Public education in America is a paradox in the global perspective, a system that congratulates itself from within while failing to measure up to the achievements of other developed nations. It is not what is being taught in the American K-12 public school system that is so detrimental, either. It is more about what is missing. Larger cultural influences that focus on materialism and bottom lines undermine the public education of American K-12 students. Our students are prepped more for tangible results and less for a lifetime of learning. Part III of my series will continue to chronicle the problems and issues that are negatively affecting the public education of the nation’s K-12 learners.
Closing the college gender gap. If you have been following education hot button issues for any length of time, you’ve likely read about the nationwide push to better encourage girls in areas like science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The thought is that by showing young women that these topics are just as appropriate for them as their male peers, more women will find lasting careers in these traditionally male-dominated fields. I’m all for more women in the STEM workplace but with all this focus in one area, are educators neglecting an even larger gender gap issue? I wonder how much of this trend is based on practicality and how much is based on a lingering social convention that women need to “prove” themselves when it comes to the workforce. Do women simply need a degree to land a job in any field? If so, the opposite is certainly not true for men – at least not yet. Will the young men in our classrooms today have a worse quality of life if they do not attend college – or will it be about the same?
High school dropouts. It seems that every time the issue of high school dropouts is discussed, it all centers on money. U.S. Census Statistics tell us that 38 percent of high school dropouts fall below the poverty line, compared with 18 percent of total households in every demographic. Dropouts are also 40 percent more likely to rent their residences and spend $450 less per month on housing costs than the overall population. Only around 60 percent of dropouts own vehicles and they spend over $300 less on entertainment annually than average Americans. It’s clear that a high school diploma is in fact the ticket to higher earnings, at least on a collective level. The negative financial ramifications of dropping out of high school cannot be denied but the way they are over-emphasized seems like a worn-out tactic to me. To really reach today’s students and encourage them to finish at least their high school education, we need to value them as learners and not simply as earners.
Education equity. Equity in education has long been an ideal. It’s an ideal celebrated in a variety of contexts, too. Even the Founding Fathers celebrated education as an ideal – something to which every citizen ought to be entitled. Unfortunately, though, the practice of equity in education has been less than effective. Equity, in the end, is a difficult ideal to maintain and many strategies attempting to maintain it have fallen far short in the implementation. To achieve equity, school systems need to have an approach for analyzing findings about recommended shifts in learning approaches and objectives. These approaches should also help teachers and administrators understand not what they have to avoid but what it is that they can do to achieve optimal equity moving forward.
Cheating and technology. Academic dishonesty is nothing new. As long as there have been homework assignments and tests, there have been cheaters. The way that cheating looks has changed over time though, particularly now that technology has made it easier than ever. Perhaps the most interesting caveat of modern-day cheating in U.S. classrooms is that students often do not think they have done anything wrong. Schools must develop anti-cheating policies that include technology and those policies must be updated consistently. Teachers must stay vigilant, too, when it comes to what their students are doing in classrooms and how technology could be playing a negative role in the learning process. Parents must also talk to their kids about the appropriate ways to find academic answers and alert them to unethical behaviors that may seem innocent in their own eyes.
Teacher tenure. One of the most contested points of teacher contracts is the issue of tenure. Hardline education reformers argue that tenure protects underperforming teachers, which ends up punishing the students. Teachers unions challenge (among other reasons) that with the ever-changing landscape of K-12 education, including evaluation systems, tenure is necessary to protect the jobs of excellent teachers who could otherwise be ousted unfairly. It can often be a sticking point – and one that can lead to costly time out of classrooms, as recently seen in large school systems like New York City and Chicago. Now, I’m not suggesting that teachers just “give up” but I would support adjusting the expectations for tenure. It seems an appropriate step in the right direction for teachers in all types of schools. That energy then can be redirected towards realistic and helpful stipulations in teachers’ contracts that benefit the entire industry.