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Essay/Term paper: What went wrong with america's schools?

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Economics

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What Went Wrong with America's Schools?

Education is the key to any countries economic success. For a country
to be economically sound, the business and industry within that country must be
financially prosperous. In todays high tech world economy, businesses and
industries need well educated employees to prosper. Therefore, the
deterioration of a countries educational system should be considered a major
economic problem. Between 1965 and 1980, the performance of American students
dramatically declined, the educational system fell backwards, and it is
affecting todays schools, as well as the future of the US's work force.
During that 15 year period, US students' test scores severely dropped in
comparison to other industrial countries. After 1980, the dropping scores
leveled off, and recently, they have begun in increase. But American students
must play catch-up with the rest of the world, and todays public school system
is not prepared to facilitate the major leap forward that our educational system
Before 1965, America's public school system was producing better
educated students with less money and fewer supplies than today. Each class was
approximately 40% larger than today's classes, and they functioned with about
one-third of the real dollar expenditures of present day schools. They taught
with fewer books and less equipment, and did not have any of todays audio-visual
material and equipment. Then, between 1965 and 1980, real dollar expenditures
per student doubled as teacher to student ratio dropped by one forth. Yet, with
more money and fewer students per class, student achievement deteriorated in
every available measure. In 15 years, national SAT scores declined by 5 points
annually. That 75 point drop has put the US behind greatly, and has left todays
students with a lot of ground to make up in order to reach other countries test
score levels.
The cause of this dramatic drop can not been attributed to any one thing.
The decline was sudden, sharp, and affected every region and socioeconomic
group in the country. Because the 60's and 70's were a time of major changes,
nothing that happened in that era can be ruled out. But a few major changes
within the educational system have been linked to the decline.
The first major change was the unionization of teachers. Before 1960,
there were virtually no teacher's unions. Then, starting in 1960, there was a
large movement of teacher's unions. By 1970, more than 50% of all teachers were
members of one union or another. Today, around 75% of teachers are unionized.
Teachers strikes, which were almost nonexistent before 1960, now seem to mark
the beginning of fall. While the new unions help to give teachers more job
security, higher pay, and pension plans, they often affected the educational
Another major change in the educational system was that schools began to
become more centralized. This started soon after WWII. After the wars end,
there were approximately 100,000 school districts in the United States. By 1970,
that number had reduced to less that 20,000. The physical unification of school
was not as important as was the financial centralization of schools, which began
in the 60's. Before the unifications, local school boards raised about 60% of
their own school funds, mostly with real estate taxes. The bulk of the rest of
the needed funds came from state government. By 1980, though, local school
boards were receiving 60% of their funds from the government and generated only
40% of their own funds. Those schools that received increased government funds
first were some of the first to decline. This added to the theory that a
schools performance is hindered by the bureaucratic controls over them that are
less responsive to the school's and parents' concerns. As more money was coming
from the government, the teachers and parents had less of a say in how those
funds were spent.
Recently, the educational system has shown improvement, and test scores
are improving as well, but it is still not enough to bring us up to
international levels. US students are playing catch-up with other countries.
But many schools do not have the needed financial support to increase the
learning environment. The government support is not available because taxes do
not bring in enough to cover all of the governments needs. This lack of school
funds forces schools to lay off teachers, which increases class sizes and puts
more work on the already overworked teaching staff. Schools are also starting
pay- to-play program with their sports and school sponsored activities. Some
schools are being forced to completely eliminate art and industrial education
classes. Colleges are also affected by the shortage of funds. As government
funding is cut, colleges must raise their tuition, which makes it harder for
people to afford college. This causes a drop in college-educated workers. This
drop will dramatically decrease the economic gain of many large businesses,
which will affect the nations economy.
Although schools are doing better and test scores are increasing, the
rate of increase needs to accelerate significantly.
There are a few ways to help increase our rate of recovery. One way is
to increase government funds to schools. Lack of proper financial support has
surpassed drug abuse as America's leading concern with public education. And
68% of the population say they would be willing to pay more taxes to schools.
Many, 85%, support distributing funds more equally throughout each state by
taking some of the funds from wealthier school districts and giving it to
districts with greater need. This would even out the schools financially and
allow poorer districts access to needed funds.
A second way to increase our schools progress is to dramatically alter
high school learning. Fashion high schools more like colleges. Make each class
more challenging, and extend each class period to 90 minutes instead of 45
minutes, but make classes every-other day. While students would end up spending
as much time in each class altogether, ninety minute classes are much more
productive. They allow teachers to get more involved with each topic, and
longer classes allow more time for teachers to help students one on one. Longer
classes also allow students to have time to start homework in class.
An increase in head-start and preschool programs would help
significantly as well. By starting children in the learning process early,
they learn more rapidly and perform better in school. Although this is not a
quick way to increase student skills, it is an effective way to insure good
students later.
Another way to improve students is to test them for graduation. Before
any student graduates, they must first pass a test to rate their skills in
different skills. In order to graduate, you must pass that test. Using the SAT
's would be appropriate. Have taking the SAT 's mandatory and set a minimum to
pass. If the student passes, then he/she graduates. This would insure that
everyone who graduates from high school has at least a certain skill level.
Allowing parents to choose which school their child attends could also
help increase the effectiveness of our high schools. By allowing parents to
choose, a compentiton is formed between schools. This competition could force
schools to offer improved curriculums to attract students. Competition could
streamline the educational system and make it more effective with less money.
I believe that the best way to improve our future economy is to
restructure our public high school system. America needs to increase funding of
public schools, and the school system needs to be revamped, to better prepare
students for college and the work force. As the system is today, most high
school students are not graduating with the needed knowledge or study skills to
succeed in college. Much of high school is spent goofing around, not learning.
By using college classes as a model, high schools could prepare students more
effectively, and increase the overall learning rate in public schools.
The educational collapse of the 70's and 80's has left America with a
lower learning rate and lower test scores. But with the restructuring of public
teaching and the present increase in learning and test scores, America will be
on its way to being a leader in education again. And with a well educated work
force, the US economy will continue to grow and prosper.


Stanley M. Elam, Lowell C. Rose, and Alec M. Gallup, "The 25th Annual Phi Delta
Kappa/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,"
Phi Delta
Kappan, October 1993, pages 137-152

William Kristol and Jay P. Lefkowitz, "Our Students, Still at Risk," New York
Times, 3
May 1993, p.A-23

Sam Peltzman, "What's Behind the Decline of Public Schools?" USA Today, July
pages 22-24

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, "More than Survival"
copyright by Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco, CA

Gerald W Bracey, "The Third Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education"
Delta Kappan, October 1993, pages 105-117

Jim Fox, "The Wrong Whipping Boy" Phi Delta Kappan, October 1993, pages 118-119


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