America's Public School Crisis

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011 ( 37 moms have responded )

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So I watched the critically acclaimed documentary: "Waiting for Superman" the other night. Although I'm not directly affected by the American School System; as their neighbour, I found it very interesting and informative on explaining the issues affecting America's ranking in education and the problems their public students face.

Just wanted to bring attention to the documentary for anyone who is interested. Wish I could provide a link but I don't think I'm allowed to link full online streaming video or torrent links.



Why do you think America's Public School education ranks much lower than other developed countries?

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Rosie - posted on 03/12/2011

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i'm gonna address jennifers last question and not say much more cause i'm not to well versed on this whole subject. but minorities in this country are generally poor. poor equals less taxes to pay the school district which equals less than optimal schools to teach. minorities have a whole other host of problems in this country as well, and it's all centered around poverty. minorities are more likely to get pregnant while teens, more likely to be in gangs, more likely to not have medical insurance (which would lead to them having to leave if they are sick, or take care of their mom if they are sick), more likely to do drugs, more likely to be beaten by their parents, more likely to do just about anything bad. it's all centered around poverty. it sickens me sooooooo much that our country isn't worried about this at all. people seem to think they can just magically pull up their bootstraps and just make it through. if we worked half as hard to solve the problem of poverty in this country as we do to fight the war on drugs, i think we'd see a major improvement in every area.

ME - posted on 03/12/2011

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As an educator, I have some ideas. I believe that our public education program demands too much of underpaid and unappreciated teachers. I think that our government mandated a HORRIBLE education program ("No Child Left Behind") which they failed to fund for 8 years, and which, thankfully, the Obama admin is looking to replace. I think that we refuse to allow our public educators to be creative educators, and instead demand that they force their students to memorize facts in the hopes of passing a standardized test (as tho students and teachers are somehow "standard"). I think that, culturally, we have given our children the idea that the only purpose of an education is to get a high paying job so that they can make enough money to CONSUME tons of stuff; for this reason, they see no other reason to care about their educations. I think that, culturally, we have given our kids the idea that intelligence is snobbish or elitist or "uncool," and that they have bought this foolish, ignorant notion completely. I think that poverty, crime, and hunger make it difficult for many students to concentrate in class. I think that over-worked, underpaid, and uninvolved parents are more concerned with protecting their kid's feelings than with supporting education goals. I think that the seemingly good idea of mainstreaming kids with learning disabilities and behavior disorders requires educators to be experts in far too many areas of education. I could go on and on...I think that we need to rethink the entire system, and really FUND our schools fairly and appropriately. If we fail to do this (almost immediately) our country will be a place where only the RICH are educated; and that is a terrifying prospect.

Charlie - posted on 03/12/2011

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It's funny that the highest spending to lowest spending list if placed in reverse would show the worlds best places to grow up with Norway ranking first , Australia second , sweden fourth , with the US ranked the seventh lowest country in the developed world due to child mortality rates and education .

I think the reason so much is being spent on education in the US is because they HAVE to .

[deleted account]

Crap. I just typed a long response and COM decided to have one if it's annoying glitches. I'll shorten it because I don't feel like typing it all out again.

Michele, I don't think you were asking me, but I'll answer anyway.

Yes and No.

Why yes? Some districts can afford to hire the best, most qualified teachers. They have no problem getting rid of "bad" teachers because another applicant will be waiting to take her place...this is where teachers are paid well (in comparison anyway).

Why no? Many kids come into the low-performing schools hungry, tired, dirty, and abused. How then, can they be expected to learn as well as a student who is well-rested, well-fed, who has well-educated parents that support them?

I'll expand on those thoughts if anyone wants. Like I said, I had a very long response ready to go, but it was lost. =(

Jenny - posted on 03/12/2011

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I am convinced they are not allotting proper resources to public schools on purpose. They are trying to privatize the whole system.

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Jenni - posted on 03/15/2011

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Erica, wouldn't that reflect in other countries as well? If all other developed countries have issues of poverty and teenage angst how come American public schools are rated so much lower than other developed countries?



And you are right. But I just think there is more to it. Why is it so hard to break the cycle of poverty in the US compared to other countries? Simply put: The system is not set up to be equal opportunity, It's set up to keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor. Of course other countries do practice this as well but not to the extremity as the US.



Why are American Public Schools failing to keep these kids interested in school while other developed countries' public schools are doing an exceedingly better job of it?

Erica - posted on 03/15/2011

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I haven't seen the video, but I was following along with your conversation, and I'm wondering, maybe the kids don't want to learn? I mean- You have kids that constantly skip school, or feel that they are wasting their time. I don't know if the realize that it's getting to the point where you have to have a high school diploma or a GED to get most jobs.

