Until the second half of the nineteenth century, the education system in America was available only to the wealthy. With the arrival of reformers, free elementary education became available to every American child by the end of the nineteenth century. They believed that all children should gain the benefits of education and argued that a system of common schooling was necessary to create good citizens and unity in the society.
Crimes and poverty will be prevented only with unity among every citizen. Boston Latin School which was founded in 1635 was the first one of its kind in the United States. Ever since, especially by the end of the twentieth century, “the percentage of teenagers who graduated from high school increased from about 6 percent to about 85 percent.” (Thattai). However, the prevailing public school system faces many learning issues, including flaws in the newly undertaken policies and teaching.
One major issue that is brought up is the low standard of education provided in public schools.
To improve the educational quality and provide equal opportunities to all students, an act which was named the ‘No Child Left Behind Act came into being in the year 2001. Though it described a worthy goal for the nation, it had many flaws which have resulted in aggravating the problems in the current system. The main aim of the program was to set high standards for schools and improve individual performances of the students resulting in the betterment of school performance as a whole. The program asked each state to devise methods by which they would improve their results and gave fixed time limits for achieving it.
The program aimed to motivate teachers to give individual attention to each student to help him improve his performance. Currently, the program rates the performances of schools and each state by conducting various standardized tests annually in schools. These tests include multiple-choice questions, based on theory. The schools which do not show progress in these tests each year are rated as ‘failing schools’, thus giving parents the option to change their children to another school. Huge amounts of government funds have flowed for these tests and the program in general. However, though the government’s goals are genuine, the program has a lot of flaws in it. “The current federal law is aggravating, not solving, the real problems that cause many children to be left behind…” (No Child Left Behind is a Failing our Children).
The sole problem in the program is that it depends only on the standardized tests to judge the students’ and schools’ annual progress. The tests which include only theory questions set unrealistic goals by judging all students the same way. The rigidity of the act puts pressure on the teachers and students and it produces adverse effects. It fails in helping the children to gain more knowledge.
The present public school system does not at all support the students. Earlier goals of giving imparting knowledge about various subjects, personality development, and raising self-confidence in children have been forgotten. In the current system, children are made to believe that standardized tests are the most important source of evaluation. This puts great pressure on the children and they prepare themselves only for the tests. The belief that these multiple-choice questions are the best ways to judge the students, is wrong. The students devote a major portion of their time studying for the tests. This results in a lack of knowledge about various subjects which were earlier part of the syllabus.
The tests give importance to only a few subjects like math and English. Proficiency in English is considered essential by the tests, which is being unfair towards the foreign students. Many of the international students are unable to perform well in English proficiency tests. This can lead to the school getting a ‘failing school’ rating. The program aims at providing special coaching to students who are weak in particular subjects. But the teachers, who undergo the pressure as the students, do not find time to even care about the weaker ones. Since the teachers are given a time limit, they are forced to give a lot of classwork and homework to the students.
The schools require to improve the performance and knowledge level of the students. Very often, the work given to the students is of a high standard, which the students find difficult to understand. There are occasions when they are unable to do work by themselves and ask for the help of their parents. The fact that homework is to be done by the students is not practiced. A major complaint about the public school system including the ones raised by parents is that a good portion of the homework given to the students is done by them. Since the pressure on the teachers is very high, they get irritated when a student gives poor work in any subject.
The weaker children are often punished by teachers. This weakens their confidence level and self-esteem. Psychological problems occur due to the pressure on them. Instead of helping the weak children, teachers discourage and reprimand them for poor performances. An example is the Virginia Standards of Learning which is a standardized test following the no child left behind act. Foreign Service students in American schools find that the test is given much importance in the schools, which they find difficult. A foreign student who is admitted to a school after the beginning of an academic year does not have to take the tests. However, the student’s score will be recorded and the school might get a ‘failing school’ rating.
This creates much tension in the students and anxiety in the parents because if the school gets a bad rating, the students must be transferred to another school for a better future. (Virginia Standards of Learning and the No Child Left Behind Act). It policy is not fair because, even if a foreign student takes the tests, it is very rare that he gets a good score on the English proficiency test. So, as his score will be counted in the school’s performance, every student in the institution suffers from it.
It is also found that the teachers in the public schools are not always competitive enough in their fields. One reason for this might be the pressure the tests put on them. All the work given to the students must be checked by the teachers and they do not have enough time to explain the subjects to the children. They are prepared only for standardized tests. The irritated teachers scold and punish the weaker students because bad performance affects their job and the school rating.
Real education is not imparted to the students. They are not taught to live in the 21st century, which encourages only the survival of the fittest. The current situation discourages both the bright students and the weaker students because such tests provide only limited knowledge, but put high pressure on the students. “As long as our government believes that a rigid structure of Standardized tests is to be the basis of the American Public School system, few kids will ever be able to compete with even medium-achievers who were educated in other countries!” (American Public School Problems). This will naturally lead the parents to transfer their children from public schools to private schools where education is more international.
A real-life experience by a 16-year-old girl, Ashley Anderson is evidence enough for the low standards of learning in public schools. She says, she was never taught about the great writers or encouraged to read books in the public school which she earlier attended. She knew about various subjects only after she was transferred to a private school. She says the difference in teaching and learning in public and private schools, is vast.
At the public school, she was taught only the test syllabus, which did not require any extra reading other than book guides. “Reliance on technology was very big in public school. I was told not to worry about spelling something correctly, because computers have spell check programs on them. Isn’t school the place to learn how to spell correctly?” (Anderson). Apart from all these, she says the students in the public school were uncontrollable. She felt the difference when she joined the private school where children are well behaved. The teachers recommended the parents of the weaker students to take them to a doctor, to be treated for ‘behavior problem.’
To improve the condition of the public school system in America, immediate steps must be taken in providing more effective teaching and learning experiences in schools. Methods other than just standardized tests must be followed to evaluate the students. Various kinds of tests, which include theoretical and practical exams must be included in academics. Every student will not be equally good at learning all subjects. The syllabus must cater to the standards of all students. Teachers too must be encouraged to help the weaker students. Severe punishments must be avoided in schools. The students must be given personality development classes.
They should be taught to behave well both inside and outside the school campus. Any kind of discrimination and prejudice by the teachers and students must not be tolerated at any cost. Every student and every culture must be considered equal in schools. President Obama, in his speech about public education in America, says that bad teachers will be removed from schools as a step in the direction of improvement. He asks for teachers of the new generation to come forward to help the future ones of America. “In addition to these ideas, President Obama wants to put renewed focus on early childhood education and make it possible for every student to go to college.” (Wagaman).
Public schools that were earlier looked upon are now not considered as good as private schools. Only a strong basement in education, during their childhood, will help the children in their future. Methods of teaching and testing, which hinder the development of the children must be stopped and instead productive methods must be introduced in the public educational systems.
American Public School Problems. 2009. Web.
Anderson, Ashley. America’s Failing Public School System. 2003. Web.
No Child Left Behind is a Failing our Children. Nochildleft. 2004. Web.
Thattai, Deeptha. A History of Public Education in the United States: High School. 2009. Web.
Virginia Standards of Learning and the No Child Left Behind Act. U.S. Department of State. 2009. Web.
Wagaman, Jennifer. President Obama and the Public School System. Suite101. 2009. Web.