How Our Education System Fails Most Students
Currently, the United States has problems of all sizes, and one of the most serious problems is the crisis in the education system. Trends such as school closures, unequal access, budget cuts, and privatization end up taking a gradual but heavy toll on students from the pre-kindergarten, to the K-12 and higher education level. Let’s take a look at some of the ways the US education system is failing most students.
Education as a commodity
Today, our education system, especially in higher institutions such as universities has been commodified at the expense of students’ intrinsic values. In many American colleges, each student is seen as a consumer who is simply undergoing the process of acquiring a degree. When the system encourages individualism, arrogance, and disinterest, the result is the erosion of values like honesty, solidarity, discipline, and cooperation. It’s little wonder 50,000 students reported that they engaged in exam malpractices within three years, according to a 2016 study by The Times.
A system that breeds cheating students can only record low academic performance and achievements. For instance, 60% of English language students in New York high schools failed the algebra Regents examination in 2017/18 academic session. This amounts to 13,000 more of students who failed the exam when compared to the figures from the previous year.
The US educational environment is becoming less and less egalitarian. Educational opportunities in our higher institutions largely depend on families’ social statuses. Students from wealthy homes usually have sufficient resources to gain access to preparatory courses into colleges, which is a prerequisite for gaining admission into the American tertiary education level.
It should not be surprising that among the best 146 US universities, only 10% of the students come from the lower social strata in the United States. You may want to ask what do these students who are shut out from the system engage in? It’s a no-brainer that a failed education model will only result in a failed societal system.
One of the endpoints of the failure of the US education system is the trend of frequent school closures. According to NCES, in 2015-2016 alone, 893 regular level K-12 schools were shut down, including 32 special education schools, 14 vocational schools, and 221 alternative schools. This amounts to a total of 1,160 school closures in a single year.
Students in these schools come from the poorest, marginalized, and excluded communities of American cities. Unfortunately, Hispanic and African-American students are the majority in failed schools. A sad example is Manhattan’s Norman Thomas High School that was shut down in 2014. It had 67% Hispanics and 27% African-Americans (94% of the students).
This environment of school failure, school closure, and extreme poverty in the Hispanic and African-American communities is the breeding ground that fosters the reproduction of inequality, despair, and violence in these communities. It’s a time bomb!
The failure of the US education system is the direct consequence of a bureaucratized public system and an educational model which is exam-centric and disconnected from the particular realities of the people. Quality education for all is a right. Students, parents, teachers, school administrations, and the communities, in general, have to take part in the search for solutions to raise the poor performance of schools.
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As a university-level educator for 35 years, I wonder if the following scenario has any impact or role in the process described in the article: Students are spending an enormous amount of time on their smartphones. Most of the time this “activity” serves as the equivalent of social life. The constant bombardment of (mostly unsolicited and unnecessary) information coming through the smart-phones lowers their curiosity and motivation to seek information in the school, from their educators. Longing for “social acceptance” at a stronger drive, students from lower-income families are even more affected by the phenomenon of “dumbing down by smartphones” , than students from wealthier families, their achievement at the exams is lower, their failing rate provides affirming feedback and sending them the message of being “not accepted”… Then the cycle continues. Nevertheless, I found the arguments of the article also true, although providing quality education to unmotivated, phone-staring, and constantly texting students is quite a challenge.