The quality of the U.S. public school system is a constant point of contention in public policy circles, the media, and literally thousands of town meetings on any given day. International testing scores suggest that the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the developed world. Critics insist that our education system has fundamental problems with diversity and curriculum.
Are American public schools really that bad? Laura Ling hits the books in today's Seeker Daily report.
The U.S. has a unique educational system in that public schools are largely controlled by state and local governments. As such, there are vast differences in policy, funding and demographics depending on where you live. States like Nebraska and South Dakota struggle with low test scores and enrollment, while other states put more of a premium on education programs. Massachusetts and Connecticut, for instance, are far more globally competitive than the nation as a whole, in terms of standardized testing.
Differences in funding and policy also lead to huge differences in teacher compensation and worker rights. Many critics contend that the nation's struggling schools are the product of a system in which educators are grossly underpaid. High school teachers make an average of $50,000 a year, compared to roughly $95,000 for higher education professionals.
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But others say that excessive union rules and tenure policies produce incompetent teachers who are not motivated to excel, and essentially cannot be fired. According to a 2014 study, over the course of a decade, just 47 out of 100,000 teachers were fired in New Jersey, which has some of the lowest performing schools in the country.
Experts say there are many other factors at play, as well. Classroom overcrowding is a huge problem in urban area, where populations tend to grow faster than the school systems can accommodate. Mandatory learning standards programming, such as Common Core, discourage innovation and well-rounded curricula, according to some critics. In many districts, the complex effects of poverty itself take a toll.
On the upside, recent studies suggest that U.S. public education is improving in certain areas. The statistics are actually quite encouraging. There's room for improvement, certainly -- but things may not be as bad as they seem.
-- Glenn McDonald
The Atlantic: America's Not-So-Broken Education System
EdSource: U.S. scores stagnant, other nations pass us by in latest international test
Chicago Tribune: Chicago parents press for solution to overcrowded schools
Los Angeles Times: Bar set low for lifetime job in L.A. schools