The Current Education System is Failing our Students
Motivation plays an important role in a person's life. It is those incentives, techniques that cause a person to take certain actions.
An examination of causes of educational inequity
Equality is a term largely thrown around in political discourse. However, it is an ideal that is largely out of reach, particularly within the United States’ education system.
Attending public school through 12th grade in underserved areas of my city allowed me to see educational inequity firsthand. From being required to purchase my own textbooks to tutoring ESL students at my high school, I became conscious of how access to educational materials determines one’s school success. My education journey allowed me to see how educational inequality contributes to social and income inequality, thus creating a poverty cycle.
The United States has allowed schools to have an unequal distribution of academic resources for far too long. Although I consider myself privileged when it comes to my history with public education, I personally saw the struggle among my classmates. Some of my classmates did not have internet at home to complete research for class, the majority were on free and reduced lunch, and some were even homeless. Although my high school offered the International Baccalaureate program, only 21/420 students in my senior class were enrolled in the program. Younger grades have had fewer and fewer students enrolled in the program, and the district is struggling to continue funding it. When senior year came around and I began to study for my exams, I had to purchase my own IB textbook if I wanted to study at home. Although classes were free, exams cost close to $1000. A free, advanced, international education is right in front of students’ faces but they cannot afford to participate in it.
The educational system was built with a bias; bias in deciding where to direct funds, bias in the material we teach, and bias in where the school is located. It makes all the difference in the world if your neighborhood is wealthy or poor. The bias is dependent upon “the have and have nots” mentality, and this bias determines student success.
The Funding Gap
Education funding in the United States varies by state, as state governments determine what percentage of their budget should go toward education, and the federal government only allocates approximately 4% of the annual budget to education. After each state determines its education budget, the funding is divided amongst cities and districts. This monetary distribution system leaves room for bias within decision making, in turn maintaining the achievement gap within education.
Americans have long seen education as a means to avert the poverty cycle, as well as boost economic growth and increase individual income. However, schools and students in need of the most funding generally receive the least. Districts serving the poorest students, predominantly low-income students and students of color are given less access to less resources, fewer courses, and more inexperienced teachers, only perpetuating the poverty cycle. By not giving equal funding to these schools and districts, low-income students within these schools are disadvantaged and less likely to receive the same quality of education as students in a better-off neighborhood.
These students continue to perform poorly on standardized tests compared to well-funded schools.
To make matters worse, budget cuts have forced schools to cut classes and academic programs, increase average class sizes, and teaching positions have been reduced. In addition, when districts do not have enough funding for new and updated textbooks, they resort to reusing outdated ones, or rely on their teachers to personally supply materials. A common alternative to this is forcing students to purchase their own supplies- some students families’ can afford to purchase their own, but an increasing majority of public school students are low-income and cannot afford these necessary materials.
Curriculum is Old-fashioned
Saving money by using out-of-date textbooks is not the only contributor to old-fashioned curriculum. The current education system was designed during the agrarian era and only slightly modified during industrial times; and it was created with the intent of imparting values and skills of these times onto students. The transition between the agrarian and industrial eras was influenced by the ideology that public education was the best method of teaching unruly children discipline. Today, our school system still values discipline and a structured regimen under the teacher’s discretion. Today our schools are still teaching many of the same values, but with yesterday’s methods.
Despite the advancements of the last 50 years, schools continue to teach without the aid of technology. Even with the abundance of information we can access, our schools continue to demand discipline and restrict out-of-the-box thinking, leaving little or no room for technological teaching methods and innovation within the classroom. If the world around us changes and we do not, how are our students going to be prepared for the jobs of the future — largely technology-based, non-traditional careers? The current education system is teaching us outdated skills designed for the industrial era, and ignoring modern history; a modern history that will dictate the career paths of current students.
Lumping our students together and teaching as if they are an individual has only taught students to conform and not to learn. By ignoring the individual qualities, strengths, and interests of students, our society has failed to use schools to support students’ strengths and passions and instead has forced them to rotely follow arbitrary tasks largely aimed at training students to pass tests. Technology should be used to advance the way students learn information particularly because it enables individualized learning, leading to student satisfaction and productivity.
The Way We Measure Success
Our education system has come to measure success with standardized tests. While equal tests are scattered across classrooms, schools, and districts, the quality of education received in preparation of these tests varies tremendously. As we have already seen, funding often dictates performance which in turn dictates funding.
The education students are receiving is aimed at improving standardized test scores: the education system is teaching how to take a test. Not only do these tests dictate the curriculum, but also what is deemed important for each given level of education. Because standardized tests have become the foundation for education, creativity in classrooms is stifled, minority and low-income students are disadvantaged, and extrinsic motivators and reckless means of achieving higher scores are encouraged.
Standardized tests do not take into account learner differences, out-of-the-box thinking, or the individual qualities, talents, and passions of students. Requiring students to pass arbitrary, subjective, pre-determined pass-or-fail scores disservices our entire society. How can we encourage learning, innovation, and preparedness for the ever-changing career forecast if we discourage creativity and individuality? What opportunities will underprivileged students have access to if we continue to favor students from higher socioeconomic classes who can afford tutoring and resources?
Associating high standardized test scores with success has assisted in perpetuating the achievement gap among our students, and declared to students that their personal attributes and unique qualities are trivial and unimportant in their education and life.
What We Can Do
Educational inequity is holding our students back from reaching their full potential and holding the younger generations back from receiving the best education responsible. In holding students back, we are depriving future society of the best foundation possible for a better world. If education were treated as an investment into the future of a country, investors would not hesitate to do their part in planning ahead and securing the future of a nation. As adults, constituents, educators, lawmakers, parents, and lifelong learners, we are responsible for the education our children are receiving. The children we are subjecting to a poorly designed education systems will be the ones leading our country. What do we want the future of our country to look like? What should our educational system look like in order to achieve this? These are the questions we must ask. As patrons of the process, we can no longer look the other way. We can no longer ignore the political process. We must make our voice heard.
As a society we need to speak up and improve the education system for future generations.
With 21st century technology, we have more opportunity and ability to create change than ever before. We have the power to shape how we think the world should operate, and so far we have not taken advantage of that opportunity. We can no longer allow our children to suffer through poorly-funded educational measures or selectively pick which students learn without the proper resources.
If we can change how we approach education, we have the potential to decrease the achievement gap and change the future of socioeconomic inequality. We are all human. We all deserve an equal education. Let’s stand up to teach our students the importance of learning, develop a culture around education, and teach all students, despite race, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic class the skills they need to tackle the problems of the future.