Re-Thinking the American Education System

          The American education system is broken. The system has been based off of the idea of providing an equal opportunity to education. However, the students have not been benefiting from this equal opportunity because each student is different; there is no standardization of minds. How can we expect to standardize education to the point where a student’s worth is measured by a test score? Have we forgotten how students learn? I’m beginning to consider the debate, over Equity versus Equality with regards to public education, in connection to this debate. This paper serves as a reflection of my observations of the education system in America and how I believe it can be improved.

          I believe a true democratic education system will allow the same opportunities to people of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Living in the United States of America that is one of our rights, yet it is constantly overlooked by those in charge of our education system. There has always been a reality of upper class neighborhoods with better schools versus those neighborhoods of lower class families having to settle for the education their schools could provide. I grew up in Chicago, and experienced what lack of funding could do to schools. I witnessed a lot of great teachers lose their jobs, a lot of great programs get cut, a lot of lost opportunities.

            I thought that if everyone were to be offered the same education programs it would be a perfect system. My focus was on the opportunities lost due to budget cuts and lack of funding. But I failed to look deeper into what was happening.  There is more to a democratic system for education than equal opportunity. That should be the standard nonetheless, for all students to have the same resources and to be able to take advantage of what their schools can offer. But we need to consider, I need to consider, the varying types of students. Not one person is the same as another, that’s what we learn at a young age. Aren’t we all unique in our own way? That’s how we learn. Differently. Every student will have strengths and weaknesses, and having the same opportunities offered o them does not give everyone the same education. We need to consider what each student needs to make the most out of their education. What programs can we offer to students that’s have difficulty reading? Those who have difficulty interpreting the standardized coursework?

            In the American education system there has been a push for the standardization of education since the 1920s with the development of the SAT test. “By the end of World War II, the test was accepted by enough universities that it became a standard rite of passage for college-bound high school seniors” (Fletcher, 2009). Fast forward to today’s education system and we have a multitude of standardized testing, requirements, and curriculum designs all with the idea of providing an equal opportunity to the citizens of the United States. But not every student benefits from this equal opportunity system, because not all students are the same.  Not every student will require advanced physics in their future, or need to understand more than five languages, or know civil engineering, or know how to compose a painting. The key to a true democratic education is that, if there is a set goal to education, it should be for the student to truly learn rather than memorize material to pass a test. A number on a test should not measure a student’s worth. There is more to education than passing a test, and that test should not restrain a student to continuing their academic career because they did not meet or exceed the average standardized test score.

            So how can a proper school reform occur that is beneficial to everyone involved? We have to look at the basic foundations of public education. How we fund our schools. How we organize the public school system. “As a system designed to mold the next generation, the school system seems ideally suited to take on these tasks; and as a publically controlled and publically funded enterprise, it is responsive to political demands” (Labaree, 2012, p. 106). In order to consider all of these levels, the views of the teachers, parents, and students need to be taken into consideration by those at the top.

          Reformers need to consider the impact of change on all four levels of the school system. Labaree defines these four levels of this system being rhetoric, formal structure, teaching practice, and student learning. At the highest level of the system, we have rhetoric, where lawmakers, education professors, policy makers, and others work together to form the broad ideas for reform. This is where the views of all of those who are involved can be taken into consideration. At this level, the ideas can push for frameworks representing change, educational visions, and the concept for a reconstructed education system.

          The next level is applying these ideas at the level to the system’s formal structure. At this level, the ideas formed at the top need to be translated to work at the district level of our education system.  This translation, for lack of a better word, is meant to inform the educators, so that we can have this equal distribution of knowledge. All educators fully informed of the desired direction to push the system towards.  This being done through educational policies, curriculum frameworks, standardized textbooks, and or professional development workshops may offer help in moving forward.  In order to start an educational reform, this level in the system has to be organized. The information must be efficiently distributed and the educators must take on the responsibility of maintaining these standards. But on a state level, the form of government in charge of funding this education system must be held accountable to redesigning the funding system for public education.

