America is facing an education crisis. As a country, our ranking in the world as an educational powerhouse is slowly slipping away. Finland and South Korea are current beacons of educational might. Those two countries produce some of the best students in the world, yet America, one of the most prosperous and wealthiest nations, struggles with the concept of quality public education.
And trying to fix the system is only making it worse.
Former President George W. Bush implemented the No Child Left Behind Act that only accomplished the opposite. The Act emphasized standardized testing as a way to quantify a teacher’s success in the classroom. Instead, what we got was an education system that focused on teaching the test instead of teaching how to learn.
President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative offers monetary incentives to states willing to reform their public education policies. There are four ambiguous areas the government looks at when deciding who receives those funds: development of rigorous standards and better assessments; adoption of better data systems to provide schools, teachers and parents with information about student progress; support for teachers and school leaders to become more effective; and increased emphasis and resources for the rigorous interventions needed to turn around the lowest-performing schools.
While the requirements mean little to most of us, $4 billion have been doled out to schools across the country.
Announced in June 2009, the Common Core State Standards initiative set to bring about nationwide standards for public schools. A motivator to states to implement these standards was Race to the Top. Designed to better prepare students for college and future career fields, Common Core not only sets a nationwide grade-by-grade standard but also allows for better student and teacher evaluations.
The benefits, or follies, of Common Core are still undetermined as many states are just now beginning to implement the standards.
What is currently a problem, though, is that public education is failing to prepare students for life after high school – whether that is straight into the job market or at a post-secondary institution.
We are not teaching our children to learn. We are, as Karl Taro Greenfeld said in The Atlantic, “Memorization, not rationalization.”
Learning to be successful in school no longer means studying the material for deep comprehension. The only thing one needs to be successful is to know how to game the system. Elif Koc said in The Atlantic, school becomes a “How can I do as little as possible and still get an ‘A’” mentality.
This thinking continues after high school and presents struggles for many beginning college students who never learned to read for comprehension or how to study for a test.
The differences between America and Finland in terms of educational policy are startling and revealing. Students in Finland have longer recesses, less homework and standardized testing (the only standardized test they take is at age 16), and receive more help from teachers at a younger age.
Teachers’ expertise in the classroom is trusted, which makes sense considering teachers are selected from the top 10 percent of college graduates. Finland’s educational standards are broad. This free-form educational policy uses students’ natural curiosity to drive learning.
While the education system in America is fluidic, its outcome on students is clearly not providing the desired results. As the global economy continues to grow, there will be a demand for a highly skilled and educated workforce. America can fix its education system; it just needs to do it sooner rather than later.
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