image The State of the Union Address on U.S. Education.

Arguably one of the most important functions of any society is the ability to educate its youth.

The United States educational system is consistently falling behind other nations in worldly rankings. Not only are we continuing to fall behind other countries, we are also beginning to accept that our educational institutions and system is inferior to those in many other countries.

We do not ignore the problem as we place enormous amounts of effort and money to attempt to keep up with the new global standards. We have experimented and extemporized with different methodologies, philosophies and pedagogies that more “successful” countries have utilized.

In this humble educators opinion there are many problems within the system of the U.S. educational field.

We have tried to nationalize education by creating “Common Core” standards. These are standards by which every student in the US must meet. Essentially, every student who graduates from high school should be equipped with the same skills and knowledge that has been mandated by the federal government. The standards themselves however, are considered big business as textbook creators and manufacturers are outsourced to private companies to create sometimes inferior products that are sold to counties and States.

States and counties with money normally receive the best material while poorer States and counties are left with outdated resources. Many of these resources are bias and contain incorrect information along with being outdated.

The biggest problem with Common Core standards are that they are simply not common or equally applicable. Math and science may be universal, but other subject matter can not be considered as such. What may be essential for a student to learn in one State would have no value to a student living in another State.

A student who goes to school and studies Common Core content from rural Iowa may need a different skill set than a student graduating from a school in New York City.

We are a diverse country and that should be celebrated and evident in the differences of education that should be offered not only to each State, but within each county. For this reason, many States have began to opt out of the national Common Core standards.

I am fortunate to teach in a State where my State legislature rejected the federal mandate of Common Core standards from the very beginning. Three other states were of a similar mindset.  Nebraska, Texas and Alaska all understood in the beginning that the system is flawed.

Several States since have joined suit and opted out. Oklahoma, Indiana and South Carolina have since left the nationalized practice. These State legislatures realized what the four original State legislatures realized from the beginning; there is nothing “common” about Common Core standards.

It’s currently being debated in many other State legislatures and while it is not safe to say at this moment that Common Core standards are a complete failure, it can safely be assumed that there are many flaws in the system. Each state must decide and adopt what they feel is best for their youth and educational future moving forward.

While I believe that it is not just Common Core standards which keep the U.S. from catching up to other countries and their educational systems, it has done little to move us forward. Standards, whether common or State mandated require testing. Testing as a measurement to academic progress.

This creates many dilemmas for teachers. Do we teach our students merely information that will help them to pass the test, which we in the field refer to as “teaching to the test,” or do we attempt to break away from the mold and teach more specific and in-depth content? Content that may not show up on a standardized test, but content that engages deeper critical thinking skills.

Some teachers (and I have been guilty of this performance too) sometimes feel we need to spoon feed content and answers to questions for our students. However, would it not be better that the students learn how to find their own solutions and answers?

This would enable students to think outside the box and help them engage their reasoning and critical thinking skills.

Another challenge we face in the classroom is the introduction of technology. While this is met with little to no resistance, students must be proficient in their understanding of how to use and operate technology. It is all part of the 21st century learner. However the problem arises about how much technology exposure do we give students access to?

We live in a world today where we can do an Internet search and find answers to almost any question. However, the Internet is not a teacher and many sites contain incorrect information. Students need to learn what is acceptable, scholarly and accurate as opposed to searching for the “quick answer” which may not even be true to begin with.

The introduction and usage of technology in the classroom must be taught and monitored closely within the classroom. It can also serve as a distraction as giving the students access to technology tempts them to divert their attention away from lessons to social media, entertainment websites and other non-educational material that is available on the web.

Standards, standardized testing and technology are just a few examples of problems teachers and students face in the classroom.

One of the biggest issues that many talk about are the teachers themselves. Teaching in the U.S. is a less than profitable occupation to have. Teacher choose to teach not for money, but to make a difference. Yet the scale on which we are paid is far lower than the importance and responsibility we hold.

If the future lay within our youth, it is us teachers who are preparing our youth to lead us and the next generation. Yet our compensation for our work is unequal to the task in which we perform. This can lead to two negative consequences:

  1. It drives away talented, knowledgeable and competent teachers. They will seek employment in a field that pays a livable wage in comparison to the standard of living that teachers endure.
    2. It creates resentment in many teachers. This resentment sometimes carries over in to the classroom and teachers will perform at level that they feel they are compensated for; not to the best of their ability.

Yet there are teachers out there who press on. Not for the all-mighty dollar, not for a thank you, not for any glamour or glory, but because we feel we are performing a public service. We enjoy helping students find their way and being a part of their growth. We wish to see success in ALL of our students.

Success can be measured in many different ways. Success is not limited to going to college. Success can be overcoming obstacles, finding their passion to pursue once they leave the friendly confines of their school or creating ever lasting bonds and connections to the community so they will be active and engaged citizens; free thinkers equipped with the ability to survive and thrive in the world.

While I don’t propose many answers, I do recognize that our educational system is flawed in many ways. I write this not to gripe or moan but to bring light to the issue. To create a conversation that we all need to have. That conversation is knowing all of the factors that go in to educating our youth and finding the answers as to what best serves the students. At the end of the day, education is meant for the students. They are the ones who are affected and influenced the most by the decisions made by those who make them.

If we have children, speak to them. Be involved. Find out not only what they are learning but how they are learning it. We are too quick to ask who is to blame or why something inefficient is happening. Rarely do we ask how. Those are the questions we need to be asking. How are our children learning? How can we improve on their experience? How? Not who, what, where, when or why, but how?

In this answer lay the foundation and the key to improving the educational institutions in the United States.

Author: Adam Wilkinson

Image: flickr

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