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Education reform first appeared in 1983 with the publication of the report "A Nation at Risk" written by T. H. Bell. This report contributed to the sense that America's schools were inadequate. The report set out the horrible state of thousands of schools in the nation, which some say that they had been overwhelmed during the 1970s by the societal changes (Still at Risk). The publication of this report shifted education reform to the top of the nation's agenda, however, education at the current time was the least of the nation's worries; this launched the first movement of education reform. Twenty-five years later as the title of the report declared a nation at risk we still are. Despite numerous policies and agencies set in place, we have not gotten better, only worse. All reform has a price and at the expense of what? As Raymond Horn, expresses in his book "Understanding Educational Reform: A Reference Handbook Contemporary Education Issues," "In order to understand reform, debates and initiatives on any level, one must be aware of the hidden agenda and motives of the reformers" (3).
Ronald Regan promised during his run for presidency in the 1980 election to do away with the Department of Education. But the report "A Nation at Risk" soon became the main focus of his 1984 re-election. He felt that education was not the federal government's responsibility; he felt it was the states and locals' responsibility. The government called the Department of Education an invasion into local, state and even family affairs. Reagan declared competition between public and private schools to be the best way to fix the problem. He sought to disperse billions of dollars in federal education aid through vouchers redeemable at either type of school. Today, only about 150,000 of the nation's 50 million students are attending school through voucher programs around the country. But another alternative to public schools are charter schools, which came up in the early 1990s as an alternative to voucher programs. The problems with these programs are that they are not keeping steady success rates. However, we are far from reaching "A Nation at Risk's" goal of significantly higher average of education achievement and that task is only going to get tougher as the public school population becomes more challenging (Still at Risk). Because of this, experts put this problem on standardized tests.
Standardized testing switched the focus in classrooms from learning to attaining higher scores, forcing them to abandon certain aspects of a balanced curriculum. I can attest to this myself because I've seen it firsthand. I remember my teachers rushing and cramming to teach me and my classmates certain lessons, before we had to take standardized tests in the spring. In high school I had to take a graduation test and pass it in order to receive my diploma. This was nerve wrecking for me, as well as for my classmates. There were those few students who did not pass and had to take it until they did; situations like these show the cons to having standardized testing. When polices as these are created, they are generated with good intentions, but they are not always most helpful to the success of the students. Standardized testing and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has forced educators to pay attention to the long neglected groups of students, but it has also encouraged states to set the academic bar so low that even if students meet state standards required by the law they still are not getting a quality education (Still at Risk). The law has arguably done more harm than good for millions of students who needs to be pushed beyond just the minimum; this means that students are only going to be minimally educated. One reason that clearly stands out is to why education is failing, is how tough the curriculum is packaged. The curriculum is so highly rationalized and regimented that it lacks interest for students (Horn 2). This is one reason why educators have a hard time engaging students now.
NCLB's requirement of statewide standards needs to be taken to a logical way with the rigorous national standards that are already set. The requirements should be voluntary and flexible; they should be flexible because not every student is on the same level academically. The government should give states and school systems different ways of measuring their progress against the standards set by a number of different national exam boards (Still at Risk). Therefore, it is crucial to get everyone in a community of schools that invest in school missions. We must have alternative ways of looking at education, as times and technology progress so should everyone as whole. Innovative ways should be sought to help students that are struggling, so they can excel in every possible way, there are many disparities between curriculum and the student needs, which are steady growing. Teachers need to undertake social criticism and be able to engage themselves in the struggles of their students (Horn 4). Reform has to start from the inside-out as well as outside-in.
There have been many attempts at reforming education; the Regan, Clinton, and Bush administrations have tried in the past to reform education. Each administration has had partial success with certain programs, but there has not been any noticeable change in education. Currently, President Obama has pushed for an increase in teachers' pay; he stated that he wanted to make a professionalization of the career where there would be master teachers. This would also offer a more career ladder for the profession and better pay, Obama has expressed his dissatisfaction with the lottery system by which most students are admitted to higher performing schools. The system does not help all the students only a select few, education should better everyone as whole and not only in parts. When one looks at the ratio of students chosen to the ones who are not, it is not fair; this is not helping students. Why should only a certain number of students be chosen from these failing schools to go to a better school and not the whole student body? If the school is doing that bad to where they have to use this system why not pull all the students out the school and start fresh as a whole. Recently in the news there has been an up stir about the new Race to the Top program, it is a four billion dollar competitive grant program, which rewards states that can best create conditions for education innovation and reform. Some have criticized the nature of the program, which gives out funds only to the handful of the winning states. This program is a start to some type of reform; President Obama defended the structure of the program, stating "the government would continue to aid under-performing schools and the ones in low-income areas, but that Race to the Top was the most powerful tool for reform that we've seen in decades." Obama said he wants to work with teachers' unions, and he embraced the role of defending their members. However, Obama stated, "Unions cannot and should not defend a status quo where one-third of children are dropping out." He urged them to be accepting to the change, particularly in schools, which he said have become "dropout factories (qtd. In Lauer)."
