The past two decades have brought many changes to the world of education, some of it positive, much of it negative. Regarding the latter, perhaps the most telling is that the United States continues to fall behind other countries in science, reading, and math. There are many factors that are contributing to this downfall. For example, there continues to be a wide socioeconomic gap with an increasing number of students in poverty. Impoverished students cannot be expected to learn if their basic needs are not met. Just as a gap in socioeconomic status is widening, so is the achievement gap. Minority students tend to lag behind their peers in academics.
Politicians have not made the U.S. education system any better. For example, politicians and supporters of the No Child Left Behind Act heavily promote standardized tests. Standardized tests perpetuate grouping, such that lower socioeconomic students are tracked in lower-achieving clusters. Standardized tests encourage rote learning rather than deeply learning concepts.
Many politicians are insistent upon taking away teachers’ rights. For example, many politicians want merit pay for teachers. Merit pay does not take into consideration the natural composition of classes. In other words, some classes inherently have lower achieving students. Therefore, test scores would be lower and hence lower pay. A further example of being against teacher rights is what happened recently in Wisconsin. Its governor struck down collective bargaining, effectively eliminating better working conditions and tenure. If the U.S. follows in this trend, the U.S. cannot be expected to retain and hire phenomenal teachers.
The weakening economy has been detrimental to education. Many programs have been cut or reduced, such as foreign languages. Cutting foreign language education is foolish as languages help us compete in a global marketplace. Other countries mandate that students learn a second language from the youngest of ages, the U.S. lags behind. Furthermore, class size has increased. Student to teacher ratio has gotten worse, creating havoc for teachers and less personal time with students.
Another factor greatly affecting education is that of technology. Technology has been both a blessing and a curse. Regarding the curse, technology may play a role in widening the achievement gap. Those who are lower socioeconomically have less access to the technology. Technology is an enormous expense for districts. Thanks to technology such as cameras on phones and texting, student cheating has become more sophisticated and harder to catch.
Regarding the benefits of technology, students can research topics at the push of a button. Never before has learning about any topic been as readily accessible. Computer programs help students learn new skills. Computer programs for teachers allow educators diverse lesson plans and help to accurately keep grades.
A beneficial educational movement, character education, is in response to a negative trend, societal incivility. Character education is school-wide efforts to teach students about being part of a community by encouraging positive character traits, e.g. honesty, trustworthiness, perseverance, hard work, etc.
Education will never be short of trends. Education is a reflection of society and vice versa. As mentioned above, incivility created character education. Technology creates diverse learning experiences. The positives are mixed with the negatives. It may seem that the negatives vastly outnumber the positives. This may be the case, but over time trends can change. Let’s hope trends will once again favor the U.S. so we can once again be the leader in education.