Does anything work in the U.S. education system?

When I was in high school in the late 80’s — early 90’s, it seemed that the U.S. education system was an abysmal failure — after all, weren’t the Soviets and the Chinese students scoring higher in math? Today, headlines still decry our education system as a failure. In a recent op-ed piece published in the New York Times, “One Classroom, From Sea to Shining Sea,” Susan Jacoby advocates for a national system with a standardized curriculum, standardized teacher training, and standardized funding. She states that our system has outgrown its antiquated independent heritage.

Funding. It’s difficult to discuss problems with our educational system without discussing funding. As a California resident, I’ve watched funding drastically diminish with, among other things, the passage of Proposition 13, the Enron scandal, and our latest recession. Education is not a funding priority. Regardless of curricular referendums, standardized testing, and increased accountability for teachers, without consistent and ample funding, our schools will continue to degrade. Without realistic budgets for classrooms, teachers, and materials, we are expecting the impossible from our schools. Even as a university teacher, I have often purchased supplies for my students and classroom. Under the best conditions, teachers labor with limited support. Imagine spending 6 hours in a classroom with thirty 12 year olds (those of you with pre-teens understand the challenge of an hour with just one), five days a week. While competing for their attention and attempting to manage the classroom chatter, now imagine that class days are longer due to budget cuts, or you’ve had a wasp’s nest near the outside classroom door for six months, despite several requests to have it with removed, so you need to keep the door and outside windows shut. Now imagine that most of the toilets don’t work because the district has had to cut a majority of its maintenance staff (I’m describing a colleague’s actual experience in a Southern California school district). These externalities are rarely part of discussions about our education system. Instead, let’s talk about standardized testing and holding teachers more accountable.

Education isn’t simply something to criticize. We all have a stake in its success. We choose. We choose to prioritize other issues, vote against bond measures, argue the intricacies of esoteric tax rules, and then blame our teachers, their training, or some other indefinable scapegoat for our failure to adequately educate our future. Let’s put our energy into figuring out an ample funding scheme for our schools, giving teachers and students the resources they need, create a climate of success and then re-visit questions of standardized tests, national curricula, and teacher accountability.

5 thoughts on “Does anything work in the U.S. education system?

  1. I doubt there are teachers who spend just 6 hours a day teaching! That’s hilarious! Oh yeah, I guess there are a lot of part-time positions now so the districts don’t have to pay for insurance.

  2. Sheila; I thought the figure was low! What is an average teaching load? I was trying to put classroom time versus prep time, but how many hours overall do you work?

  3. No no, I meant it’s low! :)

    I don’t work in a public school so my hours with students actually in the room (~6) are kinda irrelevant to the number of hours “real teachers” spend with students since they don’t get prep periods.

  4. I think the call for standardized curriculum is more political than we can even imagine! One of my professor’s this semester is Dr. Lynda Simcox. She was involved in the National Center for History in the Schools (NCHS) which focused on created a standardized curriculum for history. In an odd twist, NCHS was heralded and then lambasted due to the political climate.
    She’s the author of a book titled “Whose History?”….it’s an interesting read

  5. Just this morning, as I was lying in bed thanking God that I still have my elementary teaching job, I was contemplating the actual number of hours I spend DAILY preparing and delivering curriculum to 20 English language learners. I arrive at my classroom most days by 6:30 and leave by 4:00 or 4:30. That’s a 10-hour day. Today is Saturday and I’ve spent 3 hours working on report cards. It’s like that most weekends. The blessing of keeping my job is real, since 19 teachers at my school have received lay-off notices. But, their going means those of us still working will be adding their students to our 20, increasing our workload by 50% and our paychecks by 0%. It is not a happy time in education right now. We are continually asked to deliver higher and higher scores with fewer and fewer resources. (Oh yes, and I had a beehive [hardly distracting, at all.]

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