Quality of Education in Public Schools

Lately, standardized testing, education reform, and the quality of education in United States public schools are constant topics in the news. Conflicting messages make it difficult to get to the heart of the issue. Are we falling behind China when it comes to educating our children? Are we placing too much emphasis on standardized test scores? Are charter schools the answer?

America’s Founding Fathers set the bar pretty high when they envisioned a country where every citizen was entitled to a quality public education. What began as an idea grew into an ideal. Universal education for all citizens is a concept as American as apple pie and baseball. Yet, as our nation grows, our public education system has not been growing with us. Most Americans recognize that we need to make changes to our public school system to ensure all of our children receive quality education. In fact, a recent study by Phi Delta Kappa International and Gallup found:

  • The public has high regard for the public schools, wants needed improvement to come through those schools, and has little interest in seeking alternatives.
  • The public has high regard for the public schools, wants needed improvement to come through those schools, and has little interest in seeking alternatives.

So what exactly is the state of America’s public school system and what is the level of quality of education our students receive? It turns out that arguments over hot button issues like school choice, bilingual education, and testing miss the point entirely.

Currently, American public schools are facing some serious issues. Over the past thirty years, public school teachers have been forced to ‘do more with less’ due to budget cuts and lack of funding. At some schools students must pay cash out-of-pocket to participate in intramural sports. The lack of quality teachers presents an overwhelming challenge to both states and local school districts. Teacher shortages are most severe at the secondary level, where advanced content area expertise and academic majors in fields like math and science are vitally important for student achievement. According to the New York Times:

  • The annual cost of prison for an inmate is more than double what is spent on an individual public school student.
  • Eight years after Congress passed the No Child Left Behind act, with the goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading, most states hovered between 20 and 30 percent proficiency, and 70 percent of eighth graders could not read at grade level.
  • By 2020, only an estimated 50 million Americans will be qualified to fill 123 million highly skilled, highly paid jobs.
  • Among 30 developed countries, the United States ranks 25th in math and 21st in science.

The level of quality of education American students receive compared to other nations may shock casual observers. According to the Broad Foundation on Education:

  • America’s top math students rank 25th out of 30 countries when compared with
    top students elsewhere in the world.
  • By the end of 8th grade, U.S. students are two years behind in the math being studied by peers in other countries.
  • Sixty eight percent of 8th graders can’t read at their grade level, and most will
    never catch up.
  • More than 1.2 million students drop out of school every year. That’s more than
    6,000 students every school day and one every 26 seconds.
  • The national high school graduation rate is only 70 percent and rates are much lower for minority students. Only about half of the nation’s African-American and Latino students graduate on time from high school.

A University of Michigan study comparing the Chinese and U.S. public education systems revealed some interesting differences between our approaches to education that may contain the ‘secret’ to improving our ambitious public school system. The study concluded that “If schools in the U.S. public school system were to incorporate the positive aspects that make the Chinese school system so successful, schools in the U.S. would in turn be more successful.” Some of the differences between the U.S. and Chinese public school systems as noted by the University of Michigan study are as follows:

  • Teachers in China are given more respect than teachers in the U.S. For example, teachers do not get taxed on their salary, and they receive their own national holiday, Teachers Day, on September 29th.
  • Chinese schools have a hard work ethic, resulting in student success.
  • Chinese schools do not segregate high achieving students from lower achieving students through tracking levels, like in the U.S. This is mostly due to the belief that all students can succeed if they put in the effort.
  • While American students have the same amount of allocated time as Chinese students, the amount of engaged time spent in school is dramatically less than their Chinese counterparts.
  • State curriculums and state testing does not make sense when standardized tests and textbooks are nationally normed and marked, respectively.

The American public school system has traditionally been one of our nation’s biggest strengths and taking the appropriate steps to ensure that our children are properly educated is critical to our country’s success.




Public School Ratings

Public school ratings are released each year to try to establish a wide database of information for parents to look into. When it comes to choosing a school for your child, the ultimate goal is for the best education one can both afford and the school can provide. There are endless categories that are used to judge each school, but the main ones that usually stand out are test scores, class sizes, enrollment by grade, ethnic/racial groups, economic groups, population distribution by age, household income, and educational expenditures.

Test scores is usually the biggest category that people look at when it comes to choosing a school for your child. The test scores represent the average results that the students in that school end up with on standardized tests or similar since it depends on how the state decides to do their testing procedures. A school with higher tests scores can be assumed to have a better educational, or preparation system in place. Although this may be generally true that those higher scores represent a better education, this is not always the case and it should only be used in addition to other categories. Picking the highest scoring school over any others is a sure way to make a naïve decision.

Class sizes always come up high on the list of what you are looking at with a school. It has been documented that smaller class sizes usually ends up with a much better education. The premise behind this is that the teachers have less work involved with each class so they can spend more time with the students and less time grading papers. There is more one-on-one time and more time in total divided by each student, whether that is more questions answered, or more topics covered. The more time that a teacher can spend with each individual student, the better the learning experience becomes for the students. Keep in mind though that smaller class sizes is detrimental to the schools budget since they have to sacrifice revenue from less attending students to accommodate. It is important for the schools to strike a balance between the cost of the smaller class sizes and the benefits of the intimate setting on the quality of education delivered.