At the rate, we are going in education it seems like it only going to get worse before it gets better. This is sad seeming that education is the backbone of this country; education is our foundation. Reform is needed now more than ever despite those who think differently. Some have said it will get better on its own and that everything runs in a cycle. This may be true about certain things but education is the exception. Twenty-five years later education has progressively gotten worse; education is turning into politics. Politicians are using this controversial topic in their campaigns to get votes and office seats. Another problem with educational reform is that issues of democracy, equality, race, gender, class and poverty are discussed in a comfortable forum of politics in education. (Horn 9) In my opinion, the right people are not being involved in decision making when it comes to reform, teachers should be the first and main ones consulted in any policymaking; they are the ones who have to deal with these problems more often than any one. How can someone make decisions about education if they have never been in a teacher position or in a school setting? Some people think that if you throw money at the situation that will make it better. Digest of Education Statics 2009 stated that this year alone over fifty million kids went back to school and 540 billion will be spent on education alone, yet there are thousands of low performing and failing schools across the country. What is the true underlying cause of education failing in America? One problem is that teachers, principals, and students are not the focus of policies.
Education is supposed to build a pupil academically and socially, it is supposed to push students to strive for excellence. However, it is getting to the point where students, teachers, and even parents have become satisfied with the minimum. Teachers have become discouraged in the school system itself. Every year high schools are graduating more and more minimally educated students. One cause for this is low graduation rates students are being seen as a ticket to higher funding or a number and not a student. Meaning that they are only focusing on graduating more students than properly educating them the best they can. I know this because I came from a high school like this. For example, we had four grading periods and on the first two periods, the lowest a student could make is a sixty. Now students know that they only have to do the minimum and that is what they are going to put forth. By doing this, the school is only expecting enough for only pupils to get by. If the school is not putting forth the effort, why should the student? If new policies set in place are going to raise the bar for students through standardize testing they must also raise the same bar for teachers and principals.
How can one even begin to fix these problems when behavioral problem are becoming more of an issue? Teachers are constantly being criticized for low performing students and test scores. However, educators cannot even begin to focus on testing for having to deal with students with behavioral problems; one reason that so many schools across America are having these problems is uninterested parents. School is not a daycare center and teachers should not have to babysit, everything starts at home and it is up to the parent to discipline their child. Issues that use to be handled at home are not anymore, in addition, these issues are taking up more classroom time. Personally, this agitated me and as I know it did for teachers, students and even some parents. Parents send their children to school to learn, but before one can see any major reform in education, they must look at themselves first. At the rate education is going the system is going to collapse in on itself, all parts of education should be taken apart and remolded because the current system in place is obviously not working. If educators and principals can find the root to the problem then they would have somewhere to begin.
There is no one particular problem in education so this makes it even more difficult to begin to start to come to a solution. Nevertheless, the plight of the middle class that the reform reports of the 1980s warned about has worsened as the wage gap between high school graduates and the college educated has widened, creating an increasingly two-tiered society and an ever-greater need to arm every American with the high-quality education that "A Nation at Risk" envisioned. However, if achieving "A Nation at Risk's" standards are becoming increasingly difficult, the alternative is really no alternative (Still at Risk). However, the success of education reform movement is only going to be measured by its impact on our largest and most troubled public school settings. Education has many deficiencies and people are expecting change to happen quickly. Albert Einstein once said, "The school has always been the most important means of transferring the wealth of tradition from one generation to the next. This applies today in an even higher degree than in former times, for through modern development of economic life, the family as bearer of tradition, education has become weakened. The continuance and health of human society is therefore in a still higher degree dependent on school than formally".