Picture the year 2060, a mere fifty years from now, people will be dressed in dull, gray suits meandering street blocks murmuring, "Two plus two will always equal two" and "I ain't got no monies!" In such a small span of time, society's educational standards will have drastically declined and caused basic mathematical and grammatical skills to decline even further, allowing mindless drones to rule the world. Across the nation, administrators of schools have laid the foundation of such a horrifying future through their unconscious lowering of academic standards. Principals and superintendents have decreased funding for advanced classes and have used it to improve special education courses; they provide no reason for students to challenge themselves with honors classes which have created valedictorians who have taken remedial classes, representing mere common students. This leads to students "skating by" on the bare minimum requirements and not trying to prepare themselves for higher education. When the time comes for students to attend college, they remain unprepared and unmotivated. Since opportunity and prosperity in life rely solely on peoples' educational success, schools must attempt to remove the lax work ethics that have caused students' priorities to stray from academics and to create programs that promote, reward, and encourage students to focus on their grades and prepare for their futures.
To understand the present educational issues, past trends in education must be understood. Modern-day compulsory education has its origins in colonial America. During the 1600's, Massachusetts established The Massachusetts Bay School Law and The Massachusetts Law of 1647 (Sass). These laws required children to learn the laws of the cities, as well as required a schoolmaster in every town to teach literacy and grammar (Sass). Since these revolutionary laws, many changes have been added to the education system; however, the idea of mandatory schooling still remains. The 360 years between the Massachusetts statutes and today's modern education system consisted of constant struggle for equality amongst different groups. Presently, however, the American education system has greatly declined in prestige and success. From 2007 to 2008, the average ACT scores of high school graduates dropped 2 points (Pope). Compared to other countries, nearly thirty nations outperform the United States in the areas of mathematics and science (Khadaroo). Such statistics reflect the attitudes current American students have towards their education. The belief that academic achievement remains unpopular in comparison to a varsity-letter jacket plagues schools across the nation (Arnold and Guskey). Simply put, students do not want to perform well in school out of fear of being called a geek and being bullied by the athletes. Such pressure causes many students to shift their attention away from academic performance and to apply it towards athletic performance. However, this change in priorities also explains the lowering of academic success for American high school graduates.
With the change in topics on which students place precedence on, false securities have developed. Students have created the idea that athletics will provide them a free ride to college, and that grades have no effect on their future. Kim Clark denounces this in her article "Do Division III Schools Give Athletic Scholarships?" She stated that athletic scholarships make up 22% of the scholarships most schools give out (Clark). This means that 78% of scholarships rely on students' academic success and financial need. Furthermore, the likelihood of students playing college sports remains very slim; athletes make up only 21% of most colleges' student bodies (Clark). Therefore, the idea that athletics will provide a prosperous career for students remains very unrealistic; a more guaranteed route relies on grades and academics. To motivate students to put more emphasis on their studies, the current scholastic system must implement new programs to motivate and encourage such actions.
Over the past decade, many programs have been developed to motivate students to pursue academic excellence. These programs range from monetary rewards to special titles and privileges. One popular program involves prize incentives that provide money, gift cards, and other rewards for good grades. A newer encouragement revolves around awards, certificates, and publicity. Still, the most controversial and experimental idea deals with self-motivation techniques that include student designed curriculums. Although these programs vary in practice, many schools have combined these plans and mortified them for their own, specific students. These innovations have provided a roadblock to the scary 2060 society.
Of these programs, the most surprising remains those called "merit pay." In a time of economic turmoil, it shocks many to know that schools have turned to monetary prizes in exchange for academic success. The origins of this type of program rests in economically troubled areas where "90% of students live in poverty, and test scores lag far behind state standards" ("Cash"). Schools have patterned their programs off of middle and upper-income families in which most parents reward their kids with cash in exchange for good grades ("Cash"). Now, school officials have begun "offering students cash for reading books, showing up for study hall, improving test scores, and more" ("Does"). In addition to money, some schools use pizza parties and tickets to professional sporting events to motivate students (Kumar). Despite opposition, studies have shown that these programs provide more benefits than ever expected. Across the country, classroom attendance has increased, and grades have improved in schools that use these programs ("Cash"). More importantly, however, these incentives motivate parents as well. "Parents who didn't care if their kids came home with a C are suddenly very interested when their kids come home with $100. So they're more likely to encourage them to study" ("Cash"). In addition, these programs even provide extra motivation for teachers. Educators have received cash bonuses if their students "show marked improvement on state tests" (Medina). Teacher attendance and creativity have increased in schools with these programs because teachers have more reason to worry about their students' progress. Besides school administrators establishing these cash incentives, students have taken the task upon themselves and created their own programs. College students Jeremy Gelbart and Steven Wolf believe that students do not want to study merely out of "poorly ordered priorities" (Whitley). This caused them to create Ultrinsic Motivator, an organization that "organizes competitions around courses at seven universities in the Northeast" (Whitley). Their association relies solely on self-motivation. Students take it upon themselves to join in academic competitions; they want to improve their grades for the chance to win a sum of money. In the end, students learn the benefits and satisfaction gained from education. Thus, these programs statistically show that monetary incentives improve students' academic progress as well as increase family and teacher involvement.
