American Education


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
the findings and recommendations of the report by
implementing such strategies as the "Regents Action Plan"
and the "New Compact for Learning".
In the early 1980's, President Regan ordered a national
commission to study our education system. The findings of
this commission were that, compared with other
industrialized nations, our education system is grossly
inadequate in meeting the standards of education that many
other countries have developed. At one time, America was
the world leader in technology, service, and industry, but
overconfidence based on a historical belief in our
superiority has caused our nation to fall behind the
rapidly growing competitive market in the world with regard
to education. The report in some respects is an unfair
comparison of our education system, which does not have a
national standard for goals, curriculum, or regulations,
with other countries that do, but the findings nevertheless
reflect the need for change. Our education system at this
time is regulated by states which implement their own
curriculum, set their own goals and have their own
requirements for teacher preparation. Combined with this is
the fact that we have lowered our expectations in these
areas, thus we are not providing an equal or quality
education to all students across the country. The
commission findings generated recommendations to improve
the content of education and raise the standards of student
achievement, particularly in testing, increase the time
spent on education and provide incentives to encourage more
individuals to enter the field of education as well as
improving teacher preparation.
N.Y. State responded to these recommendations by first
implementing the Regents Action Plan; an eight year plan
designed to raise the standards of education. This plan
changed the requirements for graduation by raising the
number of credits needed for graduation, raising the number
of required core curriculum classes such as social studies,
and introduced technology and computer science. The plan
also introduced the Regents Minimum Competency Tests, which
requires a student to pass tests in five major 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
education system 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 the principles that all children can
learn. The focus of education should be on results and
teachers should aim for mastery, not minimum competency.
Education should be provided for all children and authority
with accountability should be given to educators and
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 so that
they will be fully functional in society upon graduation,
rather than just being able to graduate. Districts within
the state have been given the authority to devise their own
curriculum, but are held accountable by the state so that
each district meets the states goals that have been
established. Teachers are encouraged to challenge students
to reach their full potential, rather than minimum
competency. In this regard, tracking of students is being
eliminated so that all students will be challenged, rather
than just those who are gifted. Similarly, success should
be rewarded with recognition and incentives to further
encourage progress for districts, teachers and students
while others who are not as accomplished are provided
remedial training or resources in order to help them
achieve success.
It is difficult to determine whether our country on the
whole has responded to the concerns that "A Nation at Risk"
presented. Clearly though, N.Y. State has taken measures
over the last ten years to improve its own education
system. In many respects the state has accomplished much of
what it set out to do, but the need to continue to improve
is still present. Certainly, if America is determined to
regain its superiority in the world, education, the
foundation of our future, needs to be priority number one.
Teachers often develop academic expectations of students
based on characteristics that are unrelated to academic
progress. These expectations can affect the way educators
present themselves toward the student, causing an
alteration in the way our students learn, and thus causing
an overall degeneration in the potential growth of the
Expectations affect students in many ways, not just
academically, but in the form of mental and social
deprivation which causes a lack of self-esteem. When
educators receive information about students, mostly even
before the student walks into their classroom, from past
test scores, IEP's, and past teachers, it tends to alter
the way we look at the students potential for growth. This
foundation of expectation is then transformed on to our
method of instruction.
One basic fallout from these expectations is the amount of
time educators spend in communicating 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 to the students who are already labeled
underachievers. This can give the student an added
incentive to either progress or regress due to the amount
of stimulation that they receive.
As educators we tend to take the exceptional students
"under our wing". We tend to offer knowledge in situations
to help push the good students, in comparison to moving on
to the next task for the others. We also tend to critique
the work of our god students more 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 area of body language and facial
expression. We tend to present ourselves in a more
professional manner to our good students, speaking more
clearly and with a stronger tone of voice. We tend to stand
more upright, in a more powerful stance, than to the
slouching effect we give to the underachievers. The head
shakes, glancing with our eyes, hand gestures, and posture
all contribute to the way we look at certain students based
on our first impressions which came before we even knew the
One major way we can avoid these pitfalls and eliminate
unfair expectations that help produce failure in our
students is to restrict the past information on the
students to a need to know basis. Instead of telling the
teacher how the student did on past examinations, just
present them with the curricula that the student must learn
during the time they spend in that class. This enables the
educator to formulate their own opinions of 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 of the student
instead of giving them all the information earlier in the
Finally, it is up to the educator himself to evaluate their
own teaching methods to be able to recognize, and change,
the way they present themselves to the entire class. To be
able to know what we are doing, and how we are doing it, at
different times in the day is 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 our education system. The
problems that schools are facing today are certainly
connected to the problems that are society faces, including
drugs, violence, and the changing of our family structure.
