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The education system in America is seen as superb and of a higher quality than that of other countries. Yet, the American education system compared to that of many industrialized countries is falling behind and requires more output. This is shown in the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is a study that shows U.S. 15-year-olds trailing their peers from many industrialized countries in math, science, and the application of their knowledge to reason problems. (Glod). Despite the high expectations for American students, the students are not faring so well when compared to other countries that are dramatically changing their educational policies to match or out do the U.S. As education standards have increased around the world over decades, the U.S.'s standards are steadily declining compared against countries such as Canada and Japan because of: the standard one-size-fits-all tests, huge loads of homework, reduced free time, and pressured teachers pressuring the already pressured students and children (Gratz 681). This causing them to fall further behind in education as teachers spend more time doing what they can according to what the legislation requires. The problems that plague the education system are poor implementation, high standards, and the recognition and operational lag of the government's ability to pass legislation that can actually fix America's education system. Unless a solution is found in the near future, America will not be able to compete as well against the other countries in economics, innovation, and achieving a better culture.
Policy makers and Congress always promote sweeping education reform to fix the education system that is falling behind. Yet, the reforms passed that were supposed to make the education system better were full of overpromises, yet failed to deliver much, such as the No Child Left Behind Act, which is under pressure to be appealed because it is changing the education system more radically and dangerously than that (Gratz 681). Education reforms tend to follow a pattern. These reforms are made by politicians that have no idea what actually works in school. Statements of the problems are more accurate and complete than the proposed solutions. Even after the problems are found, initiatives that are implemented usually fail when tried on a broader scale. If they do not fail they are implemented incorrectly, which can lead to unintended consequences. With these problems most reforms passed have little to none impact on the education system (Gratz 681).
To prove that education reform is needed so that the country can compete in academics throughout the world, the government relies on standardized tests and educational accountability. However, these tests consist of average scores for an entire school on national and/or state tests (Gratz 681). These tests are often handled improperly and the tests are always changing regularly, so reliable long-term data is not available. These tests do not show what the children have learned in a school year, they test the students to make sure they have the basic educational requirements passed. Despite how much is known about how these children learn, few school districts can demonstrate what works for students in any setting. In the absence of proof, the opinion of the educator reigns. Educators then make their ideas into reforms that are based on faulty and misrepresented data from these tests. Though numerous "school choice" programs have been implemented around the U.S., none have created a truly free and competitive education marketplace. Existing programs are too small, too restriction laden, or some form of both.
The educational standards and its accountability need to be more than just concepts talked about politicians. If standards and accountability are to improve schools and help children learn rather than punish teachers, schools, and children for political advantage, advocates for education must ensure that the standards are appropriate, the tests are fair, and the implementation of new reforms is done reasonably and with regard to the differences in education systems (Gratz 681). Control needs to be taken from the politicians and opportunists so that America stops falling behind and the appropriate reforms are made and implemented correctly.
What legislation Congress passes to better American education, supposedly is to keep up with world's standards and accountability. Yet, these reforms suffer from political opportunism and poor implementation (Gratz 681). So these reforms are just words spoken but not acted upon, and when these reforms fail to produce any improved effects, the blame is pointed to the teachers and students. Then the politicians will find new ideas and new people to throw blame of the failed legislature on, in a never-ending cycle that gets nothing accomplished. Some of the reforms passed push schools to support measures just so they receive more funding, as in the example of Race to The Top, which is a program granting a state with what appears the most government friendly policies $4 billion in stimulus money. Most states see this is as a program that will further cripple their education system they are trying to fix. This cycle of blame and poor implementation of legislature will keep the U.S. behind in academic standards.
America may still have a large share of the world's best universities. However, many other countries have followed our lead, and they are now educating more of their citizens to more advanced levels than we are. Worse, they are passing the U.S. at a time when education is more important to the collective prosperity of the nation than ever, as stated in document published from the U.S. government entitled, "A TEST OF LEADERSHIP: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education" (Final Report). Not everyone is able to succeed in college or need to go. However, everyone needs a postsecondary education in today's world. There is ample evidence that any form of postsecondary instruction is highly vital to an individual's economic security (Final Report). Yet, too many Americans are not getting the education they need and deserve. The rest of the world is catching up and in some measures has already overtaken America. According to the report, America has slipped to 12th attainment of higher education and 16th in high school graduation rates. Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has declined, and many of these graduates enter the workforce without the skills employers say they need in an economy where knowledge matters more than ever (Final Report).
Compounding these difficulties is a lack of clear, reliable information about the cost and quality of postsecondary institutions, and an absence of accountability mechanisms to ensure that colleges succeed in educating their students(Final Report). This results in students, parents, and policymakers are left bewildered about the true cost of college and what colleges do a better job teaching their students and graduating them (Final Report). According to the Final Report "In tomorrow's world a nation's wealth will derive from its capacity to educate, attract, and retain citizens who are able to work smarter and learn faster, making educational achievement ever more important both for individuals and for society at large." This states that the U.S. will need to pass reforms to fix "what, in the business world, would be called a mature enterprise: increasingly risk averse, at times self-satisfied, and unduly expensive" (Final Report).
