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Rebuilding the American Public School System
The United States needs more than a simple reform to catch up to the leading countries in education, our system needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Only 68% of students in the U.S. meet the basic proficiency standards in math, reading, and science (NCEE, 2021). The American education system differs significantly from many of the top-performing countries in education around the globe. While most of these countries have a heavily federalized education system, the United States relies on state and local governments to be in charge of education. Singapore, one of the top-ranking countries in education, has a ministry of education that creates the curriculum for the whole country. If the United States also wishes to be successful in its education system, it should follow in the footsteps of the top performers. There are some aspects of the current system that should be kept, like homework. Although most students dread homework, studies have proven that the right amount of homework is very beneficial for students learning. Some aspects of the education system should definitely be abolished. An informational paper published by the University of Minnesota illustrates one of the flaws of the current system. The paper states, “schools rely heavily on local property taxes to meet the vast majority of school expenses. American schools have thus tended to reflect the educational values and financial capabilities of the communities in which they are located.” (Corsi-Bunker, pg. 1). What this means is that students in wealthy areas are going to have an unfair advantage against those who live in poorer areas because their schools will have higher educational capabilities. It will take much more than little changes to get America on track to be amongst the best in education.
While the education system does vary quite a bit throughout the United States, Douglas County School district is a fairly good representation of what it looks like in many parts of the country. In the Douglas County School District, school is held 5 days a week Monday through Friday, for an average of 7 hours. Many schools around the country have similar schedules. Douglas County high schools have a start time around 7:30 am. This isn’t an unusual time to start, but many districts are trying to get that start time pushed back to 8:30 or 9:00 after learning the importance of sleep and the internal clocks of adolescents. According to a study done by the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), high school students spend a little less than an hour per day doing homework, despite high school teachers claiming they assign up to 3.5 hours per day (Hansen and Quintero, 2017). A large part of students’ high school careers is the SAT. The SAT is a test almost all students take and it determines whether a student is ready to go to college or not. Certain scores on this test are also required to graduate at some schools. Scores on the SAT are a large determining factor of what colleges will accept what students. Another factor colleges look at is grade point average (GPA). A student's GPA is an average of all of the letter grades (A, B, C, D, F) that they received in all of the courses they took during high school. The courses that students take and the curriculum of these courses are determined by state and local governments. In fact, almost every aspect of the U.S. education system is determined by each state’s education department. The only thing the federal government does to support the school systems is funding, and even then it isn’t much. For example, the paper published by the University of Minnesota states, “In Minnesota, almost 80 percent of public education funds come from state sources. About 17 percent comes from local sources, while less than 5 percent comes from the Federal government.” (Corsi-Bunker, pg. 1).
Although the American education system is far from the worst in the world, some countries are doing it much better. Many factors go into making these countries as successful as they are. To name a few: Singapore, Finland, and Canada all are top-ranking countries in education but are all very different in culture and education style. Singapore happens to be one of the highest per capita GDP countries in the world with the average income being 101,649.1 U.S. dollars according to the World Bank Organization. Singapore has a highly centralized education system, “The Ministry of Education is responsible for education for kindergarten through higher education. The Ministry allocates funding for all schools, sets course syllabi and national examinations, oversees teacher credentialing, manages the teacher and principal evaluation and promotion system, and hires and assigns principals and teachers to schools.” (NCEE, 2020). When it comes to what ages that the children in Singapore attend school it is pretty similar to the U.S. however the way age groups are divided up is a little different. Perhaps the thing that sets Singapore apart from other countries was by introducing “Geological School Clusters” which are schools that are divided up into different districts. These are similar to districts in the U.S. however, the government examines each cluster carefully and ensures that all schools receive enough resources to be successful in eliminating disparity between clusters. All of the schools in Singapore are essentially the same in terms of how nice the schools are and what subjects and curriculum they teach. This ensures that all students receive the same opportunities, and is why students that come from low-income families perform just as well as students from higher-income families.