There are many methods that schools have begun to use in
order to deal with the problems they are faced with and
still offer the best possible education to our youth.
The use of drugs in the general population has become a
very serious problem in society and within the school
system. There are two aspects to drug use that teachers are
having to deal with now. The first is in trying to teach
the new generation of crack babies that are now entering
the schools. These students have extremely low attention
spans and can be very disruptive in class. Early
intervention programs designed to target these children and
focus on behavior management within the school setting have
been effective in preparing these students for school.
Educators have also identified drug use among students as
one of the most significant problems that our schools face
today. According to the text, the rate of drug use among
students has declined in last few years, but recently there
has been an increase in alcohol abuse among teenagers.
Intervention programs such as APPLE, (a school based
rehabilitation facility) have been implemented in many
schools with the cooperation of school counselors and
community agencies to treat drug using teenagers. Other
programs, such as D.A.R.E have been implemented in many
elementary schools to provide education about drugs to
young students.
Violence, both in society and in the school system has also
been identified as a serious problem. The influx of weapons
in schools creates a dangerous situation for teachers,
administrators and other students. One remedy for this
problem has been introduced in many public city schools;
the use of metal detectors. While this method is not
foolproof it does send the message that violence will not
be tolerated in schools and that severe measures will be
implemented in order to curb it. Educators are also being
trained to identify those students who may be violent and
to provide non-violent crisis intervention. It is an
undeniable fact that our society has a serious problem
concerning violence and that the violence on the streets is
certainly connected to the violence in the schools. It
seems questionable that even these measures will
significantly reduce the problem in schools, but certainly
the process of teaching can continue in a less stressful
atmosphere by having these measures in place.
 Unfortunately, there are other problems such as the
changing family structure that do not have such clear cut
solutions. Some of the problems that teachers are faced
with concerning the family include poverty, single parent
homes, abuse and/or neglect and homelessness. Statistics
state that 41% of single, female headed households live
below the poverty level and that students who live in
single parent homes score lower on achievement 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 of divorce and
single women having children, and it is true that this
change is having a severe effect on students today, but
this should not effect the quality of education that is
provided, but rather, encourage educators to be more aware
of the difficulties these students face in order to adapt
their teaching style, as well as the curriculum to reach
these students. Similarly, child abuse and/or neglect has
become a major issue in society and schools. It is not
clear whether there is a rise in the occurrences of abuse
or whether better awareness has increased the statistics,
but it cannot be argued that this a significant problem and
one that effects those educators who have to help students
who are either abused or neglected. Strict regulations
concerning the accountability of teachers regarding the
reporting of child abuse or neglect are in effect. Teachers
are required to be trained on the ability to identify
abuse. Community agencies, shelters and child welfare
agencies have begun working in conjunction with schools in
order to deal with the problem with as little disruption in
the student's education as possible. Homelessness is
another major problem in our society. The rate of homeless
people has grown significantly since the early 1980's
deinstitutionalization movement and more recently due to
the rising unemployment rate have led to more families and
children being homeless than ever before. This social
problem has become a significant problem for educators. Low
achievement, which may be in part due to low attendance as
a result of a transient lifestyle, physical problems
associated with living on the streets and child abuse are
all issues that educators are confronted with when working
with students 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 to
deal with this problem by hiring additional counselors,
some who work specifically to coordinate service with
shelters in order provide assistance to these families and
more precisely to the children. This effort clearly
demonstrates that educators are genuinely concerned about
providing education to all children. Clearly our schools
and society face the same problems. It has become necessary
for all people, not just educators, to be more aware of the
problems. Although some intervention programs have been
implemented and in some cases are very successful, it is
becoming more apparent that these problems are going to
continue and will have a direct consequence on our future
in this country. Unfortunately, we as a society tend to
look for the "quick fix" to our problems without realizing
the consequences for the future. Our society need to
understand that the schools are not responsible for the
cause of these problems or the solutions, but rather, all
aspects of society, including schools, are intertwined and
need to collectively work together if we are ever to make
progress toward resolving these problems in the long run. 

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