Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Education Reform by Arissa

     Have you ever sat in class and wished your teacher wouldn’t be so boring? Well if so, many students empathize with you. However, it is not always our teachers’ fault for “being boring.” The educational system has many challenges facing it and teachers are, at times, are not given the creative liberties to teach something interesting. Also, teachers are given the short end of the stick because they are generally given way too many students per class and they are not paid nearly as much as they should be paid. These challenges make it problematic for students to learn, but the solutions to these problems are not easy to implement. They require taking risks, which may seem difficult for some education leaders to employ, but if anything is going to change, then something has to be done.
One major problem with education is overcrowding in schools. When teachers have class sizes that surpass 40, it becomes difficult for every student to get the attention they need. Teachers have trouble getting to know all their students on a personal level and therefore have difficulty relating to them. Subsequently, these teachers with too many students cannot understand how to address certain problems with each student, which may impede their learning. As a student at a private institution, my teachers take an interest in my learning and get to know me as a person inside and outside of the classroom. Because of this personalized attention, I feel engaged during class and I strive to put forth my maximum effort because I am interested in learning. Also, my teachers make themselves accessible whenever I need any extra help; they are available before school, during lunch, and after school so that it is more convenient for me to get the help I need. In addition, I feel completely comfortable asking my teachers for assistance when new topics are becoming jumbled in my head, however, this is typically not the case for students who have overcrowding in their schools. Teachers at these schools, have too many papers to grade, so they struggle to put aside time for their students to visit them when they are struggling; generally this leads to frustration by the student and once again he/she will become disinterested in school.
Also, with overcrowding, teachers have a harder time remembering all their students by name, and they end up becoming a number. When a teacher forgets or does not know a student’s name, the student is generally offended and becomes disinterested in school and less likely to pay attention in class. This summer, working as a Breakthrough Miami teacher, many of my students explained how different their schools are compared to Breakthrough and how they enjoyed Breakthrough classes much better than actual school because they said their school teachers did not care about them and did not take the time to help them or offer them extra help when they were struggling. Many of my students also said they were impressed that I remembered their names after the first day because at their middle schools, their teachers constantly mixed up their names with other students’.
One solution to the problem of overcrowding is to make a limit on how many students can enroll in each class at a certain school. A teacher should not have to teach more than 30 students per section and they should not have to teach more than 3 sections for a block schedule or 5 sections for normal periods. Typically, more than 150 students are attending a public school, therefore more teachers need to be hired. With more teachers qualified to teach the same class, the students can be evenly separated between the teachers so that no one teacher has to teach math for example to half of the sixth graders at one school. Though it may sound expensive to add new teachers to the payroll, 48% of local taxes go to education, 44% of state taxes go to education, and 8% of federal taxes go to education ( This funding from the government goes towards maintaining the upkeep of the school and making sure the school can continue to operate. Accordingly, the government funds teacher salaries and it may be arduous to add more teachers to the payroll because the funds may not be available, which leads to the next challenge facing education.
There is a lack of funds for education. Whenever the government needs to cut back on their spending, it is usually targeted at education. Teachers, arguably, have the hardest job because they are responsible for the development and growth of their student’s intellectual curiosity. Therefore, they should be paid according to effectiveness as a teacher. To solve this problem, higher percentages of our local and state taxes should go towards education. Though this may cut funds for other important and necessary programs, education is by far the most important on that list and should receive the money it needs to ensure teachers are receiving the correct amount of pay for the job they are doing in the classroom.
Similarly, Teacher Unions prove to be a continued challenge for our educational system. Teacher Unions allow teachers to vote against the reforms needed to improve education by putting a focus on the teachers rather than on the students they are teaching. These Unions also protect “bad teachers.” If a teacher is seen as ineffective, he/she can be sent to the “Rubber Room,” where nearly 700 teachers are sitting in a room being paid their teacher’s salary for doing whatever they want from 8 to 5 everyday. This is absurd because people are being paid to do nothing and the funds going to pay these teachers in the “Rubber Room” are coming from the government and therefore are using up education funds on worthless things (  
Teacher Unions are extremely powerful; these Unions have made it possible that “bad teachers” cannot be fired. “Bad teachers” are either sent to the “Rubber Room” or they are bounced around from one school to the next, hoping the school was the wrong fit for them and they will excel in other environments. The problem with having bad teachers remain on the payroll is that it decreases the funding for other teachers who deserve the money and it takes away from their students’ learning. A “bad teacher” is the teacher who comes into class and sits as his/her desk doing his/her own thing, not paying attention to their students. Kids go to school to receive an education, not be to baby-sat for eight hours. Students deserve better than a “bad teacher;” they deserve someone who is invested in their education and will go to any extremes to guarantee every one of their students has learned something at the end of the school year.
