When is the last time you’ve heard any high school student say something like that? For the most part, the answer is the same: almost never. That’s the sad reality of our education system.
We’ve gotten to a point where the entire meaning of learning has completely shifted. Children don’t like going to school. They dislike studying. They despise homework. Why? What happened?
There’s no simple answer. The state of modern public education in America can be attributed to numerous factors, namely reduced funding, a lack of support for teachers, and a narrow-minded view of the learning process.
But why exactly does this matter so much? Quite simply put, we’ve never needed a more educated generation than we do right now. The future we strive for requires it. We’re seeing development — in all sectors of society — at unprecedented rates. We need a generation of forward thinkers and lifelong learners who are ready to tackle and thrive through this development. Their ability to adapt, think critically, and work effectively with others is the key to both their personal success and the overall success of society.
As with almost everything, the root cause of all of the issues within the American education system can be attributed to one thing: money. A lack of federal and state funding has crippled the school system and has led school districts to extremes in an effort to save money. For example, ABC News explains that schools in California are eliminating various educational programs and teaching positions simply in order to reduce spending, along with reusing older textbooks for longer periods of time.
This has a domino effect. With fewer teachers available, schools have to overcrowd each classroom with more students. Specifically, the National Center for Education Statistics quantifies that over 22 percent of U.S. schools currently exceed capacity. This directly interferes with the learning process. With more students, it’s increasingly difficult for students to learn and equally difficult for teachers to teach in an effective manner. Resources are stretched thinner and teachers cannot give each student the individualized attention they need to thrive.
That lends itself to the next major issue with the education system: teachers. Schools across the country are currently facing an unprecedented teacher shortage. For instance, the Illinois Association of Regional School Superintendents reported in January of this year that over 88% of school districts in the state are facing problems with teacher shortages.
Down south, the Washington Post reports that in the Houston area, the largest five school districts have between 200 and 1,000 open teaching positions. Other rural school districts in Texas are switching to four-day weeks to accommodate their lack of staff. Florida is asking veterans with no teaching experience to teach students and Arizona is doing the same, but with college students. This is a nationwide issue. This not only directly affects the quality of teaching that students receive, but it also transforms their entire school experience.
But why does this shortage even exist in the first place? A plethora of factors are responsible, but chief among them are pandemic-induced teacher exhaustion, low pay, and society’s low respect for the profession. This issue must be addressed in order to see some degree of change in the quality of education offered. With a lack of teachers, how are students expected to learn effectively and continue to improve?
For the teachers that are present, their teaching methods have completely shifted in recent years. Gone are the days when teachers could focus on interactive projects and hands-on learning. Now, most teachers focus on “teaching to the test.” This is amplified at a time when student test scores, specifically those from standardized tests, are being used as a measure of teacher performance. This points to a larger issue within our education system as well — our emphasis on test scores. So much emphasis and weight are placed on test scores alone, completely ignoring the nuances and intricacies of the learning process.
In the real world, success is subjective. But in the American school system, it’s become far too objective and more standardized each year. We measure it in numbers and letters: grades, test scores, rankings, GPA, etc. Forget the days when personal passion, a love for learning, and happiness defined success. Now, that definition has shifted to focus on achieving the highest grades, maximizing test scores, and getting into the best college.
To make matters worse, the college admissions process only magnifies this. With college admissions decreasing significantly every year, students feel immense pressure to do as much as they can. And often, this is far more than they can actually handle. With such a narrow-minded curriculum, coupled with immense pressure to attend a “good” college, it’s no surprise that high school students no longer find joy in learning. At this point, it’s become all about contouring your identity to match what the CollegeBoard or college admissions officers will find most appealing. The result is losing all authenticity in our education system.
However, this is not an issue unique to older students. The same applies to those in early education. The label of “gifted kid” in elementary school sends a similar message. There is no reason to give such a label and set the expectation for a rigorous academic performance at such a young age. Molding our kids in this way may seem like the correct thing to do, but it’s actually quite the opposite. At such a young age, we need to let kids be kids and learn free of such labels and expectations.
With so many issues existing in the education system, it may seem like all hope is lost. But this is not a one-dimensional issue. Therefore, there is no one-dimensional solution. With various approaches implemented simultaneously, the issue of education in the United States can be addressed.
Firstly, our values need to change. Whether we may like it or not, the views of parents and teachers greatly influence students and their mindsets. We must collectively decide to prioritize perseverance and hard work. Every student has all the same potential and it’s of the utmost importance that we start acting like it. We must help nurture and uplift all students in a positive, supportive environment.
But a simple shift in perspective is not enough to solve an issue of this magnitude. We need economic and political changes. Most importantly, school funding needs to increase. Equipped with more money, schools can afford to hire more teachers, gain more resources, and overall, increase the quality of education they offer. Followed by an increase in funding, there need to be more strict regulations regarding the credentials of teachers and the number of students in each classroom.
Finally, the power of decision-making regarding curriculum and school operations needs to be left in the hands of the local community. They know what’s best for their students and ultimately, what needs to be done to ensure academic success for all.
America needs to prioritize its education system and its students. The longer we spend in a failing education system, the more ill-equipped our kids are for the future. Better education won’t happen overnight, but small steps every day move us closer and closer to enacting tangible change. With time, we’ll hopefully once again hear about students who are excited to go to school and who are excited to learn.