According to “A Nation at Risk”, the American education system has declined due to a “rising tide of mediocrity” in our schools. States such as New York have responded to thefindings and recommendations of the report by implementing such strategies as the”Regents Action Plan” and the “New Compact for Learning”.In the early 1980s, President Regan ordered a national commission to study oureducation system.
The findings of this commission were that, compared with otherindustrialized nations, our education system is grossly inadequate in meeting thestandards of education that many other countries have developed. At one time, Americawas the world leader in technology, service, and industry, but overconfidence based ona historical belief in our superiority has caused our nation to fall behind the rapidlygrowing competitive market in the world with regard to education. The report in somerespects is an unfair comparison of our education system, which does not have anational standard for goals, curriculum, or regulations, with other countries that do, butthe findings nevertheless reflect the need for change. Our education system at this timeis regulated by states which implement their own curriculum, set their own goals andhave their own requirements for teacher preparation. Combined with this is the fact thatwe have lowered our expectations in these areas, thus we are not providing an equal orquality education to all students across the country. The commission findings generatedrecommendations to improve the content of education and raise the standards ofstudent achievement, particularly in testing, increase the time spent on education andprovide incentives to encourage more individuals to enter the field of education as wellas improving teacher preparation.N.
Y. State responded to these recommendations by first implementing the RegentsAction Plan; an eight year plan designed to raise the standards of education. This planchanged the requirements for graduation by raising the number of credits needed forgraduation, raising the number of required core curriculum classes such as socialstudies, and introduced technology and computer science. The plan also introduced theRegents Minimum Competency Tests, which requires a student to pass tests in fivemajor categories; math, science, reading, writing, and two areas of social studies.
Although the plan achieved many of its goals in raising standards of education in N.Y.State, the general consensus is that we need to continue to improve our educationsystem rather than being satisfied with the achievements we have made thus far.Therefore, N.Y. adopted “The New Compact for Learning”. This plan is based on theprinciples that all children can learn.
The focus of education should be on results andteachers should aim for mastery, not minimum competency. Education should beprovided for all children and authority with accountability should be given to educatorsand success should be rewarded with necessary changes being made to reduce failures.This plan calls for curriculum to be devised in order to meet the needs of students sothat they will be fully functional in society upon graduation, rather than just being able tograduate. Districts within the state have been given the authority to devise their owncurriculum, but are held accountable by the state so that each district meets the statesgoals that have been established. Teachers are encouraged to challenge students toreach their full potential, rather than minimum competency. In this regard, tracking ofstudents is being eliminated so that all students will be challenged, rather than just thosewho are gifted. Similarly, success should be rewarded with recognition and incentives tofurther encourage progress for districts, teachers and students while others who are notas accomplished are provided remedial training or resources in order to help themachieve success.
It is difficult to determine whether our country on the whole has responded to theconcerns that “A Nation at Risk” presented. Clearly though, N.Y.
State has takenmeasures over the last ten years to improve its own education system. In many respectsthe state has accomplished much of what it set out to do, but the need to continue toimprove is still present. Certainly, if America is determined to regain its superiority in theworld, education, the foundation of our future, needs to be priority number one.Teachers often develop academic expectations of students based on characteristicsthat are unrelated to academic progress. These expectations can affect the wayeducators present themselves toward the student, causing an alteration in the way ourstudents learn, and thus causing an overall degeneration in the potential growth of thestudent.Expectations affect students in many ways, not just academically, but in the form ofmental and social deprivation which causes a lack of self-esteem. When educatorsreceive information about students, mostly even before the student walks into theirclassroom, from past test scores, IEPs, and past teachers, it tends to alter the way welook at the students potential for growth.
This foundation of expectation is thentransformed on to our method of instruction.One basic fallout from these expectations is the amount of time educators spend incommunicating with students. We tend to speak more directly to students who excel,talking in more matures tone of voice, treating them more like a grown-up than we do tothe students who are already labeled underachievers. This can give the student anadded incentive to either progress or regress due to the amount of stimulation that theyreceive.
As educators we tend to take the exceptional students “under our wing”. We tend tooffer knowledge in situations to help push the good students, in comparison to movingon to the next task for the others. We also tend to critique the work of our god studentsmore positively than the others, offering challenges to the answers they have given.The most obvious characteristic that educators present to the students is in the areaof body language and facial expression. We tend to present ourselves in a moreprofessional manner to our good students, speaking more clearly and with a strongertone of voice. We tend to stand more upright, in a more powerful stance, than to theslouching effect we give to the underachievers.
