Our Education System Is Failing

It seems to me….

We will fiercely challenge those forces within the education establishment who impede innovation in our schools and who protect and defend inequality and institutional failure.” ~ Campbell Brown[1].

Anyone realistically evaluating the U.S. educational system would give it a failing grade. While there are quality schools at all levels throughout the system, they are not the majority or even the norm. And the fault lies at every level of our system: Voters unwilling to provide adequate funding. Politicians, both national and local, pandering to voters rather than admitting facts. Teachers whose SAT scores were primarily in the lower half of college admissions. Parents unwilling to support curriculum changes. The list is long and everyone can be assigned at least some of the responsibility.

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, conducted every five years since 2001, assesses the reading achievement of young students in their fourth year of schooling – felt to be an important transition point in their development as readers[2]. The latest study involved around 319,000 students across 50 countries. The U.S. ranked 15th overall. Primary school children in Russia had the highest reading literacy levels in the world. Singapore, Hong Kong, Ireland, and Finland comprised the other countries in the top five. Comparable lack of achievement was determined to be similar in other subject areas.

U.S. public schools are underfunded and overwhelmed. Teachers are frequently still treated as if teaching, nursing, or secretarial work were the only options available to women. The majority of students obtaining degrees in medicine, law, and science today are women – times have changed but mindsets have not.

Teacher shortages, and why fewer new teachers are entering the profession, is related to teachers too often being underappreciated and undercompensated. Spending more money does not necessarily guarantee better results (although there are studies that indicate a significant correlation between teacher pay and student achievement). As part of the conservative assault on government, bureaucrats, and the public sector in general, being a teacher in America has become a thankless job yet teaching is the one profession that makes all other professions possible.

Good teachers need to be identified and rewarded. Educators must be treated as professionals and compensated at a level commensurate to what they potentially could earn outside of teaching. In return, and with institutional support, teachers should be required as a condition of employment to continue their education on the latest methodologies. It would not be unreasonable to expect them to complete a master’s degree within five years of earning their teaching credential.

Attrition is high among new teachers and has its greatest impact in low-income, high-minority schools. 21 percent of teachers at high-poverty schools leave their schools annually compared to only 14 percent of teachers in low-poverty settings. Teachers on average work 10 hours and 40 minutes a day. The workday for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports is even longer; about 11 hours and 20 minutes. Contrary to common beliefs, most teachers devote a good portion of their summer “break” preparing for the upcoming school year.

The U.S. educational system is inherently biased against the less wealthy. Education is incorrectly considered an equalizing factor as there is nothing equal about it. It is a system created and legitimizing institutionalized inequality by funding schools through local property taxes. Consequently, a child’s education is only as good as the value of the property in his/her neighborhood.

Low-income families face numerous impediments to situational improvement including educational disadvantages. Low-income parents trying to work have difficulty enrolling their children in preschool programs that only are available from 09:00am to 12:00 noon. They need access to daycare that lasts all day, transportation for their child as well as themselves, nutritional assistance, safe housing, and other environmental considerations not fully appreciated by those well-off.

Many kids are stuck in bad schools with poor teachers. Their parents, relatives, and acquaintances frequently have only limited education never having attended college. Peer expectations consequently are fairly low. Young people have to realize that if they hope to ever do well in life, it is up to them. Life may not be fair but that is the way life is. They have to accept that no one owes them anything and if they wish to succeed, they will have to do it themselves. Unfortunately, this realization normally only comes with maturity when change is difficult frequently leading to bitterness and resentment. Without substantial public recognition and political acceptance, this is unlikely to change in the near future.

Some experts have traced the relatively low share of African-Americans and Hispanics working in STEM professions to differences that emerge at an early age. A majority of high school seniors in the U.S. say they enjoy science and around four-in-ten (44 percent) would like to have a job in the field[3]. But just over a third (37 percent) of black eighth-graders indicated they would like a job that involves science, compared with 44 percent of whites and 55 percent of students of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

A students’ fondness of science can be affected by many factors that often are interconnected with race and ethnicity. Those who voice a greater interest in the subject and a desire to work in the field tend to have higher science scores. Parental involvement, as well as a parents’ level of educational attainment, may be linked to how well children do on science assessments. Availability of advanced science courses and socioeconomic factors also may play a role in cultivating a student’s interest and understanding of science. Only half of these respective groups indicated an understanding that they need to do well in science to get the kind of job they desire.

The average age of U.S. school buildings is close to fifty years and studies have documented widespread physical deficiencies in many of them[4]. About one-third of U.S. schools serving about 14 million pupils nationwide need extensive repair or replacement of one or more buildings – 60 percent, many in otherwise adequate condition, reported at least one major building feature such as plumbing in need of repair. Moreover, about half the schools reported at least one unsatisfactory environmental condition such as needing extensive repair, overhaul, or replacement of at least one major building feature including roofs, framing, floors and foundations, exterior walls, finishes, windows and doors, interior finishes and trims, plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, electrical power and lighting, and life safety codes. Most of these schools needed multiple features repaired. Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems were the most frequently reported building feature in need of such repair. Furthermore, schools with inadequate buildings and building features may be among the least prepared for 21st century technology needs. A significant investment in schools is necessary just to repair or upgrade facilities to good overall condition and to comply with federal mandates.