Ethnic or Racial groups data is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it may be imperative that the student be placed in a school that is most fitting for him. Regardless of law and racial equality, research has proven that most people feel comfortable when they have friends of similar interests and who are most like themselves. If a non-Hispanic child is placed in a predominately-Hispanic school, it may be difficult for him to be happy which in turn would lead to lower test scores. This is not always the case, but one should consider this and ensure the school is a best fit. Most schools do not fall into this category though.

Economic groups are a way that many people gauge the education that the school will provide. Data shows that as an increase in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students, SAT test scores decrease. It is an inverse relationship and it is a big problem for schools in poorer areas. The most important part of this category is comparing the school to the district or state. If the school were very low compared to the district, it would definitely show that this particular school should have a better education and may be a wise choice.

Lastly, one of the biggest indicators for educational performance would be the educational expenditures. This category shows how much the school spends on each student. It can be said that the greater dollar amount spent per student should indicate a greater education. This is not always the case, but many schools will use these numbers as a great way to publically advertise the school. The most important thing to consider here is comparison to the district and state and then uses the rating to compare with the rest of the categories.

Public Schools vs. Private Schools

When you are deciding which path to take, you are going to have a lot of choice on your hands when it comes to sending your kid to a school. Moreover, each choice boils down to these two options: whether you want your kid attending one of the Public schools vs. Private schools. This debate has been raging on for quite a while, and each side has their own set of followers who are firm believers in what they chose to go with. Of course, each choice is going to have their own set of unique advantages and disadvantages, which is precisely what we are going to be discussing in this article. If you think that you may be interested in choosing one of them, be sure to consider some of the things that we are going to be covering in this article.

First, we will start out with the pros of attending a Private School. Many people seem to view attending a private school as a sort of “snobby” thing to do, and something that is only reserved for very wealthy individuals. This may have been true decades ago, but nowadays it could not be falser, and many private schools have financial aid plans that make attending them a possibility. You can also take comfort in the fact that your kid is going to get more one on one time with the professor, and classes are small, generally speaking.

Of course, there are going to be some cons that anybody who is thinking about using a Private school should take into consideration. Even though they do make financial aid available to all, it is still much, much more expensive to use a private school rather than a public one. In addition, you are going to have to provide the transportation for your kid to go to and from school, since it will not be provided by the school.

To be honest, there are many reasons why someone would choose a public school over a private one. The most obvious reason to choose a public school over a private one is the price. There are other benefits too, like building a sense of community with the fellow students and even the teachers working there. This sense of community is certainly there in private schools, but to a lesser degree. Transportation is always going to be provided to the families who are attending a public school, which is a huge advantage of private. Another reason may sports teams, which many times are not offered at a private school for one reason of another. For huge sports fans, this is usually the main reason why they would choose to go with a public school.

In the public schools vs. private schools debate, there are also going to be some cons to take into consideration. For one, you are usually going to have a larger amount of students assigned to each teacher, which will mean that students are not going to get as much one on one time with their teacher. On top of that, most classes that are offered in public schools are of an intermediate learning level, which means that if you are an above average student, you may not be catered to as well as if you were otherwise in a private school.

Top Public High Schools

Being in one of the top public high schools is a very prestigious honor that all high schools across the country seek to attain. It provides a number of great benefits. First of all an increase in funding across the board and secondly it attracts more of the same audience, intelligent students.

During the current financial crisis, secondary education has become a challenging area. There are many schools that have had severe funding issues from state or federal areas and with the No Child Left Behind mandates, it has become difficult for schools located in more economically struggling areas to have their students graduate successfully passing the exit exam.

The criteria have been updated for a high school to become known as a top public high school. There are six components that comprise of the award, and while they are a bit too long to be included in this article, they can easily be accessed through a quick and simple Google search.

As you can see, the majority of these criteria would be struggled to achieve in poorer areas since being able to take AP courses requires more time at home studying, and also an increase in costs to actually take the course since most of them will require further, usually more expensive books and materials to take it. Many poorer areas will not have their young adult attend college because they simply cannot afford it and they go straight into the work force to help pay for family expenses. In addition to this, the poorer schools may simply not even offer a wide variety of AP courses because of a lack of funding, teaching expenses, or even simply down to a lack of demand.

It is no surprise that the top 20 of the public high schools in the nations subsidized lunch are amount the lowest levels, most of which are averaging only 10% compared to the poorer schools with a much, much higher percentage.

Many are unaware, but some of the top high schools actually have an entrance exam. At the Bronx High school of Science, Brooklyn Technical High School and Stuyvesant High school in New York, named some of the top public high schools, there has been a slow decline in the number of African American and Hispanic admission rates. The schools have not changed the process to which to allow entrants into the program, but they believe that the low-income students have progressively found it more difficult to keep up with middle-class families when it comes to preparation for high school.

When it comes to other categories that have been tracked, the SAT scores are very obviously higher in the higher ranked top public high schools along with the percentage of teachers with 10+ years experience. This does not necessarily always mean that this proves teachers with greater experience provide a better education – you must take into the fact that teachers want to get a job in the best performing school for both their job happiness and more than likely a better annual salary. Therefore, it is twofold when it comes down to it. Graduation rates in the top schools are extremely high – some peaking at 97%.

When it comes down to choosing a school from one listed on the Top Public High Schools, remember that the lists are often quite small and differences between each school may be very small. The main thing you can look to do is find a good quality school that is on the list that is close to you and is convenient. If you have to drive an extra 15mins every day to take your child to school or to attend extra-curricular activities, it may cause distress leading to a worse education than picking a school closer to home.