The main problem with American education is that we are so disconnected from it. Children grow quickly and they are resilient. Not only do children soon forget their elementary and junior high days -- hopefully not the lessons learned, but their day to day activities and routines -- and should they remember the problems that existed in their schools, they may not remember why those problems persisted. The goals of the public school system at this juncture are to graduate more students and to achieve higher test scores; the main obstacles are cutbacks in funding, which lead to poor quality teachers, fewer supplies, fewer lunch programs, and diminishing art and music departments.
What can schools do to improve the quality of the teaching and the environment that they provide students? How can they achieve higher graduation rates and test scores without more money?
It isn't necessarily a legislative issue so much as it is an obligation. As a school, they are obliged to offer the best services they can to students and parents of all abilities, socioeconomic status, and language capability. Here is a list of solutions to funding cutbacks that schools should be utilizing; after all, money doesn't solve everything.
1. Parents need to be involved. They need to advocate for their child in every capacity, whether the child is not getting enough personalized attention from the teacher or if they are being bullied. At home, they should be engaging the child in their work and stimulating their interest in subjects by helping them with their homework, asking about what they are learning, and discussing a plan for higher education. Parents and teachers need to be working together to evaluate the child's strengths and weaknesses to determine how the child learns best and what steps need to be taken to ensure their success. Some will say that parents are often full-time workers that cannot take the time to meet with teachers, but schools have scheduled parent-teacher nights that allow such discussions that are essential for a child's development. It is a precarious but important balance that will give the child a support system that they will need.
2. On this point, teachers must be able to give attention to all of their students. Sometimes there are simply not enough classrooms and class sizes are bursting, but teachers should have a system where they rotate children to the front of the classroom or are able to keep noise levels to a minimum to be able to teach all of their students. Some students may not be doing all of the work, may be distracting others, or may be afraid of asking questions. Some students may not speak English fluently or have learning disabilities; these are all things that a teacher should be aware of and be able to adapt to. Teachers should be able to use a variety of methods to engage the class and not only teach their students but instill a love of learning and an intellectual curiosity that will stay with them as they venture into higher grades and must consider graduation and beyond.
3. Teachers must be qualified. To be blunt, they must be smart and know the material to be able to teach it. They also must be patient and kind, though not be susceptible to intimidation from students in order to reprimand them as needed. Providing positive reinforcement for children is even more important than chastising them for bad behavior; children need to be told that they are smart, that they are special, and that they can achieve anything. Some argue that this cliché sets unrealistic expectations for students. Perhaps not every child will grow up to become an astronaut - but why not a molecular biologist? If not the president, why not a senator? Set the bar high so that they can settle for something that is still a great accomplishment. To attract good teachers, the entire community should come together. If the school cannot provide enough benefits, local doctors and specialists should offer lower rates. The main problem with salaries is that schools are able to skim figures because teachers only work 9 months out of the year with 3 months of vacation plus days off in between. If states provide summer and after-school programs for students then teachers can make extra money by participating and advising.
4. Finally, school administrators need to ensure that there are systems and protocol in place for handling abuse. Students should be able to come forward to report a teacher who has been behaving inappropriately or even abusing students without fear of being ostracized, or worse, that nothing will be done. Administrators should have systems that monitor teachers as educators and also as guardians. The Horace Mann scandal while appalling is not unique; unfortunately, most schools have at least one horror story, if not more, and predators must be prevented from targeting students in what is supposed to be a safe space.
No Child Left Behind and other attempts at education reform have been failures in large part because they promise money in return for results that often take the form of higher test scores and graduation rates. While both of these are strong indicators of a school’s performance, they are not enough; students need to be continuing beyond a G.E.D. towards college and even graduate schools. Students need to do well on state tests but also on their graded work.
A good education is one that is formed with support from all sides – from administration, from teachers, and from parents, not just for the children, but for each other. American students are lagging behind students in other countries not because they aren’t smart enough or don’t have the resources; they have the resources, but they just are not being used in the right way. Schools can still be successful without significant monetary assistance if they are just a little bit more dependent on the people in the halls and classrooms instead of undirected funds that trickle in from the government. Being disconnected does not mean we should be uninformed.