While solutions are well understood, they also will be difficult to implement given well entrenched and vested interests in maintaining the status quo. Adequate educational funding support will not be possible as long as funding approval is based on local school districts. Those school districts in less wealthy geographic areas will always be less adequately funded than in other districts perpetuating inherent lack of opportunity prospects. This disadvantage would still exist even if funding was by county or even by state as wealthier parents will always provide additional support for their child’s school not available to other less advantaged schools.

We must do a better job of preparing our children to meet the demands of a globalized marketplace. National standards for competency-based learning assessments and uniform academic reporting on whether students have attained the minimum standard knowledge and skills required to progress through their education should be mandatory at each grade level. Common Core educational standards should be required at all K‑12 schools along with adequate funding for all teachers to receive training on how to teach these curriculums.

The rigor and quality of existing state standards vary greatly and while there is considerable opposition to mandatory education standards and testing, especially among conservatives, wide variations in the U.S. education system necessitates a “common” standard for what is taught, when it is taught, and how to test student performance to provide a benchmark for the performance of both teachers and students. To address the issue of standard deviations between states, the Common Core State Standards initiative was developed with the assistance of teachers, school administrators, and other experts in the education field. It was not federally developed or mandated as frequently claimed by those opposing it.

Problems associated with lack of mandatory standards affects students at all grade levels. K-12 students transferring to a new school district, especially one in a different state, frequently find they either are unprepared for or advanced beyond their supposed grade level. A similar problem exists within higher education. Though considered fully eligible to attend college, nearly 20 percent of first-year college students at four-year colleges must take at least one remedial course in English or mathematics. At community colleges, up to 60 percent of first-time students need at least one remedial course. In addition to increasing the expense of attending college, students required to take remedial courses are 74 percent less likely to earn their degree within six years of enrollment.

Many pedagogy problems could be at least partially alleviated by changing to competency-based education where student progress is measured through demonstration of their subject competence rather than length of time on a subject enabling students to learn and advance at their own pace. Technology now available for teaching and learning is able to provide individualized computer-mediated instruction specifically personalized for each student. This would require extensive changes to current teacher methodologies as rather than serving as lecturers, teachers would work with students, guiding learning, answering questions, leading discussions, and helping students synthesize and apply knowledge.

Teachers’ unions exist to protect and advocate for their members and, in general, have done a commendable job. Still they need to do more to encourage improvement rather than maintaining the status quo. Teacher tenure provides necessary protection for older, and frequently, more expensive teachers and those encountering personal conflict with school administers but many older teachers have failed to adapt to rapid advances now impacting the learning environment. It is time to eliminate the Last In, First Out (LIFO) policy so as to retrain the best teachers. While many years of experience can be an asset, it is not if it is one year of experience repeated every year. In exchange for additional financial incentives, teachers should be required – and receive support – to regularly complete training in advanced methodologies.

Lastly, parental involvement in education is crucial. Regardless of parent income or background, students with involved parents are more likely to have higher grades and test scores, attend school regularly, have better social skills, show improved behavior, and adapt well to school. Parents need to become more supportive and refrain from criticizing curriculum changes they do not understand or differs from how they were taught. This is a traditional problem to which there isn’t any simple solution.

Yes, this is only a partial list and much more should – and needs – to be said. As we evolve into a postindustrial economy, education must correspondingly also evolve. A basic K-12 education no longer is sufficient and the minimum required to sustain sufficient economic growth has now become K-16 where ideation, large-frame pattern recognition, or complex forms of communication are emphasized.

If we really want our children to have a quality education, it will require the cooperative effort and support of everyone involved. Turning our educational system around will encounter obstructionism and resistance to change from vested interests but only by fixing these deficiencies can we restore our educational system’s grade so that it earns an “A”.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] Alma Dale Campbell Brown is an award-winning writer and journalist who has written op-eds for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and Slate. She is the head of global news partnerships at Facebook and a former American television news reporter and who served as co-anchor of the NBC news program Weekend Today from 2003 to 2007.

[2] PIRLS 2016 International Results In Reading, International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), http://pirls2016.org/pirls/student-achievement/multiple-comparisons-of-reading-achievement/?utm_source=Fareed%27s+Global+Briefing&utm_campaign=f6b20ef802-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_12_08&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6f2e93382a-f6b20ef802-85658801.

[3] Anderson, Monica. Among High School Seniors, Interest in Science Varies By Race, Ethnicity, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/04/among-high-school-seniors-interest-in-science-varies-by-race-ethnicity/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=84a618416a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_01_05&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-84a618416a-400092341, 4 January 2017.

[4] School Facilities: America’s Schools Report Differing Conditions, U.S. General Accounting Office, https://www.gao.gov/archive/1996/he96103.pdf, June 1966.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
This entry was posted in Air Conditioning, Buildings, CCSS, Chiildren, College, Common Core, Curriculum, Doors, Education, Education, Education, Finland, Floors, Foundations, Framing, Heating, Hong Kong, HVAC, Ireland, K-12, K-16, Learn, Learning, Pedagogy, Plumbing, Preschool, Repair, Replacement, Roofs, Russia, SAT, SAT, SAT, Scholastic Aptitude Test, School, Schooling, Schools, Schools, Science, Science, Seniority, Singapore, Standards, STEM, STEM, Student, Students, Teach, Teachers, Teachers, Teaching, technology, Unions, Unions, Ventilation, Voters, Walls, Windows and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.