The head shakes, glancing with oureyes, hand gestures, and posture all contribute to the way we look at certain studentsbased on our first impressions which came before we even knew the student.One major way we can avoid these pitfalls and eliminate unfair expectations that helpproduce failure in our students is to restrict the past information on the students to aneed to know basis. Instead of telling the teacher how the student did on pastexaminations, just present them with the curricula that the student must learn during thetime they spend in that class. This enables the educator to formulate their own opinionsof that student. Also, instead of doing the IEP meetings during the middle of the year,we should wait till the end of the semester to inform the educators of certain aspects ofthe student instead of giving them all the information earlier in the year.Finally, it is up to the educator himself to evaluate their own teaching methods to beable to recognize, and change, the way they present themselves to the entire class. Tobe able to know what we are doing, and how we are doing it, at different times in the dayis crucial to the aura we present to the students.
Schools are often blamed for the ills of society, yet society has a major impact on oureducation system. The problems that schools are facing today are certainly connectedto the problems that are society faces, including drugs, violence, and the changing of ourfamily structure. There are many methods that schools have begun to use in order todeal with the problems they are faced with and still offer the best possible education toour youth.The use of drugs in the general population has become a very serious problem insociety and within the school system.
There are two aspects to drug use that teachersare having to deal with now. The first is in trying to teach the new generation of crackbabies that are now entering the schools. These students have extremely low attentionspans and can be very disruptive in class. Early intervention programs designed totarget these children and focus on behavior management within the school setting havebeen effective in preparing these students for school. Educators have also identifieddrug use among students as one of the most significant problems that our schools facetoday. According to the text, the rate of drug use among students has declined in lastfew years, but recently there has been an increase in alcohol abuse among teenagers.Intervention programs such as APPLE, (a school based rehabilitation facility) have beenimplemented in many schools with the cooperation of school counselors and communityagencies to treat drug using teenagers.
Other programs, such as D.A.R.E have beenimplemented in many elementary schools to provide education about drugs to youngstudents.Violence, both in society and in the school system has also been identified as aserious problem.
The influx of weapons in schools creates a dangerous situation forteachers, administrators and other students. One remedy for this problem has beenintroduced in many public city schools; the use of metal detectors. While this method isnot foolproof it does send the message that violence will not be tolerated in schools andthat severe measures will be implemented in order to curb it. Educators are also beingtrained to identify those students who may be violent and to provide non-violent crisisintervention. It is an undeniable fact that our society has a serious problem concerningviolence and that the violence on the streets is certainly connected to the violence in theschools. It seems questionable that even these measures will significantly reduce theproblem in schools, but certainly the process of teaching can continue in a less stressfulatmosphere by having these measures in place.Unfortunately, there are other problems such as the changing family structurethat do not have such clear cut solutions. Some of the problems that teachers are facedwith concerning the family include poverty, single parent homes, abuse and/or neglectand homelessness.
Statistics state that 41% of single, female headed households live below thepoverty level and that students who live in single parent homes score lower onachievement tests, particularly boys whose mothers are the head of the household.Obviously, single parent families are a fact in our society today, given the rising rate ofdivorce and single women having children, and it is true that this change is having asevere effect on students today, but this should not effect the quality of education that isprovided, but rather, encourage educators to be more aware of the difficulties thesestudents face in order to adapt their teaching style, as well as the curriculum to reachthese students.Similarly, child abuse and/or neglect has become a major issue in society andschools. It is not clear whether there is a rise in the occurrences of abuse or whetherbetter awareness has increased the statistics, but it cannot be argued that this asignificant problem and one that effects those educators who have to help students whoare either abused or neglected. Strict regulations concerning the accountability ofteachers regarding the reporting of child abuse or neglect are in effect. Teachers arerequired to be trained on the ability to identify abuse.
Community agencies, shelters andchild welfare agencies have begun working in conjunction with schools in order to dealwith the problem with as little disruption in the students education as possible.Homelessness is another major problem in our society. The rate of homelesspeople has grown significantly since the early 1980s deinstitutionalization movementand more recently due to the rising unemployment rate have led to more families andchildren being homeless than ever before. This social problem has become a significantproblem for educators. Low achievement, which may be in part due to low attendanceas a result of a transient lifestyle, physical problems associated with living on the streetsand child abuse are all issues that educators are confronted with when working withstudents who are homeless. Unfortunately, because of the lack of government funds,this problem continues to grow in America.
On the other hand, schools have begun todeal with this problem by hiring additional counselors, some who work specifically tocoordinate service with shelters in order provide assistance to these families and moreprecisely to the children. This effort clearly demonstrates that educators are genuinelyconcerned about providing education to all children.Clearly our schools and society face the same problems. It has becomenecessary for all people, not just educators, to be more aware of the problems. Althoughsome intervention programs have been implemented and in some cases are verysuccessful, it is becoming more apparent that these problems are going to continue andwill have a direct consequence on our future in this country. Unfortunately, we as asociety tend to look for the “quick fix” to our problems without realizing theconsequences for the future.
Our society need to understand that the schools are notresponsible for the cause of these problems or the solutions, but rather, all aspects ofsociety, including schools, are intertwined and need to collectively work together if weare ever to make progress toward resolving these problems in the long run.————————————————————–