The Failing of the United States Education System
Although the United States is envied for being the land of opportunity and the land of the free, one thing the United States is not envied for is it’s flawed education system. The United States education system is expensive, shows average test scores, and handicaps student creative capabilities.
The schools in the United States are all based off of a very linear structure, which teaches students nothing more than the minimum requirements of standardized tests. These standardized tests are unique to each state, but every standardized test seems to focus on the same topics of math, writing and science. The people who devise these tests, however, are those who hold their own academic strength in said subjects (Rose Garrett, Education.com.) In recent years, the government has come to favor standardized testing due in part to the No Child Left Behind Act. The NCLB Act takes the scores from the standardized tests to measure and compare scores between individual schools. Schools with high-test scores are favored, granting more government funding, while schools with low-test scores could receive punishments. For example, if a school fails to see academic progress through higher test scores, there could be harsh sanctions for the school that keep getting worse over time. The problem with this is that some schools may have a lower testing average than others due to diverse student groups. (Education Week, No Child Left Behind.) The idea behind standardized tests rewards students for academic excellence, but creates a cultural divide between those who are considered “smart” and those who are considered “dumb.”
Students whose strong suits are in math, science or writing emerge with high scores on standardized tests, leading to better education in more recognized and reputable universities while those who’s strength lye in other subjects, such as the arts or music are only able to attend universities and colleges of weaker reputation. If classes were structured more diversely, placing students with classmates who match their interests and intelligence levels, the level of students who are considered “smart” would rise exponentially, giving a broader range of students higher chances of receiving grants and scholarships from these higher reputation schools. These students wouldn’t be judged and tested strictly on topics found in standardized tests. Their intelligence would be calculated with tests and practices based on a students individual interest. If a student has an interest in the arts, they can focus all of their learning on the arts. Mathematics and linguistic classes should still exist, but only in a manner that teaches students exactly what they should know for their chosen career and life paths. Standardized tests that judge students intelligence levels on topics of math and language would become irrelevant and pointless to students whose chosen topics of study wouldn’t need these subjects, such as those who want to focus more on art or logic. The only use of the current standardized tests would be to make sure students are prepared for real world practices of mathematics and language, with basic algebra and statistics, which can help on things like taxes and business, and language skills that teach people to better communicate and express their ideas to others. These classes are far from the only thing that can help create better-rounded individuals. Classes focused on the arts are some of the best things a student can enroll themselves in to exit school as better rounded individuals, yet art classes are pushed to the side due to the fact that more academic based classes are favored in the eyes of the educational system.
“Smart” students receive money in the form of scholarships that others are unable to acquire due to their lack of skill in math, science or writing. The money from scholarships is given out to those whose grades and scores are highest in these subjects. Those with low scores and grades who are accepted into more recognized schools may still not be able to attend these schools as they cannot afford the high cost, while those with higher grades are having their education paid for them. After attending these high reputation schools, graduates are given more job opportunities for being favored over a school with a lower reputation. Essentially, high paying jobs are only being given to those who can afford the education. Another way you can look at this is by saying the rich get richer.
Test scores in the United States also seem to be lower than that of other countries. Americas education system is considered “average” by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD.) The OECD, which holds the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) every three years, evaluates the knowledge and skills of 15 year olds from 70 different countries around the world. On a scale of 0-1000, the United States’ scores were considered average with scores of 487, 500 and 502 in math, reading and science, respectively. When compared to the other thirty-four OECD countries, students from twenty-four other countries were found to have better scores than the United States, seventeen countries holding higher scores on a statistically significant basis (John Hechinger, Bloomberg, U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test.)
While the United States does not produce scores place in the top ten countries that take the PISA, the United States does happen to be the number one in spending on education. The United States spends over eight hundred-nine billion dollars per year on education. That is over five times as much the second highest spender, Japan, who spends roughly one hundred sixty billion dollars per year (USC Rossier Online Staff, U.S. Education Spending and Performance Vs. The World.) But when we turn back to the PISA, Japan is ranked fourth on a global scale, while the United States, can once again be found in seventeenth place (Sean Coughlan, BBC News, UK education sixth in global ranking.). This is clearly enough evidence to show that the more money does not mean better academics. In fact, from the 1970’s, the United States spending per student has more than doubled, while scores have flat lined (Professor Mark J. Perry, Education Spending Doubled, Stagnant Test Scores.) The United States is spending roughly eleven thousand dollars per year on each student, which is almost three thousand dollars more per student than the average of all of the other OECD countries (Face the Facts USA, Money Can’t Buy Genius.) If spending clearly isn’t what creates better scores, we need to look to these other countries, such as the three highest scoring OECD countries, Finland, South Korea and Hong Kong, for ways to improve upon academics.
Perhaps the United States needs to look to other countries cultures for a solution. The success of Asian countries in the OECD rankings can easily be attributed to the higher societal attitude of education. Parents hold higher standards for their children’s education. Being a teacher is also considered to hold much more prestige, paying teachers significantly higher salaries than teachers located in the United States. Students need to pay attention during long lectures, versus participating in open class discussions or activities such as in American schools. Not to mention their students are also in class for much longer school days and staying in school for sixty days longer than an American student. Your education in other countries places a lot of weight and responsibility on the shoulders of their students. School is their number one priority (University of Michigan, Education System of Japan and the US.)
Some of their methods in other countries are a bit too different from American methods for the country to adapt, but some of those changes can still be achieved. For example, a school year can be extended if schools decide to only take off for major holidays, similar to a school year of a normal four-year university. This could add roughly seven to fourteen days to a school year. Even those one to two weeks added would be able to make a significant difference in student test scores without making the school year seem longer. The United States would need to cut back on education spending, but also place more money in the schools that don’t have much money to begin with. Teacher’s salaries shouldn’t be based off of who has tenure and seniority. Teachers would be given higher salaries based off of how well they teach and if they are helping students produce higher test results. This can get rid of teachers who have out of date teaching methods or who have lost motivation, and replace them with teachers who are using new methods of teaching who are dedicated to educating their students. Progress would be slow at first, but as soon as teachers are given the opportunity for more respect and higher wages, student’s grades and scores will rise as teachers ensure their students produce results.
