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There are so many things wrong with the American public school system that it can be difficult to know where to start to fix it. Despite being one of the wealthiest and most powerful countries, known for its innovative citizens and never-say-die attitude, we are falling pathetically behind less privileged countries in the education level of our students. A recent ranking published by Time Magazine put America as 25th in reading level and 15th in Mathematics out of 30 countries. The five major problems with our school system as I see it are; poor money management, lack of authentic learning in the classrooms, low teacher standards, unclear and unorganized curriculum and lesson plans being driven by standardized tests.
Poor Money Management
I’m one of the first to admit that good teachers do not get paid what they are worth. That said, not enough money is really being spent on the student in public schools. Most of the “per-student spending” goes towards salaries and administrative costs rather than educational materials for the student. While teachers get paltry salaries and ever-dwindling benefits, principals and other top administrators get six-figure (or near six figure) annual salaries. Oftentimes multiple schools are operational when one would suffice for the district. This means wasted money spread out over many schools instead of providing for just one well-managed school.
Lack of Authentic Learning
Most people remember very little of what they “learned” in school. One reason for this is they didn’t really learn the material – only memorized it long enough to get the correct answer on the test and then dumped it as not important enough to file away in permanent memory. It would be better for public school teachers to teach less material better than try to shove more material into student brains only to not be retained a month later.
Low Teacher Standards
Unfortunately the teaching profession does not hold the prestigious status that it should. Combine that with the low pay and obvious aggravation level and fewer people are going into teaching than ever before. There is a desperate need for good teachers but there isn’t always a good supply to meet the demand. Frequently teachers aren’t even specialized in the subject they teach, instead receiving only the base level teaching requirements. And if a teacher isn’t competent it is nearly impossible to fire them due to union and legal obligations. So some of the teachers coming in aren’t that good and there’s no way to get rid of them for years.
Unclear and Disorganized Curriculum
Curriculum read like stereo instructions in many school districts. In fact my stereo was much easier to understand. Almost every state has a different curriculum although most cover roughly the same subjects. My state has Grade Level Expectations which list what a student should know and be able to do within a certain grade level. Considering the vagueness of these “expectations” it’s no wonder that lesson plans vary widely from classroom to classroom and are based more around the textbook that the state-approved curriculum.
Lessons Driven by Standardized Tests
Thanks to Bush’s No Child Left Behind schools are doing everything they can to ensure their students pass the standardized tests that determine whether or not they keep their funding. This means focusing first on what is on the test and stuffing as much information into the students’ minds before the test day. Of course this isn’t conducive to real learning. While No Child Left Behind might have been a good concept it was poorly executed. As a society we need to focus less on tests and more on the knowledge and abilities our children take away from their schooling.
As parents and concerned citizens it is vital that we let our representatives and school board members know that we want – no, we demand change and that we are willing to do what is necessary for it.