Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The "Education" System by Stephane

     The United States prides itself in claiming that it is the “leading” nation among the world. Many do not argue against this belief, how could they? The U.S has arguably the best army, and free market economy. Ever since the Great Depression, the United States has established itself as an elite nation, debatably leaving the rest well behind. Yet, with all these accomplishments, where does education rank in comparison to the rest of the world? Dead last is not the answer but it seems that way for many. It is difficult to understand how such a prosperous nation could do so poorly in educating the children, the future of the nation. Among all other nations the United States ranks 17th in education, yet it ranks first in GDP. Finland and South Korea have the top two educational systems, and ironically enough rank 16th and 35th in GDP. The question that remains is the following: shouldn’t the most prosperous nation be able to provide the best education worldwide? Both South Korea and Finland manage to provide an exceptional education with arguably much less funds than the United States. At what point will the U.S recognize that the current system is unresponsive? Too many decisions are left in the hands of politicians, and not enough in the hands of people knowledgeable in education. As long as this remains this way, the U.S cannot remain the leading nation worldwide.
      To begin with, although the intentions of the federal government are to establish a national standard, they truly should have no jurisdiction in this process. On paper it works well because ideally every child in the U.S in 3rd grade should be learning the same thing, but it would be arrogant to believe this. The reality is that those schools in wealthier sectors will always do better. Not only are parents generally more proactive but these schools are receiving more federal money than poorer schools. This is because at the state level these schools spend more money therefore they receive more federal money. Here is the first flaw. A school in a “bad” sector should receive more federal funding that the state itself cannot provide. But in theory all schools should receive the same amount per student. Allowing the poorer schools to continue to fail is the direct result of a system that is not getting the work done.
      Although these are murky waters, it must be clear that the wealthier schools are not being punished if they receive less money than a poorer school. Instead it is understood that the school is performing well, and that other schools are in more need. If the federal system continues to give more money to the wealthier schools, all they are doing is increasing the gap between the poor and rich. The truth is that the federal government has to show their commitment to these students. Poorer sectors only chance of improving is through funding. If these students are aware of the changes being made to improve their school, then perhaps this could become a small incentive for them to work. Considering that the majority of these students endure hardships on a daily basis, coming to school could become a relief and eventually an escape. But all of this is only possible if the federal government funds these schools more. Otherwise, if they continue to treat the students at these schools as just numbers/statistics and predetermine their future from what has always been a “tradition”, then the sad truth is that these schools will never be nothing more than drop out factories.
      At a state level, two things must happen. First of all, the funding should be distributed equally and they must get rid of standardized testing. Similar to the federal system, it is illogical to give more money to the schools that are already doing well. But funding is highly influenced by standardized testing, and in Florida specifically the FCAT. In theory the FCAT is purposeful. At every grade level students are tested on the same set of skills and graded on the same scale. Even though this is an attempt to have a “single” evaluator, many schools have lost the essence of what it means to learn. Due to the FCAT there is no ingenuity in learning, and quite frankly teachers lose all freedom in doing their job. Teachers are forced to teach students how to pass the FCAT, instead of the course material that could be beneficial to them in a future. Projects and innovative techniques are not advocated because these skills are not required when the FCAT comes around.
      If the FCAT is eliminated, then teachers can teach at their jurisdiction, and students can learn for the right reasons. Success is no longer determined by one test. If that was the case then students could study at home and take the FCAT when the time comes. There would be no need for teachers. But if it is removed, then public schools are looking at a similar situation to the one in private schools; independent learning. An environment in which learning occurs multiple ways: allowing the teachers to teach as they please, and not allowing the performance on one test determine whether or not they are “good” teachers. Lastly, giving students a voice in what they want could go far in a system that struggles so greatly. It is proven that private school students are nearly twelve percent more proficient in reading and math by the time they graduate compared to public school kids. Something about how private schools run their schools is clearly showing positive results.
      The most important part to all of this is eliminating the Teacher’s Union, or reducing the rights teachers are given under the Union. Teachers have no incentives whatsoever to teach. Whether or not they teach their students accordingly, it does not affect their payroll because at the end of the day an excellent teacher and a horrible one will walk out with the same paycheck in their pocket. The worst part about this scenario is that students that are dealt with bad teachers fall way behind, and the people who should be held accountable cannot be fired under the Union. The Union has gained too much power, and consequently has advocated for inept teachers to keep their jobs. If the Union was eliminated every teacher would be forced to perform. There should be yearly contracts and at the end of each year each teacher is evaluated depending on their student’s performance and on course evaluations done by higher ranked officials. Those who excel receive bonuses and those who fail will not return. Not only does this create an incentive for teachers to work, but it creates a positive atmosphere for the students as well. An atmosphere in which work is rewarded and anything less is not tolerated.
      Public, charter and private schools are not foreign to me since at one point or another in my life, I attended one. Without a doubt private school has been the most challenging yet rewarding of them all. On the other hand, the other two have had many gaps. The two most obvious flaws are the learning gaps between honors and regular classes and the teachers. Only way to solve these problems is by correctly funding these schools. Clearly the United States has the resources to do this, it now becomes a matter of finding teachers and officials who are truly passionate about helping students succeed. Sometimes the only incentive a student needs is that one teacher who truly shows interest in their success through thick and thin, especially for the poorer students who struggle to trust anyone at all.

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