Some kids may feel like they don't have to work that hard, cause their family will help them no matter what...granted it doesn't work with all "rich" students. The poor, maybe they are looking at their parents and feeling like, this is the most I'll ever be...why bother to even try? Although for some, it may be the one thing that helps them to get out of that status. That was just some of my thoughts :)

[deleted account]

gees i thought it was funny...and it wouldn't be turning the debate into one about semantics because "alot" doesn't mean anything.

[deleted account]

gees i thought it was funny...and it wouldn't be turning the debate into one about semantics because "alot" doesn't mean anything.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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No need to turn this into a debate about semantics, Julianne. That was petty. I wasn't using the word from your post or correcting you. I put it in caps because I was emphasizing it.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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Surprisingly the US spends more on education than ALOT of countries:
US spends 17.1% of their budget on education
Canada 12.7%
France 11.4%
UK 11.5%
Japan 10.5%
Norway 16.2%
Sweden 12.8%
Aus 13.3%
The question is.... is the money being spent effectively and *how* is it being spent?

[deleted account]

Maybe if the government spent more money on education and less on pointless wars the education system would be a hell of a lot better.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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@jennifer I do know that schools are not doing the job they need to in America. No argument there. And comparing countries is difficult. And I am not sure that going with, for instance, a Japanese model, just because their scores are better, would be the right call either. They all have their plusses and minuses.

The kids at the extremes (very gifted and very behind) are the ones with the most issues. And the schools these days are focusing on the kids who are behind. The highly performing students will probably find what they need outside of school to excel, although I would prefer to not ignore them, as too often happens. And since the schools are very focused on helping the low performing students, the average students are not pushed either (my opinion based on observation, not any research study).

While I know what you and the other person are saying about passing students who are not proficient on to the next grade, I do have some concerns about students who might have to repeat multiple grades as becoming frustrated and dropping out anyway. I don't think there is an easy answer for this problem and maybe it's a case by case basis. But I can see student who had to repeat a grade or two feeling ready to move on (being 18 and a junior or even sophomore). And the programs that would be more likely to keep them in school (like auto shop, music, etc.) are being cut out also. If it is one grade and they start to get it, maybe it would help. But if they don't, would retaining them further be damaging? So is it hopeless for those kids who aren't getting it? I hope not, but I don't know the answer. Right now they have tutoring available for those kids. Is being held back the only answer? I know where we are summer school is available only for those in danger of retention, because they don't have the money to pay for summer school for kids who don't need it. Hard, hard questions, that I don't know that anyone has THE answer to. There may not be a single answer; there may need to be multiple options.

Sorry for my long posts! As you can tell, I care about education. I think that it is the only real way to break the poverty cycle and want to find a way to help all of the students (high, average, and low performing). But I don't have all the answers and I don't think there is one thing that will work in all cases.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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Bah, damn COM glitch... can't see your name but I'll post your quote:

"Students who are reading at a 3rd grade level continue to be passed to the next grade (we don't want to damage their self-esteem, you know). Work that is subpar is considered adequate."

That was one of the issues mentioned in the documentary.

There are kids being passed to the next grade who shouldn't be and all it does it cause them to get more and more over their head until they are forced to drop out. They aren't receiving the extra help they need, when they need it. Just conveyor belted through the system. Each time they're passed to a new grade they fall further behind until enivitably they give up, what's the point when each year they're failing more and more? Their self-esteem when it comes to school has been destroyed. And if their family didn't put much emphasis on education to begin with, it makes it that much easier. I actually think being passed to the next level when they're not ready is even more detrimental to self esteem when it comes to education.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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@Michele I get what you're saying. It is hard to compare one country to the other. Especially when comparing Canada to the US. I mean, the USA's pop density is way higher than Can. Our largest cities couldn't even compare to the average US city. It's just the docu concluded that it wasn't just inner city schools that were failing students that the public education as a whole isn't standing up to other dev. countries. The reason suburban schools boast higher test scores was because they attract higher preforming students that inflate the scores. The drop out rates even in these suburban schools were still comparably higher than other countries.

[deleted account]

Good point Karen. One thing we discussed during my teacher education was intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation....meaning kids wanting to learn vs. kids learning because they get rewarded in some way. It's a very difficult thing to accomplish as a teacher.

Bondlets - posted on 03/12/2011

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I believe the incentive for students to attend school and do well has gone down the drain. It used to be a privilege to attend school. Students walked literally for miles (often no matter what the weather), they studied and they actually learned! Now students (at least in AZ) are bribed with cars and other prizes for attendance. That is, IMO, disgusting. The bar for educational performance is so low it is ridiculous. Students who are reading at a 3rd grade level continue to be passed to the next grade (we don't want to damage their self-esteem, you know). Work that is subpar is considered adequate.