In 2006, Measuring Up 2006 was printed and is the fourth national report card on higher education in the United States. This report card evaluates the progress of the nation in providing Americans with education and training from high school through the baccalaureate degree and shows how the U.S. fares against other countries. It provides information on how the nation is faring statistically against other states and some countries.
The report showed that the U.S. has already lost ground in several areas of academic focus. Internationally, the U.S. still ranks among top nations in the educational attainment of older adults ages 35 to 64; but it drops to seventh in the educational attainment of younger adults ages 25 to 34. It further shows that, while the United States is no longer the world leader in the proportion of young adults, ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college; it remains one of the leading countries on this measure (Final Report). However, the United States ranks in the 16th among 27 countries compared in the proportion of students who complete college or certificate programs. Recent data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicate that our nation is now ranked 12th among major industrialized countries in higher education attainment. Another half dozen countries are very close, and these global pressures come at a time when data from the U.S. Department of Labor indicate that postsecondary education will be important for workers hoping to fill the fastest-growing jobs in the new economy (Final Report).
According to the Final Report, "Ninety percent of the fastest-growing jobs in the new knowledge-driven economy will require some postsecondary education. Colleges and universities must continue to be the major route for new generations of Americans to achieve social mobility." For the country to have increased future economic growth, people will depend on America's ability to sustain excellence, innovation, and leadership in higher education (Final Report). However, even the economic benefits of a college degree could diminish if students do not acquire the appropriate skills. In order for America to grow, students must be able to receive and learn skills to be able to compete in a not so forgiving world economy. Today's post-secondary schools are inadequately prepared, have ever-rising costs, and a lack of information about opportunities.
Further compounding America's education woes is that most of its educational strength lies in its older population. Therefore, their successors in the workforce will come from a small pool of young adults and with today's educational problems; they may lack some college-level education, skills, and training. This problem will eventually increase the unemployment rate for Americans, creating an increase in job outsourcing and a decrease in the number of jobs available to unskilled American workers. This may limit individual opportunity and erode America's economic growth as a whole (Measuring Up).
Another problem is financial aid so that a student can attend a post secondary school or receive a better public education. The affordability of education is decreasing, and students are forced to pay higher tuition costs for a "weaker education." The facts presented in The Final Report, show that from 1995 to 2005, average tuition and fees at private four-year colleges and universities rose 36 percent after adjusting for inflation. Over the same period, average tuition and fees rose 51 percent at public four-year institutions and 30 percent at community colleges. Further, the economic crisis that America is in now, has reduced federal aid and has forced cost cuts, therefore educational institutions have to turn away many young adults who need financial aid to be able to go to school. Need-based financial aid is not keeping pace with rising tuition, therefore putting the U.S. further behind.
American students are given more work than they can handle according to many studies. When students are in school, they face spending huge amounts of time on homework, a high stress environment, "high-stakes" tests, and values of a narrow measure over broader success (Arts in Education). These and with a narrow approach to education, is more of a threat to American education than Russia or China could ever be (Arts in Education). The average time that grade school students spent on homework was 85 minutes a week in 1981; by 1997, it had grown to 134 minutes, an increase of nearly 60% (Gratz 681). Research shows that American children spend just as much time as children from China, India, and Russia doing homework and tests, but they are learning much broader approach to education. This limits a deeper knowledge of key sciences, math, and a more thought provocative education.
Most European schools are private and are in a competitive environment. Since they are privatized, the students at these boarding schools receive a better education from teachers/professors who love their job and do their job extremely well. Compared to students who attend American public schools they receive a superior education and outperformed their American counterparts on international tests. In East Asia, teachers are more likely to have degrees in their discipline such as science and math as compared to science and math teachers in the United States. Their schools are highly specialized unlike the American public schools, which are rampant with bureaucratic red tape, dull teachers, wasting money, and low-quality teachers. Teachers are more generalists at the elementary level in the U.S. compared to teachers in China (Falling Behind). While the U.S does, in fact, have some of the most coveted Ivy League schools, it falls behind the international community when it comes to secondary math and science; two areas extremely important to the future development of technological and medical fields. The secondary schools are pushing students on to the next grades instead of becoming a "drop-out factory," which means failing students cause they are not actually ready to move on, which further discourages students from progressing.
The American education system is slipping in rankings around the world. "In an era of increasing technology and global communication, a higher standard of education is imperative for the United States to have long-term success, survival, international competitiveness and leadership," as stated in A TEST OF LEADERSHIP: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. Yet, the American government has not passed any real legislation besides token measures to satisfy voters, which further compounds current efforts to put the U.S. up to par with the world. The U.S. education system is failing to set the pace, and future generations will suffer because of this (Falling Behind).