U.S. Public Education at the Precipice

U.S. Public Education At The Precipice

You may be expecting that this article is going to be another gloom and doom polemic on the dire condition of public education in the United States. That will not be the case here. Public education in the U.S. was one of the greatest creations in world history. It is an example of our striving to give everyone access to the basic tools to become well rounded citizens and productive participants in society. Our founding fathers did not believe that all citizens should be allowed to vote for their government representatives because they lacked the knowledge and wisdom to make those decisions.

Fortunately they and subsequent leaders had the excellent foresight to create our free public education system which allows everyone access to this knowledge and wisdom. It quickly grew to become the envy of the world and was soon copied all over the globe. Our public education system was preeminent in the world until recent times. The rest of the world began to catch up with us economically and one of their prime tools in accomplishing this was public education. We had become complacent in this area which had allowed our system to erode. I intend to examine our public education system in this article and I will offer my four prime ideas on how to restore the system to its former preeminence. The future of the United States rests on our succeeding in this endeavor.

The first aspect of U.S. public education that I will examine is the innovation of charter schools. These experimental schools have shown promising results as incubators of new and innovative education ideas and processes. The first charter schools law was passed in Minnesota in 1991 in response to poorly performing schools in that state. They were formed to give parents alternatives within the public school system. These new schools were also created to experiment with new ways to educate their children. California followed suit in 1992 and there has been a steady stream of states enacting these laws ever since. There are now over 40 states experimenting with these schools.

I myself am familiar with these schools in Newark, New Jersey by way of a program called TeacherNex. They are an organization that trains teachers for both regular and charter public schools. I applied for this program as an experienced professional entering the education field. I was tremendously impressed with the program along with the schools and my fellow prospective candidates. The pool of candidates was a mix of both education graduates and experienced professionals such as myself. There were approximately 300 people being interviewed for the program after the initial screening. Most of the candidates were young education graduates and they were a very eager and impressive group.

Approximately one quarter of the candidates were selected and unfortunately I was not chosen to be part of the program. But I came away from the experience extremely encouraged about the possibilities for our education future. I did not meet a single person in the program that I was not impressed with. The charter school that we interviewed at was also remarkable. The pictures, charts, and articles on the walls illustrated how the teachers engaged their students in interactive work and coaxed them to think critically about civic issues. This is the type of teaching that I believe we need much more of.

Students need to be taught more than simple memorization of facts. I wrote about this form of teaching in my TeacherNex application essay and I was pleased to see it being employed in this Newark school. These charter schools are allowed to implement their own teaching practices and curriculum. The state gives these schools guidelines as to what subjects must be taught and tested upon. But the charter schools determine how to teach these subjects . This is where the innovation in our schools is going to come from. The testing results from these schools in most states has been well above average. Hopefully these charter schools will be used more extensively in the future and these positive results will be increased. The new teaching techniques and practices must then be shared on a continual basis with the rest of the public schools to improve the entire system.

The next area that I would like to address is teacher and principal performance and accountability. I would like to make clear at the outset that I have the utmost respect for teachers and principals. I consider education to be the noblest of professions. The teachers that I have met and interacted with have all been remarkable and compassionate professionals. This includes teachers I had as a child and teachers I have met recently at TeacherNex. It also includes the teachers of my girlfriend's son. He is a 5th grader with ADHD and requires some extra patience and understanding which they deliver in abundance.

The problems begin in the school districts where student achievement is woefully deficient. Many of these problem schools and districts develop a culture of failure that builds upon itself. Accountability needs to be built into school systems that will identify the teachers and principals who are achieving both positive and negative results. The teacher unions and governing school boards must come together and reach a compromise on a new accountability system. One possible compromise is changing tenure rules while also raising salaries. Teacher salary increases should be at least partly based on performance.

The unions and administrators should also get together as part of a bargaining process and develop a fair and effective evaluation system for teachers and principals. Teachers should not become tenured until they have reached a sustained level of excellence. Principals should not be allowed to continue in their positions if their schools are failing or declining. The bottom line is that a new system of teacher and principal accountability must be developed otherwise sustained educational excellence will be elusive.