I also believe that when the basics (math, writing, reading) are not considered top priority, schools and students suffer. An exchange student from France was interviewed last year and she said she couldn't believe how easy American schools are. Her exact words were, "It's a joke, really." I have to agree with her on that.

I'm not sure what the solution is (although for me it is not putting my kids in public school, that's for sure!). Any ideas I have are so extreme I know they would never be considered much less made a reality.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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@Kati - I obviously agree that poverty is a problem that contributes to the education crisis.
Interestingly, though, in CA, most schools are not paid directly on property taxes anymore. The state takes the property taxes and distibutes it on a per student basis, based on attendance (ADA). So most of the time a rich school does not receive any more money per pupil than a poor school. So they tried to take that factor out and it hasn't made a difference.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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Out of curiousity, how much of a gang problem is there in Canada? At our school, we have had 2 gang incidents across the street in the last month and compared to an inner city school like Oakland, that's nothing. Again, not saying this is a cause of problems, but it is an area of concern. Kids who are surrounded by violence don't do as well, either. And their peers/ gang "families" often discourage education. And the school has very little control over that. But if there is a way to mitigate the effects, I think that is a very good way to help inner city schools.

I am just throwing out ideas about why America's schools suffer, not saying that I have all the answers!. It may be just as much a problem for other countries.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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I don't have a good answer for that. It would take a lot more research and there are lots of theories out there. Some people believe that immigration is a big factor, especially illegal immigration, which is predominantly low income/education families, who are often illiterate even in their native language. I am not saying this is the only thing and I am not even sure it is the main thing, since there are so many things that need to be fixed. But you can't talk about this subject without considering it, too.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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US dropout rates are between 30-40% whereas Canadian dropout rates are between 10-15%. American dropout rates are in the increase while Canadian rates are on the decrease.



I mean you are right that the children being affected by the system are usually lower income, minorities. But how come the effects are so drastic compared to other developed countries?



US schools are failing these kids somewhere where other countries aren't. It's to do with the system. Not the students.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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No, I don't think that is the cause, but it is a factor. People often blame the teachers when there are many factors beyond their control. And in my experience, we have highly qualified teachers in both "good" schools and "bad", and some bad teachers in both. It might be true that they are weeded out more quickly in a "good" school because they stick out due to not having good results, which will really show up. A really good teacher in a "bad" school might not get great results either. That is my point - you can't always tell. Like I said before it's complex and it's hard to make blanket statments.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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So I posted that question generally and would love to hear other people's "take".

I would have to look at the data. In all countries there are poor uneducated people who do well, but my guess is that the tendency is that demographic does not, even in other countries. Other countries have kids who don't graduate either and I would guess that they would also fall more into that demographic. But I don't really know that, that is my experience here.

I am not trying to blame the kids for their "status" but it does generally have an impact. Many, many people overcome it and I would like to figure out how to encourage that!

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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But do you really feel the US public school epidemic is due to multiculturalism, parental education, and family economics. These issues are not exclusive to the USA.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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Just to let you know where I am coming from - the school my kids attended in elementary is a bilingual immersion school (Spanish), and the demographics are primarily low income (70%ish), Spanish speaking families (about 60%), with a relatively low level of parent education (many workers are in agriculture, which is low education level/pay). The typically white, English speaking families (like us) are middle to upper middle income families, who are very involved and highly educated. The low income families have a tough time of it. They are not as involved because of many factors - working "too much", so lack of time, resources, feeling like they don't have anything to contribute, etc. We have worked very hard to help - parent education classes, bilingual classes, bringing both sides together every time we have an event/meeting. It's still tough. They value education but there are cultural issues that are hard to overcome. I can go into more detail, but of course these are generalizations, which may be of limited utility.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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Well you can't really blame the children failing in school on socio-economics alone or parental education. All countries have poor, uneducated people as well. It doesn't seem to stop them from graduating. We need to look at what's different between US schools and other countries who rank higher to see where the schools are failing and students are being left behind.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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All schools also have to follow the state curriculum here also. It's not different, I don't think. However, the learning environment can certainly be a lot different in schools in which "poor" kids are predominant vs. where "rich" kids are dominant. There also tends to be a correlation in parental education level. The factors at play are complex, but I find that the test scores correlate most with socieconomic status and parent education level than anything else, even race, altough in this area there is some correlation between Hispanic and poor, since this is an agricultural area.

Going back to Mary Elizabeth's point about teaching by rote as opposed to creative teaching methods - the same thing can be taught many different ways. And inner city schools tend to have a tougher environment due to many factors, so regardless if they teach to the state standards, which they do, it may well fall on deaf ears.

So here's a question: if you had a "good" school and a "bad" school, which tends to correspond to different demographics, that are teaching the same standards, and you switched the teachers - do you think the schools would reverse the scores? Or what would happen? Would the good school remain good because of the students/families? Would the bad school have better results because of the new teachers or would they encounter the same problems?

