Twelve Indictments of the U.S Education System (Series)
Education is the backbone of our society and our country. Our children are our future, and we have done them a disservice. Not only are we depriving our children of the education they deserve, but we were deprived of the education we deserved, and more people need to be talking about this.
There are countless things that I know my school district did right, but there’s so much our schools have working against them. As a country and as a people, we have failed our school system, and here is the first of twelve reasons why.
It is no secret that our education system here in the U.S has adopted a formula for testing and grading our students. On the surface, this might not seem like a bad thing. It’s sure to make grading easier and more efficient. However, it is crippling our students’ futures.
Standardized tests —
Standardized testing is the death of our education. Not only does it remove the possibility of exploration and creativity, but it eliminates the “grays” of the world. There is never just one right answer in the real world, but every time we give our kids a standardized test, that is what we are telling them.
Standardized testing inadvertently created the “teach to the test” mentality that my entire generation grew up with. I distinctly recall one of my college professors getting upset with my class because she wanted to discuss, and all we wanted to know was what she was going to ask us on the midterm. My whole class truly saw nothing wrong with what we were asking of her. We have created an entire generation of people who find more joy from the answer than the journey.
Linking testing to funding —
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, put in place by the Bush Administration in 2001, has only augmented the issue. NCLB linked test scores to funding. In theory, this might not sound like an issue, but in practice, it created unforeseen consequences. When students failed the standardized tests, funding got revoked instead of increased. When funding gets pulled or is decreased, they are forced to make a more robust system with fewer resources. As the resources diminish, students and families that can leave the school will do so at the cost of the schools. That’s another resource disappearing before their eyes. It is a slippery slope that is hard to come back from. How can we improve scores if we are continually punished?
We should have been sending more money to the schools and students that were struggling, but instead, we abandoned them. We’ve become so focused on making sure that kids are getting passed that we aren’t making sure they are understanding or even learning. School has become more about memorization and regurgitation of facts than it is about seeking to understand. President Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015 made strides to fix pieces of NCLB, but there’s still a long way to go.
Associating grades to success —
Now that we have standardized all the tests and the grading and made everything very black and white, we have another obstacle to add. Students, their parents, colleges, and employers have linked test scores to intelligence and this brand of intelligence to success. Every college application asks what your GPA is, scholarships ask what your GPA is, and depending on the job, they might also ask. We have a system that has decided what intelligence is and then brainwashed an entire population to believe them.
To be clear, people who have high GPA scores aren’t unintelligent. That is not the argument here. However, people with high GPA scores either align with the schools' expectations, and it comes easily to them, or they have figured out how to make the system work for them, they have perfected the teach to the test mentality. There are many people like this, but there are tons more who have amazing potential that they never got to see until they left school.
For example, I know someone who is up there in the list of smartest people I know but believed they were a terrible student — in high school and college. They came home with B’s and C’s. Every time this person came home with a bad grade, we all just said, “they’re a smart kid, they just aren’t applying themselves” or “school just isn’t for them, it’s not where they thrive.”
There’s an entire group of people who have this issue, and we’ve just decided to write them off. We’ve accepted this as our reality. And then we find — after standardized tests have been removed from their lives — that they are extremely intelligent, and often extremely successful.
The sad truth is that students are terrified of getting bad grades. Everyone has their own reason, but it usually comes down to fear of losing approval from the people they need it from the most. It could be their parents, it could be other family members, it could be that they really have their hearts set on a certain school, and a bad grade could tank their chances of getting in. Some students are so desperate to pass that they will cheat on tests. Some get caught, some don’t. This practice needs to be eradicated for the sake of our children and their futures.
Erasing teach to the test mentality —
The bottom line is that we have to get the “teach to the test” mentality out of the picture. That feels like a lot of work, but when broken down, it’s quite simple. First, we absolutely have to stop using standardized tests for any reason. Not only do they harm our children’s creativity and individuality, but they completely ignore applied problem-solving skills that are critical to our world right now. We should replace multiple-choice, standardized exams with essay questions, projects, and papers. These alternatives will allow our students to explore their own thoughts and opinions and give them the opportunity to figure out their learning styles.
Secondly, we need to stop equating grades to success. It is so easy to fall into this thought process; things are certainly easier when they are black and white and we all like to think of school today exactly how it was when we went. But we shouldn’t see school and education as a pass/fail situation and we should accept that it is changing. We shouldn’t hold students to the standards of our memories. A new trend in teaching is Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). It’s a team of teachers who teach the same content/grade who plan together. This is intended to help identify how to teach better by identifying what standards they are trying to teach, how they know students learned the information, what to do for the students who already learned it, and what to do for those who don’t. Our expectations are that not all our students will learn something the first time. An F isn’t the end; it’s the next step in the learning process. We should not be afraid of learning, and we should not equate our self worth to a letter.
Lastly, funding should not be decided by test scores. The theory of punishing failures has been tried and tested. It doesn’t work; it only makes the problem worse. This dangerous technique takes attention away from those who need it the most.
Our kids deserve better from us, and we have within us the ability to make it possible. Even if as a parent or friend of a student, you can help them know that they are more than just a letter grade. That one piece will make more of a difference than you could even know.
If you are interested in seeing more on this topic, here is a video I would recommend: I SUED THE SCHOOL SYSTEM !!!