America / Education

A Crumbling School System

Our nation is facing a great challenge. I’m sure when you read that, your minds immediately start buzzing with thoughts of debts, deficits, and fiscal cliffs. While these problems are important, the challenge I’m referring to is not being faced in the halls of the Treasury Department or the bowels of the Capitol Building. It is being faced in classrooms across America, where millions of students are falling victim to an education system that is broken. Falling victim to unmotivated teachers, cumbersome bureaucracy, and dropout factories that leave over 60% of its student population without a high school diploma. There are many defects in our education system, so many that it’s nearly impossible to fit them all in one blog post. There’s no arguing that  an improved American educational system would benefit not only the children of this great country but also its stake as a global leader.

Since the early 1970s, the scholastic achievement of American public school students has flatlined. America’s graduation rate has plummeted below 20 other nations at 76%. What does that translate to? Every year, 3.8 million students in America do not graduate high school. Think about that. If 24% of our citizens contracted a fatal disease after being vaccinated, would you consider our medical system in top shape? If 24% of our bridges were crumbling, would you consider our national infrastructure strong and stable? Our nation’s education system is collapsing as other nations are building theirs sky-high. In 2010, the Program for International Student Assessment released a study on the student achievement in 34 industrialized nations. Of those 34 countries, the United States ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math. The most powerful nation in the world is just scraping a C- in the proverbial class on global education systems. What’s more, federal spending per student has skyrocketed in the last 40 years. It cost $151,000 per student to send the graduating high school class of 2009 through the public education system. That is 3 times the amount we spent for the class of 1970. And yet our test results have not improved in the slightest. To all the businesspeople out there…what would happen if you kept spending more and more money producing the same average product? Your business would go under. You’d be left with nothing. America’s students are being left with nothing. America’s future is being left with nothing.

So how do we go about fixing this seemingly insurmountable problem? Countless studies have shown that the most powerful force in a student’s scholastic ability is that students teacher, so the first step lies in improving the teaching profession itself. There are already many programs and initiatives already in place to begin reforming the teaching profession. Teach for America is at the forefront of the education reform movement, hiring recent college graduates to take on teaching positions in low-income neighborhoods, neighborhoods where test scores typically low across the board. In return for their teaching service, Teach for America participants are awarded scholarships for graduate school or receive stipends to put towards their student loans. But the participants are not the only ones who reap the benefits of Teach for America. A 2004 study found that average student test scores in Teach for America classrooms were higher, especially in math, where students rose received the equivalent of 31 extra teaching days under the tutelage of Teach for America teachers. It is this type of energy and incentive that we need in order to reinvigorate the teaching profession as a whole. We must attract the best and brightest individuals. To begin, the federal government must expand its student loan forgiveness program for those entering public education after graduating college. If college graduates were given the incentive of expanded loan forgiveness and payment assistance, they may be compelled to take on a teaching position to alleviate the burden of their student debt. Such a measure from the government would tell a potential teacher: “If you invest in our country’s future, we’ll invest in your’s.”

Furthermore, we must dispel the old adage “Those who can’t do, teach.” Look to countries like Finland, South Korea, or Japan, where the status and payment of teachers equates to those of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. In Japanese, the word “teacher” directly translates to another word: “master.” We must hold teachers to this type of regard. Offer more generous salaries and benefits to teachers with higher levels of education, such as master’s or other postgraduate degrees. In Finland, teachers are required to have a master’s degree related to their field of teaching and must also graduate in the top third of their college class. If we hold teachers to a higher standard, then the society as a whole will hold the profession to a higher standard, attracting more intelligent and skilled individuals to teach our students.

As the world grows more and more interconnected, and the prominent nations of the globe depend more and more on one another, we cannot let education fall by the wayside. Education is the key to our future. According to a 2010 study, boosting US national test scores by 25 points in the next 20 years would pump 41 trillion more dollars into the economy over the lifetime of the generation born in 2010. You cannot argue the incredible impact such an economic boom would have. But those are not just dollars. Those are lives. Those are careers. Those are opportunities for students to use their education to better themselves and the world.