Because schools mainly focus on providing more education in math, writing and science, students are given little room to grow in the classroom outside of those three topics. Human beings are born with complex, creative minds. Once they enter the American education system, their creativity immediately becomes weaker. Schools are not nurturing a student’s creative ability when they focus strictly on math, science and writing. Because there is so much focus on the three topics, and only those three topics, employers are finding it harder and harder to differentiate new job applicants from one another. Normally, all an employer would look for is a bachelors or masters degree, but now they look for other skills to find the best possible employee’s. Employers look to other scores that can’t really be judged by test scores.
BAE Systems, a British multinational defense company, has many workers scattered across multiple time zone in many different world regions. Their employee’s need to be able to have strong communication and team work skills to ensure that everyone working on a particular project, scattered all around the world are all working together to ensure the best possible outcome. Small companies also require strong teamwork skills. Businesses that employ less than fifty people, such as retail stores, can require a lot of work on a daily basis, and with a small staff, teamwork ensures that employees are all contributing to the same goals of the company.
The technology firm ZocDoc requires all job applicants to answer a specific creative question on the cover letters of their resume. Candidates who use unexpected complex answers are chosen to advance in the selection process. Creativity is what leads to new innovative ideas. Companies such as Apple are a good example. Before the Cupertino based company developed the iPhone, cell phones were all essentially the same slate design with nothing to differentiate between one another. Finding a cell phone on the market whose entire interface was based on touching a screen was no easy task. Years ago, the idea seemed like a crazy ideas from a science fiction novel, yet today, there are people everywhere carrying around an iOS or Android Smartphone. The idea to make an all screen, few button phone had to have come from somewhere, and that creativity is what sparked the new smart phone revolution. Some creative genius had to develop the idea and had to challenge the market to create and accept such a bizarre concept. Companies are always looking for new idea to challenge the market and create something to change the world, just as Apple did years ago with the iPhone. Companies search for creative individuals who stand out from one another.
In order to maintain an individual’s creativity and team working skills, we can look to schools. This is where art classes come into play. Classes in the arts are some of the strongest options for students looking to increase their skills in creativity. Lisa Phillips wrote an article in the Washington Post that highlights creativity, confidence, problem solving, perseverance, focus, non-verbal communication, receiving constructive feedback, collaboration, dedication and accountability as the top ten skills learned from art classes. For creativity, Phillips mentions common activities of art programs, being reciting monologues in 6 different ways, composing a rhyme, and creating paintings representing a student’s memory. Practicing the arts, through many activities including those previously mentioned as well as many other creative activities found in art teacher’s curriculums, enhances a student’s abilities to think on their feet and think outside of the box.
For teamwork, look to theatrical and musical arts. Unless students are performing on stage alone for an entire play, much needs to be learned to work with others to achieve the same artistic goal of the performance. In a musical performance, performers must be playing instruments in the same time as their fellow performers to create a piece that sounds appealing to the ears of the audience. Theatre is another perfect example of teamwork, dedication and accountability. Being someone who’s had much experience on stage, I can say with confidence the amount of trust you must put into your fellow actors. You have to trust your fellow thespians to listen and adapt to the scene you perform in. Working with each other, actors try to create a visual performance that entertains and make an audience feel a range of emotions to make their performance seem less of an act, and more of a reenactment of an alternate world on a stage. Actors must learn to dedicate their lives to their character, creating an alternate personality on stage. The goal of the actors is to receive the ever-coveted gift of applause or laugh, or even tears from the audience members, and with a single slip up of a line or the miss of a cue even from those off stage, perhaps operating sound or lights, can throw off an entire performance. Working with the entire crew ensures a beautiful piece of visual art that makes people beg for an encore. Without the teamwork of the cast, and crew, everyone on stage will seem confused and flustered on stage. The skills learned on stage can always be adapted to the workplace. When someone slips up on while working in a team, the entire crew, or even entire company look like fools.
The other skills mentioned by Phillips are all essential skills employers look for. Constructive feedback helps to ensure employees can improve upon their skill with feedback of their colleagues. Non-verbal communication can help employee’s read their colleagues emotions to know when their work can be improved on or if everything is perfect even if the person giving the feedback is not one for verbal communication. Focus and problem solving obviously helps to ensure workers are dedicated to their work to finish their projects without distraction or obstacles. Perseverance and confidence are essential to make sure every employee is working towards something they want to do and enjoy instead of working day-to-day just to receive a paycheck.
The path to strengthening the United States’ education system is long and tiresome. The reward, however, for working to cut costs, improve test scores and create better rounded creative individuals will be wonderful. A stronger economy and stronger job market would all emerge, leading to a much smarter and much happier United States.
- Rose Garret: Is Standardized Testing Failing Our Kids?
- Education Week: No Child Left Behind
- John Hechinger/Bloomberb: U.S. Teens Lag as China Soars on International Test
- USC Rossier Online: U.S. EDUCATION SPENDING AND PERFORMANCE VS. THE WORLD [INFOGRAPHIC]
- Sean Coughlan/ BBC News: UK education sixth in global ranking
- Professor Mark J. Perry/University of Michigan: Education Spending Doubled, Stagnant Test Scores
- Face the Facts USA: Money can’t buy genius
- University of Michigan: Educational Systems of Japan and the US
- Lisa Phillips: Top 10 skills children learn from the arts.