Next I would like to discuss improving the integrity of public education. This encompasses revamping curriculums and improving student testing. For too long curriculums have been pared down in many school districts either because of budget constraints or to concentrate on core subjects. We should always be teaching our children a broad range of subjects to prepare them not only for an occupation but to become thoughtful and well rounded human beings. Our children should all be taught a comprehensive foundation of subjects. They are mathematics, science, language arts, social studies, foreign language, music, art, and physical education. Different school districts will decide what mix of these subjects will be taught but all students should be exposed to these subjects each semester.

Comprehensive and fair student testing should also be reinforced into the public school system to ensure that our students are actually learning this curriculum. Essay writing should become a more important part of this testing. Often it seems we are graduating students out of our schools who have simply learned their subjects by rote without any real understanding or critical thinking. Essays will give test administrators the chance to see if the student can convey a reasoned argument. This will show whether our students can put the facts they have learned together and write creatively and persuasively. Teachers should also emphasize this more in their classes to teach their students these critical skills.

The final area I will address is educational support from parents, companies, and higher education. Teachers will have a very difficult time teaching our children if parents are not supporting them outside of school and inside. The nurturing of a child by their parents before their school years is crucial to a child's development. This holds true for parental support during their school years. A majority of a child's self worth and self esteem is wrapped up in their parents' approval and disapproval. Apathy towards a child's schoolwork and homework will lead the child to assess that this aspect of life is not that important thereby handicapping the teacher's ability to teach the child. All school districts should deploy any ideas and methods that they can devise to encourage parents to fully participate in their child's education.

Corporations and higher education institutions should also be heavily involved in the education of our children. The employees and college students of tomorrow are being developed today. Companies have the money to invest in their workforce of the future. Universities and colleges have the educational know how to aid our public schools in re-making themselves to once again be the premier public school system in the world. After all, our higher education schools are the envy of the world and they can play a critical role in transforming our elementary, middle, and high schools.

The United States public education system is on the decline but the decline is not so steep that we cannot resurrect it quickly. Some teachers and administrators have become complacent especially in poorer school districts that are failing. This situation can be dramatically and promptly improved through the innovation, accountability, integrity, and support that I have outlined in this article.

The charter school experiments throughout the United States are laying the foundation for the innovation which if implemented properly will revolutionize public education. These charter schools along with the other public schools must share new ideas to make this work.

The teachers and principals should be more closely held to account for student performance. They should also be heavily involved with the sharing of new innovative teaching ideas and methods no matter where they originate. This is educational accountability. Teacher advancement in the system and pay raises should be linked closely with student performance. Continual training should be utilized to maximize a teacher's talents. Those who fail to make the grade should eventually be dropped from the school system. Revamped comprehensive curriculums along with proper student testing will ensure the integrity of the public education system.

Full support from parents, corporations, and colleges are essential to assist our educators so that our children have all the tools necessary to improve their academic achievement and maximize their potential. These four processes operating together will ensure a turnaround in our public education system. They will also form a blueprint to maintain and reinforce a system of excellence for years to come.

Constant innovation and communication of new ideas throughout the education system will perpetuate this excellence. It is essential that we do not delay in putting these ideas and processes to work. Our public education system is slipping and we need to return it to its former preeminence so that it will once again be the model the rest of the world follows. Our children are our future and we must invest our ideas, energy, and capital in our public education system. It is in our children's interest. The future of the United States is at stake here. The time to act is now. We must not fail.

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Comments 26 comments

Deni Edwards profile image

Deni Edwards 6 years ago from california

Great hub (maybe because I agree with everything)!

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you Deni. Maybe that's because we both want to see public education back to where it should be for our children.

gjfalcone 6 years ago

A well prepared presentation...which lends credulity to your point. I see the crux of the issue, in your words "who have simply learned their subjects by rote without any real understanding or critical thinking." That sir, sums up the state of the education system woes while raising the bar for society.

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you. We need our children to learn to think and not memorize. How are we supposed to change the way this country works if critical thinking is not taught? I also wish our young people would get off the video games and in to some real study both on the internet and in books. But I guess I'm a dinosaur.

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

This is an excellent Hub. I agree with your ideas. To me, the public schools began to go downhill when the Teacher's Unions became powerful, and when the federal government got involved.

The Teacher's Unions have long been saturated with socialists and anti-Americanism. The worst teachers can rarely be replaced becuase of union protection.

