Why is American public education inferior among industrialized nations

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In 2011 the United States has allotted 15.3 percent of its 3.82 trillion dollar government budget for education. Japan plans to spend 9.8 percent of their 2.66 trillion dollar budget. The United Kingdom fixed 12.1 percent of 669.3 billion dollars, and Canada set aside 12.5 percent of their 276 billion dollar budget as well. In comparison to all of these other countries' spending towards education, the United States spends more than all of them combined. Now while this is a quantified observation, the United States' public education system is inferior to these other industrialized nations. Many reasons are prevalent for this statement. In the United States there are problems with the ways teachers operate the classroom, the ways academic performance is determined, the ways teachers are trained, and the ways curriculums are arranged. These are all issues that the United States needs to improve on in its effort to maintain a leadership position in the fields of mathematics and science and to keep its place as a major world power (UNESCO Institute for Statistics).

A major argument with the United States' education system is whether or not to switch to a year-round calendar in public schools. In the United States, schools currently start at the beginning of September or at the end of August, and tend to end in the month of June. United States government requires students to attend school at least 175-185 days of the year with a typical school day lasting around seven hours. In between two different school years there typically tends to be a two month summer vacation. Schools are normally organized into semesters, but the apportionment of a school year is largely decided by the school district ("Education in the United States" 15).

While the United States does not have a year-round education, the country of Japan does. Japan's school year starts on April 1st and ends on March 31st with the government mandating that students attend school at least 210 days out of the year (Ishikada). As a student reaches higher grade levels in Japan the school days usually become longer. First graders are in school for around five hours a day while fifth graders are in classes for roughly seven hours during a day (Rohlen 162). An average day in a Japanese school has students in some type of recess or lunch period for fifteen percent of the day (Rohlen 170). Primary school students will specifically have a recess in which students are allowed to use playground equipment while secondary students have ten minute breaks in between their fifty minute classes (Whitman 14). All schools in Japan normally have a lunch period lasting one hour and thirty minutes with time set aside so that students are able to clean up after themselves and to have time for relaxation with other students after eating (Rohlen 162).

These two educational systems in both Japan and the United States are systematized quite similarly in structure. Discrepancies between the two systems lie in that a Japanese student is in school more hours in any given day than an American student. Also, a Japanese student attends school more days out of the year than an American student. In light of these two differences, Japanese students receive more edification and practice with their material than students do in the United States. With schools days in Japan being longer and years being longer than in the United States, students have a lot more time in between classes and for lunch. Japanese children spend fifteen percent of their day in recess while American children spend around five percent of their day in recess (Rohlen 170). Because Japanese students have their breaks in between classes throughout the day it allows their minds to relax and actually process what they have learned before attending their next class. This idea of mind relaxation and processing expands into a main supportive assertion for year-round education. With shorter breaks in a given school year, rather than one long summer vacation, it gives a child time to gather what they have learned in an effort to use it in their future studies (Bemis and Palmer 4). An extensive summer vacation causes a child to forget what they have learned and when they return to school teachers have to take time that could be used for other areas of learning and instead focus on review (Moore 59). If schools in the United States were to become year-round this problem would be removed and America would see positive results in its educational system.

With the school year length being a plausible problem in the United States, another major area of concern are the curriculums being mandated by public schools. The government of the United States passed the No Child Left Behind act as a law on January 8th, 2002 (No Child Left Behind). The No Child Left Behind act put into law by Congress gives each and every state in the United States the power to create its own curriculum with certain impediments. Because this act was established as law, curriculums in public schools are not nationally standardized. Even though the No Child Left Behind act does regulate educational practice, the curriculums used by schools are determined by local governments. These local governments can vary between the state level and the school district level (Slavin). No Child Left Behind requires public schools to give students annual tests in reading and math in grades three through eight and only one test between the grades of ten and twelve. During the 2007 school year science tests were required to be admitted by public schools (No Child Left Behind). Approximately ninety-five percent of students in schools are required to take standardized tests. These requirements are set forth even if English is a student's second language or if that student has some type of disability (Slavin). Test results are used to determine whether a school's students are making adequate progress throughout their educational career. This progress refers to the legislature's intention to have all children proficient in reading, math, and science by 2014 (National Science Foundation). What is determined as adequate progress is defined on a state level, and leaves the states the power to determine their own standards and how to reach them. No Child Left Behind creates discrepancies in the quality of education that is provided in the different states.

Because of how the curriculum is determined in the United States, another area of education that is being jeopardized is the material being taught. Teachers are able to specifically teach for only the standardized tests, focusing on only providing information that will be seen on the test in the exact same style that the test will follow (FairTest). This leads students to memorize information rather than focusing on mastering skills that were once deemed important (Slavin). By not analyzing other areas of the educational system and only paying attention to the advanced yearly progress schools make, instruction is only being enforced on a shallow level. No Child Left Behind emphasizes that students make progress, but it fails to realize whether students are just learning the information being taught or if they are achieving their actual potential. With massive state-to-state differences in the public schooling system the results of standardized tests begin to lose credibility. Standardized tests in the United States do not keep track of the progress students and schools make as a whole, but they do bring to the surface the discrepancies between state curriculums and the resources that are being distributed to teachers and students.