The only way to fix this problem is by eliminating Teacher Unions, which will not be an easy feat. Because Teacher Unions are so powerful, they are able to reject what the education leaders try to implement to reform education. If “bad teachers” were removed from the payroll, this would allow for more funding for better teachers and a raise for teachers who have worked as an educator for many years and have done their jobs effectively. If there were a monetary incentive for teachers to teacher their students as much as possible in the most effective ways, many teachers would be willing to put forth the effort because it would result in a payoff, which is generally the issue they complain about. However, the problem becomes how to weaken Teacher Unions. One possibility is to give teachers certain benefits to persuade them from joining a Union. These benefits can include, a higher salary for those who are not a member of a Teacher’s Union or ensure that a teacher cannot be fired within the first five years of becoming a teacher because the adjustment may be more difficult than some anticipate. After five years, though, if a teacher proves to be wasting their student’s time and not being productive during class, then the teacher should rightfully asked to leave.
The final major challenge facing the education system is standardized testing. All year, teachers teach towards the test; every activity is supposed to prepare one for the test. However, no real learning is taking place when a teacher has to teach for a final examination. The quote on quote learning in the classroom becomes robotic and students are not learning what is interesting to them. Again, the problem of boredom arises and students become disinterested in school and have a lack of motivation to do their assignments, which in turn becomes frustrating for the teacher. Also, standardized tests do not test one’s knowledge; they merely test to see if you can figure out the tricks of the test. Therefore, the tests do not test everyone fairly; some people may be great test takers, while others struggle with test taking and people learn differently. Some students may be able to watch a film and grasp the knowledge from an visual standpoint, while others may be able to listen to a lector and remember the key ideas from an auditory perspective, and even others find it easier to learn when they have hands-on activities, which is a kinesthetic learner. These three learning types should be incorporated into every teacher’s lesson so that every student can succeed. However standardized tests do not take into account what type of learner one may be and the presentation of the material may be detrimental to their success.
Standardized tests are used in public elementary and middle schools as a measure for who has mastered the learning for that age level and who should move on to the next grade level. Standardized tests are also used in high school as a measure of comparing students from around the country for a spot at a certain college. The state standardized tests should be done away with because then teachers can teach their students interesting topics and there is not pressure for a teacher to teach towards a test. Also, if a teacher has to ability to choose topics to teach his/her class, they can choose topics that their students want to learn and the learning becomes more engaging and the students take a liking to learning. The teacher should be able to say at the end of the year, who should and should not continue to the next grade level based on the activities they did in that class. Now many people may worry that there is no way to compare students with standardized tests, but all students do not learn the same way and what one learned form one activity, another might have learned something different. The key to schools is learning and education, not how well one can perform on a test. 
Standardized testing for college should also be done away with because students already have many distinguishing factors on their resume and their application should be enough proof of whether the student is eligible for a certain school. Though some colleges use standardized tests scores as a measure for merit-based scholarships, these colleges can use other parts of the application as a measure or they can require students to write an essay or do a creative project to show why they have earned the scholarship.
All in all, there are many challenges that face the education system and many of the solutions involve taking a risk on a new type of system, but if educators and the government are ready for a serious changes, they need to take some risks and try new ideas until something starts to work. Without creative installments into a classroom, students become bored and disinterested in school, which is frustrating for everyone and no real learning is occurring. I hope there is a serious change to our educational system because kids do not deserve to have anything but a rewarding education. Lastly, if things do not change, we, as a country, will continue to fall farther behind other improving countries and our current governmental problems will never be fixed because there will not be anyone able enough without a proper education; it is a downward spiral if our educational system is not changed soon. 

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