The feds have infested the public schools with multiculturalism, which is in actuality anti-western civilization, and other terrible ideologies, beginning with the ideas of John Dewey. The public schools are supposed to be under local control, and used to be. Now, the feds take say $500,000 from some city in taxes and say "If you follow our ideological guidelines we'll give you most of it back. If you don't, your city is simply out the $500,000."

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you James. I do believe new ideas need to be explored and experimented with especially in failing schools and districts. I believe that the federal government wants schools to reach a certain level of achievement across a core group of subjects. I think this is acceptable. But they should have not have a say on how they should be taught. I don't believe the teacher unions are anti-American or socialist at all. I will agree that the unions' overarching interest is protecting teachers. Students are a secondary issue. This emphasis allows for a system where poor teachers are carried along and this must be ended.

Old Empresario 6 years ago

Great hub on public education. I wish these ideas would all be implemented. Ask anyone here in Texas, "What is the number one reason why children should have public education?"; and the answer will usually be "socialization". By that, they mean that children learning to conform with societal norms trumps all other reasons for attending school. TeacherNex sounds pretty good.

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you Old Empresario. I've read about the changes being proposed to Texas textbooks. It appalls me to see adminstrators changing or skewing facts to match their political vision. Did those changes pass? I've been hearing a lot about public education being influenced by socialists and communists who want to remove religion from our lives. Unbelievable paranoia. I don't understand it. I do believe the teacher unions need to allow for much more flexibility with teacher discipline and grading. But they are not socialists and for the most part do a great job. We simply need all new ideas to be tried to get through to our students. There is no reason why we should have so many failing.

scoello profile image

scoello 6 years ago from Chicago, IL

Great article! I completely agree with basically everything you said. As a product of a Texas public school in a low income area I can say that so many changes need to be made to public education. I especially agree on the idea of having students who graduate without having truly learned anything. I know that the week I arrived at college I could already tell I was behind everyone else in almost every subject because of the emphasis my school put on standardized testing instead of on actual teaching and learning.

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you. Low income areas from New Jersey and New York are having the same problems as in Texas. I believe teachers must find new methods to get through to their students. Also students are different. Sometimes different methods work with different students. I believe teachers must find a way to make sure every day that their students actually understand their lessons. Many of them find ways to skate through without learning. Charter schools experiment with new methods which we very much need. Thank you for your input. It is appreciated.

steven crimi profile image

steven crimi 6 years ago

Excellent Hub. I agree that our education system has become complacent. It's hard to find the right remedy to this problem. However, I think if the American people, the government, and business leaders effectively work together they can find a viable solution that will have a benign impact for current and future generations. You already seeing wealthy and successful individuals like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet donate almost all their wealth to fix our education system. I think business leaders are taking the right steps to help the country, it's just on the onus of the other two parties I mentioned to follow suit and make a difference.

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

You are quite right Steven. Many business leaders have been stepping up to the plate and I hope this trend continues and grows. The founder of Google donated 100 million dollars to the Newark, NJ public school system. Hopefully the administrators will use the money to restructure the schools and create new innovations for teaching. This is much needed throughout our country. We are falling behind the world in education and this must stop. Thank you for your comments. I appreciate them.

BobbiRant profile image

BobbiRant 6 years ago from New York

Yes, where has the 'good' education gone to? You are absolutely correct and your ideas are very good ones. Great hub.

HSchneider 6 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you Bobbi and I don't know where it has gone. Educators need to both get down to the basics with their students but also seek new teaching methods to get through to them. Unfortunately I think they start in a hole when it comes to the poorer districts. Missing parents either due to work or being out of the family lead to the children not being nurtured early. This makes it even more essential to start turning these students around early.

Petra Vlah profile image

Petra Vlah 5 years ago from Los Angeles

Once again you point out the problem, but also offer a reasonable solution - just like you did on the immigration hub. I hope and pray someone is listening to your suggestions and will take note, before is too late. I will be linking this hub to the one I recently wrote about our screwed up priorities.

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

I will link your Hub also Petra. I totally agree that we need to get our public officials to listen to us about this problem. We also need to get parents and others to petition these officials. Your points are also well thought out. We need everyone involved and brainstorming on any possible new ideas. The status quo which has existed in our schools for such a long time must be broken.

izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

Great hub! I agree it's not the public school system itself, but I tend to concentrate on lack of options, and curriculum, sometimes teachers.