[deleted account]

I haven't seen the film. But from my experiences this is a basic summary of what I feel that problems are.

1. Too much emphasis on standardized testing.
2. Underpaid and therefore under-qualified teachers. High teacher turn-over rates.
3. Not enough administrative support.
4. Requiring teachers to "teach the test" or stick to an overly structured curriculum that does not support the needs of individual students.
5. Under-involved parents.

I'll likely think of more later.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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The American public wants to pride themselves on being "equal opportunity" and of course that's a good thing! But the system is set up to be anything but... keeping the rich, rich and the poor, poor.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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Yes, well the adminstration of public education is so over employed, split up into different interest groups and overpaid for basically doing nothing. I mean, it's not as though the adminstrators don't want to make change. They can't because there are so many conflicting groups they are unable to agree on anything in order to move forward with change. It becomes a problem of too many cooks spoiling the soup. They're jobs need to be cut. Not the teachers. The issue is the schools are over administrated not that the teachers aren't doing their jobs. Freeing some of the useless beaurocrats from their jobs would free up some of the funding and allow it to be administered to where it can really be useful, directly to the schools.



How you described your children's charter school is the same as one of our (Canada's) public schools.



Edit to add: The one thing I find interesting when comparing Canada's education system to the US is our public education is standardnized (by province) regardless of what neighbourhood, city, or town you're from. Every student has to follow the same meticulously-planned curriculum set out by the province, regardless if their school is located in a poor neighbourhood or a rich neighbourhood. And since it's the province that funds the schools, you don't have quite the same dichotomy of poor school vs rich school that we hear about in the USA (ie: "inner city" schools are abysmal compared to wealthy suburban schools). While in Canada if you live in a poor neighbourhood, it doesn't mean that the public schools you go to are of bad quality. It's more of a social demographic issue than a truley quality of education issue.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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@Jennifer: Seriously, I don't know another way. I have been a VERY involved parent (tutoring, organizing the reading prgram school-wide, fundraising, president of the foundation that supports the school) and every time you suggest something that is a little bit innovative it gets shot down. Granted, not every new idea is good. I don't think that the schools need more funding until they reapportion the funds they have to really support the learning environment and that includes teachers. The FIRST cuts should come from the bureacracy, not the teachers/classroom. In our district they have offerred early retirement and given out pink slips to MANY teachers and are talking about scrapping PE and music teachers in elementary and cutting back sports teachers and music in upper grades. I know that it is complicated for the school board/administration of the schools, and they have to abide by or renegotiate contracts, but this is IMPORTANT if we as a society want to flourish. I am glad that my kids have been at charter schools, since they have more flexibility with how the funds are spent at their school, but it's not fair to the other kids. Our music program has increased while others' programs are cut. We have done fundraising to make sure it happens also. The music teachers actually work with the curriculum (6th grade does a "musical" about ancient civilizations, for instance) and integrate research about how music helps kids with math and reading. And the kids love it and they get inspired. PE incorporates nutrition and teamwork which helps in other scholastic pursuits, too. When we have testing (which I hate BTW), we make sure that parents sign up to bring in healthy snacks because 70% of our kids are on free/reduced lunch. Oftentimes they don't get breakfast at home and that affects their ability to test well. We work really hard at parent involvement also, but that has gotten worse as the economy has gone south, too, as people are working more jobs/hours to get by. We ask families for 1 hour per month and we have "Power Hour" night. The foundation provides pizza and drinks and families work on various projects to help the school, whether it is sorting bulbs from the annual bulb sale, cutting up pumpkins for a kindergarten class, or putting together enrollment packets for the front office.
I agree with Mary Elizabeth too. I know that it is not easy but with the right group of stakeholders a new system could make a huge difference.

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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Am I going too far by saying; the whole system would need to be pulled up by the roots and a whole new system planted?

Jenni - posted on 03/12/2011

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@Michele, sounds like you don't even need to see the documentary... the issues you've pointed out is spot on of what the documentary discusses.
One thing I found interesting is that in the 50's America was a leading competetor in public schools. One of the problems now is they haven't innovated schools to suit contemporary times.
As you said the fact that there are so many small interest groups and the system is so top heavy, prevents any changes from being made.

Michele - posted on 03/12/2011

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I haven't seen the movie yet, although I will at some point.

I think that there are many problems with American education. Education has become a top-heavy institution with a lot of interest in maintaining the status quo regardless of what is good for the kids. The truth is that one-size-fits-all education does not exist. I am fortunate in that our district has a lot of options and open enrollment. But in high schools they are going towards a curriculum that is geared for everyone going to college and cutting auto shop and other ROP programs. The bureaucracy of the system is pretty stifling. In a valley that is 30 miles long we have 4 (or maybe 5) districts each with its own set of administrators. I could go on and on....

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