If the United States is one of the most prosperous – if not the most prosperous – nations on the planet, why do we continue to see the perpetual educational failure that lasts for generations? Every day, millions of American children take part in an educational system that continues to underserve them and leave them unprepared for both future educational endeavors and whatever lies ahead of them after school ends. For a nation that promises to provide its citizens with the opportunity to make better lives for themselves, it is failing to live up to that promise in the realm of education.
While some students in the United States are provided with many chances for upward mobility, many are not offered the same luxury. Many schools are lacking the proper funding, poorly train and support their teachers, have high student-to-faculty ratios, and other factors that result in setting up many marginalized students for failure out of school. It has been this way for decades. If America has become more powerful and wealthy, why does this discrepancy still exist in the education system? Keep reading to find out a few reasons why!
If you have been keeping an eye on the news since the pandemic hit our shores, you would have surely heard about the teacher shortage that is ravaging the nation. Teachers all across the country are leaving the profession and changing careers. In one case, the lack of teachers became such a problem that members of the national guard had to step in as substitute teachers. And the problem hasn’t been resolved even as we emerge from the pandemic. Why is that, and what impact is this shortage having on the classroom?
The average American teacher has it tougher compared to teachers from other developed nations. According to research by the Center for Public Education, Finnish teachers are equally as qualified, work fewer hours, are paid more, have more autonomy in the classroom, and have students who perform better than those in the United States. And American teachers have to deal with this all while working with more economically disadvantaged students and students with special needs than those in Finland. While these kinds of discrepancies have existed for approximately 100 years, it is only since the recent teacher shortages that has this come into the public eye.
These less-than-desirable working conditions keep those who could be great teachers from staying in the classroom. And this shortage has also upset the balance between teachers and students, causing teachers to be responsible for many more students per class than ever before. This isn’t good for either the teacher or the students, as it can overwhelm teachers and take away beneficial individualized attention from the students. But as it stands currently, the way teachers have been treated has impacted our education system to a point where it has little chance of making a difference in the lives of those who need help the most, and will continue to perpetuate educational failure.
School Funding Issues
A common point made in defense of the American public school system is that we “spend more money per student than almost any other country in the world.” This is technically true. Data collected by OECD, or the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, demonstrates this. But the issue is really more complex than that, as it all depends on where you live in the United States.
Statistics gathered by the Education Data Initiative show the starkly different funding available to each state. Some states, like New York, are spending way above the OECD average with almost $25,000 spent per student. Other states, like Texas, are below the OECD average and are spending less than $10,000 per student. So, while some states have well-funded schools, many do not.
At an even closer level, we can see that this disparity reaches even further. About 46% of school funding comes from the local level. While that sounds fine on paper, it is a big issue for some regions when it comes to their taxes and revenue stream. Poorer towns or counties generate less money for their schools. As a result, students attend these underfunded schools, attain a below-average education, and leave the system unprepared to escape poverty. Meanwhile, wealthier areas will have more than enough funds to have stellar schools and teachers. This positive feedback loop derived from the school funding issues perpetuates educational failure solely based on the ZIP code a child is born in. It should not be this way.
While schools are geared toward being a place of positivity and learning, there are many times when disciplinary action is needed. Many schools have seemingly reasonable standards when it comes to classroom management and behavioral policies. But the data highlights a persevering attitude of discrimination against students of color, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, and more.
The National Education Association’s article on the so-called “school-to-prison” pipeline discusses this, asserting “Black students are suspended and expelled at a rate three times greater than White students, while Black and Latino students account for 70 percent of police referrals. Also, students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended than their non-disabled peers.” This discrimination arises despite students of color or students with learning difficulties being no more likely to misbehave than white students. How does this bewildering set of facts arise?
BIPOC students are more likely to be reprimanded for a more subjective offense such as insubordination, while white students are more likely to be reprimanded for more objective offenses such as drug possession. The theory is that certain students are unjustly perceived as a threat. These students can then be punished more often than is deserved on the basis of these subjective offenses.
This unfair targeting of BIPOC students compounded with the increase of zero-tolerance policies over the last few decades has led to an unreasonable amount of expulsions and suspensions for these students. And, as these students are suspended more and more often on these illegitimate bases, their odds of ending up arrested increase as pointed out by the Department of Justice. This correlation could arise from several factors such as falling behind in school, getting less respect from authority figures, or finding little value in a system like education which only puts them down. Whatever the reason, many schools are setting up students for failure rather than success.
Failures of the education system have been perpetuating underachievement for generations and the underlying issues remain unsolved. The shortage of teachers prevents us from hiring the best and the brightest and instead leaves classrooms with ineffective student-to-teacher ratios. School funding maintains high-quality schools in wealthy areas and establishes low-quality schools in poorer areas, thereby trapping generations in poverty. Discriminatory discipline problems have caused marginalized students, particularly students of color, to be funneled into the criminal justice system. While there are many criticisms of the education system, all hope is not lost. Groups and organizations like Educate. Radiate. Elevate. are working to bridge the gap and help those who need it the most. The highly qualified tutors of E.R.E. work with students who have been underserved by the school system by tutoring the students not only in academic skills but also in life skills to prepare them for the world after school. If you would like to support the cause and make a difference for the students who are being ignored by the education system, consider donating to Educate. Radiate. Elevate.