as expected. Instead, it is declining (Woessmann 73). Originally, schools hope that technology can help students achieve better academic performance, instead of being a distraction for students. Hence, as can be seen in most schools, there are a lot of unwritten rules for students banning them from using electronic devices during class.

But many students still behave as usual, making technology a destraction of class environment. For this reason, American schools are confused about whether their students are the beneficiaries or victims of this new age (Evans 272). Since it is a technological time, why not take good advantage of it? There are still many students in developing countries dreaming of this advantage that American students experience. And it definitely cannot be wasted. If students were guided to make good use of school resources, the teaching pace and quality would increase; homework assignments would receive more positive feedback; the testing burden would be lighter. Accordingly, the whole nation’s students would do much better academically. In addition to the hardware and software resources not being used well, adults are not paying enough attention to American students. During a student’s academic journey, adults around him can have a substantial influence on him.

In particular, parental involvement has a considerably critical impact on their children’s education experience. If a child’s parents attach great importance to education, then the child would also tend to value their school work (Schaack 10). Again, to demonstrate using Chinese parents as an example, most of the time, they supervise their children’s behavior in school by attending parent-teacher conferences periodically, learning about their grades, discussing school programs and activities with their children, monitoring their homework and so on. They also provide private tutoring, paying private teachers, when their children are not performing as well as others or when they need to pass some specific tests and examinations. Some of the Chinese parents even consider their training to be high enough to teach their children while most American parents seem “less sure as to how much they could help” with children’s school work (Hunt and Hu 134).

As a part of culture, Chinese students are motivated intensely by their parents to succeed in school from the time when they are young (Ho and Willims 136). In comparison, American parents’ involvement in their children’s education differs from area to area. During an interview with a Chinese student in Hillsdale High School, Yixi Wu, who left his country at the age of 15 and immigrated into America, he said that he could tell that American parents provide their children with more freedom when it comes to school matters. They care more about their children’s overall life pattern and everyday skills rather than pay too much attention on their academic achievement (Cannon and Ginsburg 122). However, parental involvement can substantially influence a student’s academic performance. To prove, statistics collected by Professor Esther Ho Sui-Chu from University of British suggest that “the most important parental-involvement factor at the individual level is Home Discussion.

The estimated effect is approximately 12 percent of a standard deviation on both mathematics and reading achievement. This finding implies that an increase of 1 standard deviation in Home Discussion is associated with an increase in achievement of 0.12 of a standard deviation” (Ho and Willims 136). The result of this study really emphasizes the significant influence of parents’ facilitation on children’s academic success. Since cultures in Asian countries like China and Western countries like America are different, children in America manage to have more freedom in school life and academic matters. Consequently, their learning outcome compared to China is relatively lower. But if American parents pay more attention to their children’s school experience, more positive attitudes towards academic behavior will probably be fostered; homework assignment will have better quality; learning outcome will be more outstanding and dropout rates will definitely go down.

Besides parents, teachers also have great academic influence on students and their impacts are more direct. Superficially, some people would consider that it was because in some countries teachers were too strict that students did not dare to obey them. This common recognition makes sense to some extent but is not exactly true. Obviously and overall, students are going to attain higher achievement if teachers pay more attention to them and give them corresponding advice on the difficulties they meet at school. As mentioned above, Chinese teachers have their own technique dealing with this issue. Usually, a Chinese teacher is going to ask a student to come to the board to solve a problem with everybody else watching him. If he is not able to have it done, others will try hard to help him deal with it so that no one will extremely lag behind. What’s more, if he still has difficulty figuring it out, teachers will ask him to go to his office after class and provide extra individual tutoring.

“In Contrast, in America, being called in front of a class and being critiqued by not only your teacher, but also by other peers, could be downright damaging to a student’s psyche” (Schaack 7). In this case, subsequently, students can only ask for help after class during teachers’ office hours, which are rather limited. What if one does not realize where his current position is compared to the others? What if he does not know what he misunderstands right after he gets confused? He will probably accumulate his misunderstanding and eventually lag far behind. Therefore, as the old saying goes “every coin has two sides”. In exchange for maintaining students’ self-esteem, American education has to lose some of its points in the international competition. Yet if the American schools were to learn from Chinese schools in this aspect, making the classroom environment to be more challenging and teacher-controlled, students are going to be more competitive and will achieve much better academically.

Admittedly, there are still problems waiting to be fixed in America’s education system even if it has always been receiving a good reputation worldwide. With more rigorous test standards, students would have a better sense of direction in their education journey; with curriculums to be more comprehensive, students would be equipped with better skills for life and career; with more efficient use of resources, students would be able to release much of their pressure and make studying fun; and with the help from parents and teachers, students would probably be more motivated for further study and self-development. Fixing the defects in the U.S. education system and adopting advantages from other countries like China will awaken students’ potential, thereby improving the whole nation’s academic achievement, finally consolidating its title of the most powerful country in the world. Those who suit their actions to the time are wise. Hence, corresponding changes in education turn out to be necessary for America to succeed in its self-progress as well as in the aggressive global competition.

Work Cited
American Federation of Teachers. “Setting higher sights: A need for more demanding assessments for U.S. eighth graders.” Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers. July, 1998. Web. May, 2012. Cannon, J. and H. P. Ginsburg. “Doing the math: Maternal beliefs about early math¬ematics versus language learning.” Early Education and Development. 2008. Web. May, 2012. Evans, Dennis L. Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in secondary education. University of California, Irvine. 2002. Print. Ho Sui-Chu, Esther and J. Douglas Willims. “Effects of Parental Involvement on Eighth-Grade Achievement.” Sociology of Education. (April, 1996):126-141. Web. May, 2012. Hunt, Jessica H. and Bi Ying Hu. “Theoretical Factors Affecting Parental Roles in Children’s Mathematical Learning in American and Chinese-Born Mothers.” The School Community Journal. 2011. Web. May, 2012. Lattimore, K. “Students in U.S. Falling Behind in Math and Science.” 8 September, 2009. Web. May, 2012. Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York. Basic Book, 2010. Print. Schaack, Tara L. Van. “Comparing U.S. and Chinese Public School Systems.” University of Michigan. n.d. Web. May, 2012. Siegel, Benjemin. “Stressful Times for Chinese Students.” TIME. 12 June, 2007. Web. May, 2012. Vernille, Kristy. “Why Are U.S. Mathematics Students Falling Behind Their International Peers?” University of Maryland. n.d. Web. May, 2012. Woessmann, Ludger. “Why Students in Some Countries Do Better: International evidence on the importance of education policy.” Education Matters. 2001. Web. May, 2012.

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