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.