Problems in Education and Society


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 student.
 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 
 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 student.
 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 year.
 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 
 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 
 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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