          At the local levels, “school districts are primarily funded through property taxes, with half of all property tax revenue being used for public education” (Pitre & Pitre, 2015, p. 75). With a system that provides based on the incomes of the families involved, the families that are middle class or lower suffer. The children suffer. In a city like Chicago, with a history and reality of intense segregation, the school system compared from one end of the city to the other is drastically different. The resources available to privileged (for lack of better word) schools are not always used in the most effective way. The students that require the extra attention, in schools not properly supported/funded lose out on a proper and equal education. The budget for public education needs to be balanced based on equity. This system of funding is one of the things that need to change on a governmental level. “Equity requires that all students in a state be treated equally, regardless of wealth or where they live” (Pitre & Pitre, 2015, p. 77). Taking this basic concept to the rhetoric level of our education system, the ideas directed towards providing schools with sufficient resources to meet our goals and standards.  These resources being, adequate facilities, and states must fund school facilities programs that assure facilities meet state standards (McColl & Malhoit, 2004, p.6).

          Who is it that determines the key points of a curriculum and decides where the funding should go? These ideas created at the top need to be properly distributed through the lower levels of school districts (Labaree, 2012, p. 111). It is the teaching practices that must reflect the goals of these larger ideas. Again, the responsibility falling on the educators themselves to maintain the success that the education is attempting to achieve for its students. The education system needs to be fixed. As of now, the educators are expected to implement the goals and values determined by officials who have not taught. How can someone, who has never been a teacher, tell a teacher how to teach? This creates an artificial education environment that puts the teachers at a disadvantage. The educators have to accomplish what the government decides is important for the students to learn. But the teachers know that there is much more to an education than achieving a test score.

          This year, Illinois passed a bill to replace the Board of Education appointed by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel with one that is elected. This would allow Chicago’s public school system to be overseen by 21 democratically elected members of the public instead of the seven elected members the mayor would have in charge instead (L. F., & F. S., 2016). For years, the Chicago Teacher’s Union, along with the support of Chicago voters, has complained about the appointed board’s lack of communication and proper representation in the concerns of the city.  This bill would allow the people of Chicago to decide whom they trust in charge of managing their public school system. Taking the power away from government officials and putting it back in the hands of the people who are directly affected by these decisions.

          The United States has long been seen as the model for what Democracy looks like. But it has failed to provide its citizens with a truly democratic education system. Over the past few years, the involvement by the parents, teachers, union leaders, and students show that change is occurring. The people must confront these inequalities in the design of the system, not by those who benefit from the system as it is now. Looking towards the future of education in America, the power must be given back to the people. Allow those involved in the school system at its lowest level have a voice in the larger discussions of education. Let the people appoint their own leaders for education.

          My hopes for the future of education are that it truly becomes a democratic one. I hope for an education system that values the student as an individual and understands the potential for each student to become the future artists, educators, and great thinkers of this world. An education system that welcomes the student for the unique experiences and ideas that they bring to the table and does not determine their value from standardized testing. It needs to fall on the educators, the parents, and the students to stand together to change their education system to what they want it to be. Take the control back from those in charge that continue to misrepresent and misunderstand the true meaning of education. Those who experience it first hand know what works and what doesn’t. They are the ones that need to plan for the future generations of educators and students. When the teachers can provide an education that is both equal and equitable, then we have achieved a democratic education that the future generations can truly benefit from.

 

 

 

References

Labaree, D. F. (2010). Someone has to fail: The zero-sum game of public schooling.

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

L. F., & F. S. (n.d.). Illinois House passes bill to create elected CPS board. Retrieved

April 24, 2016, from http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/illinois-house-passes-bill-  create-elected-cps-board/

 

Fletcher, D. (2009). Standardized Testing. Retrieved April 24, 2016, from

http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1947019,00.html

 

McColl, A., & Malhoit, G. C. (2004). Rural school facilities: State policies that provide

students with an environment to promote learning. Arlington, VA: Rural School

and Community Trust.

 

Pitre, A. (n.d.). Multicultural education for educational leaders: Critical race theory and

antiracist perspectives.