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U.S. education: an overview of the top 7 harsh issues

June 13, 2016

Identifying the persistent issues in a structure that permanently strives to improve itself may be a real challenge. The educational system has known many grafted solutions, and continuously found itself between the centralized or localized strategies and the open source innovations whose outlets are mostly the private schools and the gifted teachers, and which further migrated into mainstream education.

However, there are a few problems that appear to be constant in the American education system. Resilient to changes and even reform stages, these issues prove once more that all social sciences are connected and so are their weak points.

Edweek listed in 2015 ten main educational problems, in connection with the modern American society and its needs, as well as its failures. Other specialized publications add to this list or elaborate on various reports’ results in order to show an image as accurate as possible.

What is wrong with the educational system, as we know it?

  1. The gap between school education and home education

Education comprises passing on data, the science of assimilating and organizing information, as well as stimulating/generating in the students a certain amount of general knowledge, an emotional development in a societal/community context and, if possible, a vocational and even spiritual development.

While the educational institutions guide their activities by a series of rules coming from professionals (each school facing the limits of their professors’ talent and of their institutional financing capacities), the situation at home differs from student to student.

Parents have not graduated any parenting school, nor do they organize their time around the idea of re-iterating at home with their children the same notions they just met in school. Some do not have the necessary time or knowledge; others do not have the energy. It is also a fact that while a student interacts in a certain way with their teachers, he or she might not interact the same with the parents, all upside and downside situations being possible. At home the students become children – and require their caretakers to be available for them in a different manner and perhaps on different levels than teachers are at school.

Therefore the idea that the lack of classroom time would be compensated by homework time or by time spent at home in assimilating some acquired notions has its visible faults – faults that are clearly revealed by surveys and reports. If the teachers see the learning at home as an activity limited by the student’s individual capabilities and constructs the independent learning activities as such, these might be successful with a minimum teacher-parent coordination. However, if the planned at home activities count on parents acting as teachers and the type and volume of tasks mimics the classroom tasks, the paradigm ends up in failure and seemingly parents are to blame, although it is just a matter of passing the real issue beneath this phenomenon from one responsibility factor to another.

  1. Too much data, not enough compression

Among other problems that trigger the insufficiency of classroom time, the curriculum is clearly one of them. Although a lot of changes, alternative versions and successive trimming have been applied to the educational curriculum, the problem of new information accumulating as time goes by has not been balanced by a completely revolutionary learning method. Therefore the students are confronted with a bigger volume in what data is concerned, out of which no planner manages to trim the excess because no one seems to be willing to assume the responsibility of cutting down the less important data.

Nowadays some theories or studies also build upon machine-generated concepts, data or even discoveries. The knowledge field enlarges its boundaries faster than the traditionally organized human knowledge mechanisms can absorb and pass on to younger minds.

The solution fails to appear: should learning become over-specialized and thus people be extremely skilled in just a few areas while ignorant in others, should unifying patterns emerge for all knowledge and students taught to recognize these patterns and apply them to any field, or should a more natural, more heuristic teaching method apply? The educational system hesitates in deciding, if this preoccupation is even at the center of its concerns.

  1. Too many needs, not enough time

It is only logical that the crowded curriculum limits the time per item when it comes to sharing and explaining information to students. The time spent per student is also considerably reduced, other sub-issues adding to this effect and increasing its impact:

  • The schools are overcrowded, and bigger classes are known to provide lower quality learning experiences;
  • The schools itself are fewer, especially public schools – following the strategy of shutting down underutilized public schools, the pressure put on the remaining ones affects the quality of education;

Due to this situation, in combination with the way teachers are able to handle their equally increased tasks, the learning-adjacent needs of students are barely considered – e.g. some come with self-esteem issues, others have more difficult personalities. All innate or acquired holding back factors should be responded to and “healed” during the learning process, but unfortunately there is often no time or energy to do this.

  1. The yet-unknown effects of technology

Technology is partly responsible for some of the hardships of todays’ educational system. Although it comes with many bright prospects, it also has a lot of unknown potential that eludes the adult caretakers when it comes to their children or students. While it is clear that technology mesmerizes the young minds, it is unclear to what extent this fascination can leave space for the traditional learning mediums, and whether the students are in control or not when it comes to putting their devices down.

The teachers find themselves in difficulty when confronted with this phenomenon, and so do the parents. The accessibility and user-friendliness of today’s technology seems to have skipped adult control and turns children (and youngsters) into some sort of experimental subjects, since the overall effects of coming into contact with this tech gear from an early age are yet unknown.

  1. Lack of effective widespread school innovation

As we mentioned before, the innovation is seemingly continuous in education, but it tackles the effects without remedying the causes. Since the issues persist and the general situation does not show significant improvement, the reality of a challenged and uneven educational system confirms the lack of efficacy of these innovative measures.

All innovations are based on acknowledging the existing situation and trying to build upon the previous strategies, or at least to situate themselves in a certain relation to the previous policies.  This equation has more than one weakness: the base situation may be wrongly evaluated to begin with, the previous strategies may be obsolete or totally bypassed by the new realities, and this while generally the common strategies depend on the bigger political and societal approach on the educational department. Unless a down-to-earth yet fresh approach is implemented as a starting point rule, inefficient, overlapping and disparate innovative measures may continue to complicate things even more.

  1. Disconnected educational policies, as generators of issues

National assessments data allow an accurate image of what is really going on – at least figures-wise. Students are individualities, while widespread problems sum up the reunited effects. The educational policies go in the middle, trying to provide solutions for individuals that would show improved results at the general level. It is not an easy task, nor one that would allow using a recipe for success, since all the factors are changing constantly, from individuals to mentalities or economics.

Perhaps disconnected policies owe a thing or two to the economics spirit that has pervaded each nook and corner of strategy planning. There are areas where investing for the future really takes its time in returning valuable results – education being most likely one of them. Educating and forming the adults of tomorrow shows its effects only in one or even two generations’ lifetime. It may prove incompatible to plan efficiently in education with the idea of seeing the return of investment in a time span of 5 to 10 years, while on the other hand the right kind of planning meets the difficulty of ensuring a lasting continuity, regardless of whom the leadership belongs to.

  1. Financial and geographical discrepancies that dispute the reality of an educational crisis

The educational crisis and the ensuing policies do not get acknowledged to their full extent since while some schools barely make ends meet and struggle with their crowdedness, others have excellent results with their students and feed the idea that critics exaggerate when speaking of a national crisis.

The people who perceive the situation from the inside (students, parents, teachers) tend to be either excessively optimistic or pessimistic, because they have adapted to what represents their daily life in education. Those who either enter or leave the system or leap from one stage to another, thus having the opportunity to see the bigger picture and sense the discrepancies, feel the biggest impact.

Affluent areas tell a different story from the less favored ones, urban areas distance themselves from the rural ones, and this natural decentralized state of facts makes even harder to establish what is the global situation for real, and even more difficult to intervene with widespread measures (if any are to be found).

Some of the issues even transgress borders or policies, and are more of an extension of societal problems. Technology and its effects, for example, is rather an all-over-the-globe educational challenge, while the issue of education not being connected with the post-grad labor market situation is yet another universal problem, depending on the place of the globe one is looking at.