Despite the many innovative techniques schools have recently developed, some schools have used a more traditional approach. For years, schools have publically recognized outstanding students through awards and certificates. Terms like Valedictorian and High Honor Roll fill newspapers of towns as schools try to reward students who put academics above anything else. Recently, however, schools have begun to remove such rewards and replace them with terms like summa cum laude and Students Who Make a Difference. By removing the traditional awards, schools hinder students' futures. Many colleges have scholarships available only to Valedictorians. By not awarding these titles, students can no longer receive these scholarships. Therefore, schools must utilize the traditional awards for top students rather than newer, less conventional ones. Karen D. Arnold, a professor of Education at Boston College, advocates the use of valedictorians in her debate against Thomas R. Guskey, a professor of Education at Georgetown College in Kentucky. Guskey argues that the use of such an award "leads to bitter competition among high-achieving students. In some places, students begin plotting in middle school how to outdo their classmates" (Arnold and Guskey). Arnold combats such an argument by comparing high-achieving students to athletes. "We understand that athletes and performers merit special honors because their achievements represent sustained hard work, focus, and motivation. So why shy away from awarding honors to young people who succeed in academics?" (Arnold and Guskey). She illustrates that competition rules the lives of athletes and pushes them to do better. Thus, high-achieving students can do the same. Honors students can utilize the same type of drive, and compete with their fellow students towards higher academic achievement. Furthermore, the book she co-wrote in 1995 analyzes data gathered from seventeen years of study that shows, "Valedictorians become hardworking, productive adults whose educational and career achievements remain outstanding" (Arnold and Guskey). Without a doubt, awards that recognize students for high academic achievement greatly benefit students' futures while pushing them towards greater academic success.
Although many schools have adopted rewards as an attempt to remedy the decreasing education dilemma, some schools have initiated groundbreaking and inventive techniques that have been very prosperous. New schools have been created across the nation that utilize the idea that human beings have innate curiosity. The most famous of these schools remains Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts (Marano). The creators of this school believe that normal schools lack the ability to instill "a passion for pursuing challenges and inhaling the skills and informationâ€¦to mater life's complexities" (Marano). Therefore, Sudbury Valley School allows students to employ self-motivation to advance their education. "There are no classroomsâ€¦.There aren't even gradesâ€¦.All mattersâ€¦are discussed and voted on by students and staff" (Marano). Dan Greenberg, one of the founders of the Sudbury Valley School, believes that, "'Learning and teaching have nothing to do with each otherâ€¦Learning is driven internally by curiosity. Teaching can be effective only if the person you're teaching has sought you out to teach them'" (qtd. in Marano). In such a setting, students allow curiosity to drive their education. If they want to learn something, they request instruction out of desire, not out of schools attempting to comply with state standards. In addition, students experience firsthand the foundation of American society: the right to choose. Besides being able to choose when and what they learn, "students govern the school completely, debating and deciding on staff hires, budgets and all rules. That 5-year-olds have as much say as 17-year-olds may explain why all sit raptly through a two-hour meeting" (Marano). With this nontraditional experience, students learn the power of choice and develop their natural urge to learn. Thus, "50 percent of students go directly to collegeâ€¦.82 percent enroll within six years of graduation" (Marano). To graduate from this unique school, "There's only one requirement and over 95 percent of students meet it. They have to write and present a thesis about how they've prepared to be an adult. 'Even kids who've never written before are articulate,' says Greenberg, 'because they have something to say'" (qtd. in Marano). Due to the great success of the Sudbury Valley School, nearly forty schools have been opened that believe that self-motivation teaches students far better than any teacher can (Marano). Thus, schools that foster self-motivation allow students to learn and develop far beyond normal students; they provide a ray of hope for the future, 2060 American society.
Even though the need for reform in education occurs to many, the funding of such programs remains questionable. A major source for providing these changes occurs within schools themselves; revamping budgets must ensue. In recent years, schools have attempted to improve education, not for intellectual students, but for special needs students. This has caused school administrations to transfer nearly 38% of funding for honors and AP classes to special education classes ("School"). In all actuality, this "improvement" hinders students. Special education students will not provide innovative changes in the future; they will not find cures for cancer and AIDS. A hope for advancement and improvement rests in the hands of the so-called "geeks" and honors students. When school officials lower funding to honors students, they drastically decrease the education of these students and their chances for success, thus harming the future of society. Therefore, schools must modify their dispersion of money and fuel the drive of students that will actually benefit society. Besides modifying budgets, outside groups must provide funding to ensure the success of these programs. These groups provide the perfect model for such an idea. One such group, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, believes "All Lives have Equal Value," and their actions demonstrate their commitment to such an idea ("High"). The Gates foundation provides funding to schools that choose to implement programs that raise expectations and achievement for students ("High"). Other groups must follow such a standard and promote an increase in education. With the philanthropy of world leaders and an overhaul of school budgets, educational standards in America have the chance to improve and prevent society from downgrading and becoming mindless and senseless.
In the past, the American society placed much importance on education. Presently, only corporations and business leaders like Bill Gates place precedence on academics. Throughout the years, however, many people have tried to improve the education system, yet a steady decline continues. The government has established laws like the No Child Left Behind Act while individual schools have implemented their own reforms by mandating specific classes and redistributing funds. However, these current "improvements" have done more harm than good. Students have developed the idea that their education means nothing; the outside world, however, bases everything on education. Also, schools have lowered the scholastic rigor and talent of honors students by trying to improve the classes of special education students. These so-called "reforms" must cease immediately. Schools must instead utilize programs that reward students of higher academic achievement. Ranging from Cash for Grades to student-designed curriculums, incentives that promote and emphasize academics greatly benefit students and teachers, as well as the entire education system. When schools fail to motivate students to maintain high academic excellence, they lower the standards of society's future leaders. If not resolved, the present system will lead to the terrifying, inhumane future of 2060 where higher cerebral functions no longer exist. The opportunity to prevent such a dystopia rests in the hands of the American people. Will society become brainless drones, or will it choose to make a better tomorrow by improving today's scholastic standards?
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