Friday, January 03, 2014

Guest Post by Emma Taylor: Why Is Education in America Falling Behind?

I pleased to have a guest post from Emma Taylor. Here's a little bit about her:

"Emma Taylor is a self titled lifetime learner.  She started her education as a struggling student.  With the help of gifted teachers and tutors, she was able to overcome her setbacks and find a joy in learning.  Emma is a contributing author for School Tutoring Academy and loves sharing her love of learning with others."

This article reflects her opinions and ideas, and not necessarily those of the blog owner. With that said, read, enjoy, and respond!

Why is Education in America Falling Behind?

      It’s all over the news: According to the New York Times in an October 2013 editorial article titled “The United States, Falling Behind”, a recent study done by The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that Americans between the ages of 16 and 65 scored lower on literacy, numeracy and problem solving than comparable populations in both Finland and Japan. In fact, the only comparison countries outperformed by the United States were Italy and Spain. This report was considered alarming by the New York Times editorial board, which postulated that if the United States does not take action soon, we will fall even further behind.

     Bloomberg Businessweek ran an article a year earlier stating that compared to school children in China, Finland and Korea, students in the United States may be chronic underachievers. They state reasons such as the fact that American kids do an average of less than one hour of homework at all grade levels, according to a study by RAND and the Brookings Institution. According to a task force for Educational Reform and National Security, this country’s “educational failure” endangers the U.S. “economic prosperity, global position and physical safety.”

Who’s to Blame?

     The reasons for these discouraging statistics have been debated on both sides of the aisle for
decades, and solutions are dished out right and left. Here are a few theories being dished out:

     Blame the Teachers. This idea states that teachers are more concerned with pension and tenure rights than actually teaching kids. Others say that many teachers become complacent once they receive tenure. Still others state that teachers are the trampled on heroes of education and can do no wrong. The truth likely lies somewhere between these extremes.  A Gates Foundation study found that only about 8% of teachers ranked below “basic competence.”

     Blame the Lawmakers. It’s easiest sometimes to just blame Washington, since its a nameless entity that isn’t generally standing in the gossip circle with a way to defend itself. Some people say that politicians should just give more money to schools to fix the problem, others say too much is being dished out in an inefficient manner that makes things worse. One opinion stated that as schools try to get funding, they often focus too much on jumping through the hoops instead of focusing on the individual child. Perhaps there is some truth there.

     Blame the Students. If American kids were not so lazy, and spent more time studying instead of all day tapping away on electronics, everything would be better, right? You don’t have to go far to hear this opinion shouted from the rooftops. But who is buying the electronics for those kids and supervising their schedules? Who is providing consequences and incentives to encourage kids in their use of free time? That leads to the last group who often takes the blame for world ills.

      Blame the Parents. If education is messed up in this country, it must be the parents’ fault. After
all, it's the parents who have primary responsibility for making sure their children are educated, right? While this is true, it’s also the case that parents need resources and training, especially if they were in a group that was not well educated in the last generation. Parents alone cannot fix the overall problem, though they have an incredible amount of influence over their own child’s success in the world.

Finding Solutions and Improving Education

     The American education crisis is a complicated problem that compounds upon itself and continues to get worse with each generation as America struggles with trying to find an answer. If the answer to these questions were easy, the solutions could be implemented immediately. But it’s not an easy problem to tackle. There are thousands of solutions offered, from both camps of thought on the subject. This problem should not be considered a Democrat or Republican problem, but a concern for all Americans alike.

      Pay Teachers More. Generally acknowledged is the fact that teacher salaries are low compared to other career fields. Others argue that since teachers generally get the entire summer off, plus every national holiday, that their salaries are comparable to other higher paying fields. Then again, others point out that teachers often spend much of their time before and after the school day making lesson plans, correcting papers, and many spend their own money on classroom supplies and decorations.

     Focus on Math and Science. Politicians such as Tennessee Senator Bob Corker voted for legislation providing as much as $43 billion for scientific research, doubling the previous budget for this area. This type of spending is seen as creating opportunities for science and math students, as well as teachers and researchers. Others are concerned that just throwing money at the problem doesn't necessarily fix it, especially if that money is not managed well as it trickles down through the various committees and institutions.

      Help Students Pay for Higher Education. A bi-partisan effort to improve higher education in the United States was broadly approved to expand the Pell Grant program, helping hundreds of thousands more students of all socioeconomic levels to be able to afford college tuition. It also put forth reduced interest on student loans, and gave special bonuses to students planning to teach school in the future. The advocates of this approach state that U.S. ability to compete in the world marketplace depends on a highly educated workforce, which can be done through increased college affordability and access.

      Put More Books into Homes. Some feel that education can be greatly improved by just making sure parents have lots of books in their homes, and encouraging them to read 20 minutes a day with their children. In fact, according to a study by Hanushek and Woessman, the number of books in an American student’s home can predict with great accuracy the outcome of that student’s academic progress. In fact, kids coming from homes with at least two full bookcases will score two and a half grade levels above kids coming from homes with few books.

What’s a Parent to Do?

     While the country continues to battle over what exactly is causing the struggle in America's schools and how to fix it, parents are left with few good answers from the outside. Those who are concerned about making sure their own children don’t fall into the trap of going through the system without receiving an adequate education need to come up with their own conclusions and strategies. In fact, homeschooling is a growing trend that many parents have chosen to make sure their kids are taught what the parents value most. When done well, homeschooled children have shown the ability to compete well against children educated in other ways.    
     Other parents are turning to auxiliary programs such as personal tutoring, or using summer educational programs as a supplement to their child’s education. Whatever you choose to help your own students, it's important to realize that without adequate parental involvement, you’re leaving your children’s education in the hands of a hotly debated topic that has not yet been figured out at the highest levels.

So... Now that you have read Emma's thoughts, what do YOU think? Leave a comment and/or share with a teacher/parent/administrator!

Mr. Hughes


  1. The one area overlooked by your guest post is recruiting a top notch head administrator...Headmaster/Head teacher/Principle. Our son attended a public school in London his first year at school. Despite the school being nearly 60 years old, having limited supplies and cramped classrooms, the lady doing the driving made sure the school employed quality teachers who are passionate about teaching. And she involved the parents too, even when they refused to be involved in their child's education. Moreover, I sensed she genuinely cared about the type of education her students received and wanted only the very best for them.

    1. Good Point Diplo_Daddy!
      I also feel that the ending part about homeschooling isn't always the answer. Getting everyone involved in improving the schools is needed. If anyone thinks that teachers enjoy all the testing, paper work, meetings, and such, then they are dreaming. I would LOVE to just be able to teach without having to document the 6 ways I tried to teach a concept. To be able to test my students without worrying about making sure they know the way to find the solution in 4 different ways and understand 4 words that mean the same thing so when they take the state tests they will know HOW to answer the question. I would love to not be defined by a 50 question test at the end of the school year that asks students to work alone after being helped and guided for the entire school year. Yup... I agree that changes are needed, but pulling students out of schools isn't, in my opinion, the answer.
      Good to hear from your Diplo- hope you had an amazing holiday.

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