I know other countries start getting students invested in more specific subjects to their interest much earlier than college, like the U.S. The first two years of college are a repeat of the last two years in high school. What a waste. The problem with extending and and oncentrating on the basic standard subjects is no kid retains a bunch of general info, maybe long enough to pass a test, but it doesn't serve us long-term. Not many are really good at everything, but most people's brains are designed to be really good at a couple of subjects. I think we ought to work with nature a bit and enhance kids' natural ailities, maybe that's the idea of the charter schools.

I started school a natural at spelling and writing and both deteriorated sometime between high school and college. Sometimes it's teachers too- I had a teacher in 3rd grade who tried to make me right handed because I am left. Luckily my mom stopped it, but parents have to be really involved when their kids go to public schools. I had a teacher in 5th grade who told me not to write my fiction stories about good and evil. I took that to heart and now I see how many books and movies, espeially in the fantasy for kids genre kids are exactly the way I used to write, but I was told by a teacher that was bad.

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thanks for commenting Izettl. I am not looking for young students to become immersed in all of these subjects. I just want them to be generally exposed to them. I fear that they will become robots enslaved to just their favorite subjects. Too many children seem to have no knowledge of our culture and history. I completely agree that teachers should encourage childrens strengths and not try to change them because it suits the teacher's vision. My hope is that these charter schools will find new ways to teach our children and reach them. Too many zone out and learn nothing. I would have encouraged your writing about good and evil to stimulate your learning in all of your subjects.

izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

I get your point. Some teachers have their own agenda. I had some really great ones too. I remember learning about the general subjects; history, algebra, philosophy, science, and I got OK grades. Not even a year out of school and I forgot all of it. I just wish the curriculum had more tangible and useful subjects like Personal Finance and Writing classes- writing classes were an elective when I was in school. There was so much math in school and all you really need to know is some basic problem solving, budgeting, and counting money/giving change. I used to be a waitress and I couldn't believe how many younger workers couldn't calculate change in their heads, but they knew some Geometry.You've got h.s grads who can;t budget, make change, or write anything without spell check.

I would also like to see a system in which more specific areas of study start in high school instead of late college or waiting until graduate school to get hands-on experience. I believe that's why trade school grads attain jobs easier than a typcial college graduate. i was shocked how hard it was getting a job after college. Employers wanted experience too and I would have to go to graduate school to get actual experience.

The school system today is what it was decades ago and how you explained it as a foundation for public education. But it doesn't seem to have evolved or be relevant to fit today's world.

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

I agree with you Izettl. I'm sure there is time in a high school student's schedule to allow an elective or two each year where they may take one of these more practical courses. I shared your frustration after college where I also had a hard time getting a job due to lack of experience. Ironically, I am now unemployed and I am having a difficult time finding a new position due to being overqualified. I think we probably need a lot more internship positions.

izettl profile image

izettl 5 years ago from The Great Northwest

thanks for the discussion. It certainly is frustrating and I have a 3 yr old to look forward to putting in school.

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

You are quite welcome. I enjoyed the discussion. Good luck with your child's education. I am sure you will be strongly involved with the education he or she gets and that is a very critical element to a child's education.

Progressive86 profile image

Progressive86 5 years ago

I wish I disagreed with your assessment.

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Don't be too discouraged Progressive86. Many states, including my own which is New Jersey, are seriously going down the charter schools route. I believe the Obama Administration's strong emphasis on improving education will help a lot. A discouraging note is that local governments are terribly cash strapped and are cutting school budgets extensively. Hopefully it will not hurt too much. Our national future depends on getting this right.

Progressive86 profile image

Progressive86 5 years ago

I totally agree. According to NPR, in a discussion about a month ago, Massachusetts is the only state in the US that ranks in the top 50 in the mathematics and the sciences. I wish I had the link. Nonetheless, that is a terribly disturbing statistic.

I hope someone as articulate and passionate about this topic as you is directly involved in your state's political process. I thoroughly believe people can shape solid policy outcomes if they allow their voices to be heard.

HSchneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey Author

Thank you. There are many Hubbers on here who are also writing passionately about this with excellent ideas. Check out MyEsoteric and Petra Vlah. They have written outstanding Hubs concerning the present state of U.S. public education.

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