British education is regulated by the national government with an intensive standardized system. The British government established a national curriculum by setting up an organized set of stages for children ranging from ages five to sixteen and core subjects for them to study. It indicates the various focuses to be taught at different stages and the anticipated knowledge, abilities, and understanding level for the various subjects. It also lays down the grounds for how the students' progress should be tested (Education System in England). Four stages are what make up the National Curriculum of Britain and each stage is determined by what a child's age is at the time. These stages are known as key stages. Key Stage One encompasses students ages five to eight, Key Stage Two ages eight to eleven, Key Stage Three ages eleven to fourteen, and Key State Four ages fourteen to sixteen (Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency). To move onto the next key stage, students are subjected to a standardized test correlating with the specific key stage they were previously in. After the test has been taken by all of the students, the results are then reported to the parents and the public in two different ways: the actual test grade of the student is revealed and also evaluations for each individual student are provided by the teacher (Education System in England). By doing this, the risks of high stake standardized tests are diminished. Teachers are able to communicate that a student is brilliant and able to learn information at a superior level, but that they may just be an awful test taker or having an off day.

There are some benefits to having localized curriculums, but the curriculum statutes determined by the United States are inferior in comparison to that of the British national curriculum. Because the quality of education between the different states in the United States varies, the students from each state are certainly not on the same page once they graduate. Colleges have specific standards from which they create their expectations. Because one student may come from a state that has lower academic standards does not mean that a college will change their expectations to accommodate them. If a state has lower standards of achievement their students will not be as prepared for higher education and eventually will have a difficult time meeting their college's academic anticipations. One other disadvantage when comparing the United States with Britain is that by having a minimum of fifty different curriculums on a strictly state level, these curriculums are hard to examine and fix. In Britain if a change is needed in their educational policy there is only one system that needs to be scrutinized and corrected. Since there are fifty states in the United States there is not only one curriculum to fix, but fifty different curriculums that need to be analyzed and then changed.

Regardless of the country or grade level, all teachers practically follow one standard approach when instructing a class on a new subject. This standard approach comes forward even when countries have strikingly different standards of arranging their curriculum in its educational system. With the first step the teacher reviews any knowledge that is germane to the information needed for the lesson that students should already know. The teacher then proceeds to teach and discuss the concepts of the subject with the students. Before long the teacher is evaluating the progress of the students by asking questions and overseeing them while they work in groups or individually. Finally, the teacher provides students with sample problems to practice on in order to master the new subject in its entirety. These steps are virtually universal in the teaching profession, and both teachers from around the world and American teachers use them to some degree. How they focus on each step is what separates the two countries from one another (Beauchamp).

Teachers in the United States tend to focus on the reviewing step of teaching new subject matter more than their counterparts in Japan. This is because of how subject matter is taught during a curriculum. A traditional style of instruction for teachers that students are used to in the classroom is to spend a majority of the class going over previous homework assignments either correcting or reviewing them (Woodward). Teachers in the United States have higher standards and requirements for homework than any other country in the world (Schmidt et al). Perhaps this happens because schools in the United States only cover subject matter briefly and never go in depth into the area which resigns students to never being able to master certain subjects. American teachers also rarely focus on changing their teaching style in the classroom while going over a lesson. This causes about only sixty percent of students to be consistently focused during a teacher's instructions (Rohlen 170). The last parts of a lesson are used for student's to work independently or in groups during class. This is also called seatwork (Slavin 223). This is in order for a teacher to evaluate the students' knowledge by having them practice what they have learned. American teachers take time while seatwork is being conducted to work at their desks correcting student assignments or by planning what is going to come next in their instructions. American teachers do this instead of observing the classroom in an effort to help the students with their work and to keep track of what the class needs to improve on (Rohlen 170). This defeats the entire purpose of seatwork. Due to teachers in the United States not assessing their students while seatwork is being conducted and by not having discussions about misconceptions, students are missing out on a fundamental step in the learning process.

In general when comparing the United States and Japan, an observation would be that Japanese teachers are a lot more dedicated to the education of their students. During the time while seatwork is being done by students, Japanese teachers will observe the classroom in an effort to evaluate their students' advancement. By observing their classroom the teacher can then determine whether or not it is appropriate to proceed on to the next area of the lesson being taught. Part of the reason why U.S. teachers take time to correct papers or plan lessons while students conduct seatwork is because the majority of their time at school is spent teaching. Japanese teachers only teach four out of the eight hours they are at school (Rohlen 165). Japanese school teachers do an exceptional job with their styles of teaching in order to keep the focus of their students. Because Japanese teachers change their strategies so frequently their students are always paying attention and are rarely bored with class. Students in Japanese classrooms are also able to get much more out of a school day because teachers are not taking a majority of the class time going over and correcting old assignments (Beauchamp). Because homework is not emphasized as much in Japanese schools as in American schools, teachers have more opportunities to provide students with new topics and to assist students with any problems they may have. This is an important observation because by doing this Japanese students are able to achieve their full potential during their educational career. If the United States were to change their teaching tactics and focus less on review and more on in-depth studies, perhaps students would leave the public education system with more than just a degree (Rohlen 165).

