Why the K-12 Blame Game Benefits No One
By Matthew Lynch
With skyrocketing costs, budget crises, inconsistent curricula, poor standardized testing scores, and poor morale among teachers, administrators, and students, the need for sustainable and pervasive educational change is greater now than ever before. The number of questions related to the quality of the U.S. educational system from multiple sectors of society is at an all-time high.
Many American parents have seen reports that American schools rank well below schools in countries such as China and Japan, or have heard President Obama declare a “dropout crisis.” An abundance of news reports and discouraging case studies has created panic among education stakeholders, who want to know why American school systems are failing. However, many insist on playing the “blame game,” which in most cases is counterproductive.
Many Americans believe that only a small percentage of leaders understand the complexities of the school system, and that individuals who do understand the intricacies of the system use their knowledge to justify the mediocre performance of our teachers and students. It’s not hard to see why this is the typical opinion. Consider these points:
- The American school system is the best-financed system in the world, but is one of the lowest performing.
- The American school system as a whole has an appalling performance record. For children living in urban environments, the story is even more alarming. Students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are often educated in dilapidated schools where the too many educators lack the credentials and skills necessary to perform their duties adequately.
- High student-to-teacher ratios are found in most urban schools, and these schools often lack the resources to deal with the diverse challenges they face, including unruly student behavior. Education has been called the great equalizer, but for students living in poverty-stricken urban areas it is little more than a babysitting service and a place to get a hot meal.
Many people question whether the No Child Left Behind Act has contributed to achieving academic success. Although NCLB was well intentioned, it has not lived up to the hopes of government or schools. In the eyes of some, NCLB has actually contributed to subpar academics becoming even worse. If American educators and school personnel do not make a concerted effort to develop effective measures to hold schools accountable for the education of all of our children, then the education crisis will continue.
There is an exception to every rule: some urban school systems are providing a quality education. Unfortunately, however, only a small number of school systems meet the state and federal government student performance requirements. For underperforming urban school systems, the problem usually lies with the inability to sustain existing reform efforts and initiatives. Mayors and school superintendents in these areas often concoct grandiose reform plans that are merely political devices meant to beguile voters into believing they genuinely care about educational reform. The idea that politicians create school reform to gain popularity and votes is sad and sobering. It is discouraging to realize that our children’s futures might be used as a political device to win elections.
Politicians are not the only people at fault for the shoddy education American children are receiving, but no one will take responsibility for subpar educational environments. If administrators were asked who was at fault, they might point to a lack of parental involvement and too few quality teachers. If teachers were asked who was at fault they might also cite a lack of parental involvement and ineffective administration. If parents were asked who was at fault they might blame teachers and school administrators. Society in general seems to conclude that the lack of quality teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors contributing to educational failure.
Whatever the reason, Americans have become the laughing stock of the free world when it comes to K-12 education. The solution, of course, is for the country to unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America’s future via educational excellence without playing the “blame game.” But where does that realistically begin?