Many societies and cultures of the world ascribe a very high status to teachers in theory, if not in practice. The reasons for this are many. After all, education ensures the future of a society and its children, and is owned and closely guarded by the educators, secure and invincible in the hallowed portals of their academic institutions. How many of them are happy with their output is a question industry wants to know the answer to, before flocking to make them job offers to fresh graduates and inducting them into their organizations.
Testing: Tests of a child’s knowledge are important but not if the US education system itself starts structuring itself around the task of facing a given set of multiple choice questions and perishing, in the event of failure. Testing may be needed to ensure accountability, but students need a flexible approach to this evaluation along with individualized resources and support which help them learn and build the ability to face such assessments.
Discrimination at school: Is there a lack of availability of equal educational opportunities for individuals by reason of race, color, religion or national origin 50 years after the Coleman report was filed? Even if we don’t answer that, today it is not just about race but being gifted, being autistic, being dyslexic and being a hundred other things which set a student apart from the rest of what is considered “normal.”
Higher education: College level sports tend to dominate academics at most universities, outshining the efforts of academics and bringing in big bucks to some coaches and athletics departments, while others spend huge budgets on athletics to the detriment of other student programs without seeing any returns.
Quality of faculty: Not all institutions are committed to building a strong faculty base and depend on doubtful, last-minute arrangements with anyone who is willing to come in and teach, probably at a discount.
School funding: Most schools get 10% of their funds from the federal government and the rest of the costs are borne by the state and local governments equally. So wealthy states score higher over backward states on how much they spend on their schools affecting the educational outcomes of students living there and creating huge disparities in the quality of education.
Poverty: Nearly 25% of the children in America who have the potential for academic achievement are failing to do so on account of financial issues or actual poverty.
Parental involvement and student achievement: The role of parents is of paramount importance, transcending that of teachers and schools. Children from high income families, with well-educated parents, have better opportunities for early learning and enjoy access to books, museums and learning activities from an early stage compared to poor children, who may have no such opportunities and be saddled with a stressful family environment, weather conditions, nutrition issues, health problems and even homelessness.
Teachers’ unions: Unions are considered to be a problem with the education system in the US by many but they also take the credit for making collective bargaining agreements possible. When teachers are backed by unions they can bargain for higher salaries drawing more people with better qualifications into the profession. Bargaining over class size profits students as they get more individual attention and better opportunities to learn.
Teachers play a very important role in helping kids succeed as they support kids in crisis, and differentiate instruction to meet varied learning styles. But all depends on the teacher and the school, and on how much they strive incessantly to do their best and make a difference in spite of the pervading racism, poverty and funding inequalities. Let’s not forget to factor in the urgent policy changes stridently calling for higher standards, revised curricula, improved testing formats and complex measurement methods. Real life can’t be compressed into a movie, where miraculously life-changing events happen in the span of a few minutes! Here, you will find that change is slow, deliberate and requires a lot of effort, resources, time and dedication.
What changes would you like to see in US education?
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