The methods with which teachers instruct their students can be traced back to the way they were specifically trained for their position. American teachers are required to have a bachelor's degree in order to teach and must also pass an exam to become a licensed teacher. During the course of acquiring a bachelor's degree there are many mandatory courses one must take in order to achieve the status of an educator. Most of these courses are in the areas of different teaching methods in the classroom. In addition to this, American teachers must also student teach with an experienced teacher for at least one semester. American teachers do not have much time to learn from a mentor or their peers, and are expected to know a majority of what they are going to need for a position upon being hired. Even after being hired into a school, teachers will work individually a greater part of the time. Because teachers are instructing students a bulk of the school day they do not have much time to collaborate and compare classroom techniques with one another. Teachers in the United States have hardly any time to learn from others in their prospective profession on different ways to instruct and also learn most of what they know during their college education in classrooms rather than from raw experience. Experience is what human beings learn best from, and it is a trial and error process. The United States should require teachers to student teach for a minimum of one year in order for them to learn as much as they can from their more experienced colleagues (Rohlen 165-166).

France's requirements to become a teacher are much more rigorous than that of the United States. To become a teacher one must first obtain a bachelor's degree or its equivalent. This is a mandatory canon before applying to one of the many university institutes for teacher training. These institutes are also known as IUFMS. IUFMs are specific to the different regions of France. Each IUFM specializes in the training of secondary teachers. Potential future teachers are required to attend an IUFM for two years. The first year consists of taking a training course in the career of their choice. The career paths available are for primary, secondary, and high school teachers. After the first year, training teachers take an exam in their chosen career path. In order for training teachers to proceed with their second year of training they must pass the exam. Year two at an IUFM has a much more thorough curriculum. Trainees are trained in French, mathematics, a foreign language, and in physical education. They are also subjected to nine hours of teaching each week and are assigned a qualified teacher of the same subject they are studying that currently is employed in a school. The training teacher meets with this mentor on a regular basis in order to have them assist with the training process. Upon completion of the second year at an IUFM, teachers are officially appointed as such by the Ministry of National Education. With this program set up in training teachers, France has established a meticulous system in order to procure the finest teachers possible. Teachers are able to gain experience from a mentor for an entire year rather than just a semester like American student teachers do. Even after becoming employed in a school in France, teachers are able to learn from their fellow educators in an effort to improve their own educational techniques in the classroom. France has an excellent system in place for training teachers, and the United States should take some time in order to learn from their techniques (Instituts Universitaires de Formation des Maitres).

With all the aforementioned areas of education that the United States needs to improve on, it comes as no surprise that academic performance lies as one of the main subjects being analyzed and studied in the public school system in the United States today. In comparison to other countries the United States is doing poorly. There are exceptions of course, but when compared to China these exceptions are not applicable. One extensive study found that standardized tests given to students covering mathematics and reading is that China had scores higher in both areas. In fact, the highest scores of American fifth graders were below the average scores of the Chinese fifth graders. This may be caused by the fact that sixty-nine percent of the time in American schools are spent on academic activities while eight-five percent of time in Chinese schools are. Focus on improvement in these indispensable areas of education is becoming even more prevalent as populations grow. Parents in the United States could help their children become more academically proficient by being more active in their children's lives regarding education outside of school. Chinese students spend an average of ninety-five minutes on homework each day while fourteen minutes are spent on homework each day in the United States. Also, the Chinese spend well over an hour on both Sunday and Saturday simply studying their material. Students in the United States spend less than twenty minutes during the entire weekend studying. Parents could help change these habits with the amount of influence they hold over their children. In fact, more than fifty percent of parents in China purchase academic workbooks for their children to practice with when there is no homework available to them. Only twenty-eight percent of American parents do this. With these studies bringing the United States' poor education system to the surface, perhaps it is easier to understand why the United States is falling behind (Stevenson, Lee, and Stigler).

American public schools could never be farther from the perfection that their government is demanding. No Child Left Behind aims for one-hundred percent of students to be proficient in both standardized reading tests and math tests by the year of 2014 (National Science Foundation). This is unobtainable. The fact the United States is even attempting to do this pushes it even farther behind the rest of the world in the educational field. Other countries are correct with their ways of instructing students, training teachers, determining academic performance, and curriculum planning. American classrooms could take a lot from these other countries. The only problem is that the United States has an ego problem and has a consistent belief that its standards are better than others. Perhaps if enough parents and citizens were to raise concern about the problems in the education system of the United States changes would be made. The people of the United States have the power. Citizens are not to be afraid of their government. The government is to be afraid of its citizens.

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