Another country that is showing to be doing the education system right is Canada, the US.’s neighbor to the north. Canada has a much more similar education system to the U.S. as opposed to Singapore, in fact, their education system is even more decentralized than the U.S. Like the U.S. they have governments in each province in charge of the curriculum and other important structures of the school system. This may seem strange that Canada is so similar to the U.S. but their students are outperforming those in the U.S. One reason for this may be, as stated by the NCEE, is “Each provincial ministry of education recognizes the importance of maintaining high standards and best practices, and they use one another as benchmarks when formulating major policy decisions and initiatives.”(NCEE, 2020). They also have a council that consists of the head of each province's education system called the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC). Another reason why Canada is better than the U.S. is because of how their teachers are trained and motivated. In many provinces, practices like performance pay and strict termination policies were removed. This allows teachers to truly be motivated by the love of teaching and helping their students. Like Singapore, Canada does a great job at making sure that schools get the funding they need to be successful. There is little disparity in test scores between students of different races and financial backgrounds. Another key to Canada’s success is a document published called the “Victoria Declaration”. This document was a statement of educational goals laid out for the whole nation. This document kept in mind Canada’s social and economic goals for the country. This enabled the provinces to design school systems that actually prepared students to contribute to society after their years of schooling, something the U.S. education system fails to achieve. Ultimately Canada’s success is due to its unification through goals, and equal opportunities for students to be successful.
The happiest country in the world also happens to have a phenomenal educational system. This proves that there is a way for students to work hard and learn and be happy at the same time! Finland’s successful education system was unlike Canada’s in the fact that it took a long time to reach the success that it is seeing now. Finland has worked for years to perfect its education structure. The article from the NCEE highlighted the following areas of focus, “From the creation of a unified comprehensive education structure to national curriculum guidelines to a restructuring of teacher education, with responsibility for teacher training moving to Finland’s universities.” (NCEE, 2020). Finland like many other countries has a centralized education system. Their ministry of education is constantly researching education and helping their system adapt to the changing world, and needs of the students. Something interesting about Finland is how another country would be able to match its education system. Canada and Singapore are successful in part due to their cultures, while on the other hand, the NCEE article observed that, “Finland is not the result of an unmatchable culture, but rather of a specific, integrated system of policies and structures that other nations can emulate.”(NCEE, 2020). Finland is also well known for its excellent teacher training programs. The teachers in Finland have the public's trust and respect. While students are largely responsible for their own learning, teachers play a huge role in education and it is important that the right people are hired, and that they receive proper training.
All of these nations have exemplary education systems that work well for their citizens. The question at hand is now: what systems and policies work best for America and its citizens? For the U.S. education system to be successful, they need to incorporate policies and systems used by these top-performing countries into their own. The first major change that the U.S. could undergo is funding for education at a federal level. With education funding coming from a federal level, money and resources are going to be able to be distributed amongst communities in a way that will eliminate disparity in financial capability. While it may not be the best of ideas to shift the control of curriculum and educational policies to the federal government, the United States should take inspiration from Canada by creating a statement of educational goals that focus on the future of economical and social aspects of the country. By doing this state governments will be able to get rid of useless elements of their curriculum and design a curriculum that will help reach those goals and cater to the specific needs of the state.
Finally, the last aspect of the education system that can be changed is more extensive teacher training, and for the public to invest their trust into these teachers. By the public investing trust in teachers, it will inspire them to be the best teachers they can be. Through this heightened responsibility of teachers, and hopefully improved skills, it would be very appropriate to give the teachers in the U.S. a significant pay raise. While these suggestions may not be enough to create a perfect education system, they would be a big step in the right direction. For these changes to be successful, the nation must be unified in its educational goals, and the goals should resonate with students in a way that helps them to be invested in working towards them. The education systems around the world must be suited to help prepare citizens for the future, and help make the world a better place.
CORSI-BUNKER , ANTONELLA. “GUIDE TO THE EDUCATION SYSTEM IN THE UNITED STATES .” Umn.edu, University of Minnesota, 2018, isss.umn.edu/publications/USEducation/2.pdf.
Hansen, Michael, and Diana Quintero. “Analyzing 'the Homework Gap' among High School Students.” Brookings, Brookings, 10 Aug. 2017, www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2017/08/10/analyzing-the-homework-gap-among-high-school-students/.
NCEE. “Canada Overview.” NCEE, National Center on Education and the Economy, 4 Feb. 2020, ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/canada-overview/.
NCEE. “Finland Overview.” NCEE, 4 Feb. 2020, ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/finland-overview/.
NCEE “Singapore Overview.” NCEE, Nation Center on Education and the Economy, 4 Feb. 2020, ncee.org/what-we-do/center-on-international-education-benchmarking/top-performing-countries/singapore-overview-2/.