Our education system is screwed up.
I’m about to rant about all the problems I’ve learned over the past 23 years in the public and private school systems.
I’ve been able to see things from three insider points of view:
- As a student
- As a teacher
- As a policymaker
In this post, I’ll talk about:
- Child nutrition
- Technology in ed
- Mental health/trauma
- Family background
- Exceptional children
- The tracking system
- School buses / zoning
- Insufficient resources/lack of enforcement and accountability
- Teacher attrition and disempowerment
- The preschool to prison pipeline
Ctrl+F whatever you find the most interesting to read a small blurb about it.
Let’s get started.
This topic comes to mind during my lunch break at my internship. Because I’ve realized that when I’m hungry, I can’t focus or think about anything besides food. And now I see why we offer Free and Reduced Lunch to children who might not have enough to eat at home. But it’s not only about the quantity of food they have access — it’s quality, too.
There are so many problems with the food industry. Healthier food costs many times more than fast food (compare prices of things at Whole Foods versus how much it costs to eat at McDonald’s). And the calorie to dollar ratio of burgers and fast food is a way better deal. So it’s a problem if students come into the classroom undernourished and underfed.. yet still on the fast track to obesity.
Never mind the problems we have with food deserts and with policies that call pizza a vegetable to meet national nutrition standards. Never mind all the inequitable ways resources are distributed among different districts.
Technology in ed
Right now, some of the biggest reasons why people fight in school or engage in bullying/harassment are due to technology.
People pick fights on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. They post nasty things on Yik Yak or other social media outlets. And these conflicts don’t stop at the computer — they spill over into classrooms.
Kids aren’t taught about computer ethics. And they don’t realize that their mean-hearted tweets aimed at slashing other people down can have lasting implications on their eligibility as job candidates in the future. Just because you deleted something you said doesn’t mean it’s gone forever: there’s usually still a digital trace of it somewhere. And if someone screenshots it… it’s completely out of your hands.
Children need to be trained to become more empathetic and less impulsive. And learn how to regulate their emotions in a healthy, productive way. And that’s not always how they learn. Just look at the Twitter battles/feuds among celebrities… they’re not serving as good role models for kids by engaging in such immature behavior in the public realm.
You know how there are typically “sick days” and times when people are allowed to ask for excused absences due to physical reasons? Like a doctor’s appointment or a surgery or an X-ray. There’s no equivalent for mental health. If a child is depressed (or even suicidal), there’s no process for them to go through.
Teachers aren’t trained to be therapists or social workers. And there aren’t enough social support services for the student population. There might be like… four counselors for a school of over 800. And that might be on the better side, seeing as I’ve been to schools where the counselor to student ratio was about 1:300.
Also, most behavioral problems occur due to traumatic experiences that children experience at home. Sometimes, they don’t realize that being neglected or abused is something that’s outside of the norm. They figure that’s the normal way people are treated and don’t know to seek help. So that brings a whole slew of other concerns into the classroom setting.
Socioeconomic status and parent education matter so much in determining a child’s academic success. People with more money and time can invest so much more in their children’s education. Parents with more schooling are likely to prioritize academics higher than those who don’t have as much schooling. If your parents aren’t native English speakers, then some assignments (particularly in English) are gonna be way harder to complete without their help.
That’s assuming they even have time to help you out. I know people who work blue-collar jobs and have to balance three or more part-time jobs to sustain their families… on top of trying to figure out how to provide their children with the best resources available.
And summer programs are so crucial to a child’s success. Some of the biggest achievement gaps occur because some kids aren’t learning things over the two or three months that they’re out of school. Other kids may have access to different academic camps (think writing or music camps… or Governor’s School. Duke TIP.). And they fall so far behind because their parents don’t have the time or money to afford programs like these.
From kids on different aspects of the autistic spectrum to kids who are bordering prodigies, schools struggle to accommodate their needs. Some opt for separate programs: a special ed class, a “normal” class, and an “academically gifted” class. But studies have shown that classrooms that emphasize inclusion are beneficial to special ed students. It reduces the stigma associated with people with learning disabilities and encourages peers to support them, rather than to reject them for being different.
It’s difficult trying to accommodate for all these different circumstances, to create a curriculum challenging and rigorous for students who learn quickly through the academic system while also providing for students who may struggle more.
The tracking system
The academic, honors, and AP/IB tracks often reproduce the socioeconomic inequality we see in society today. Once you’re placed on a track, you tend to associate with only a select few people. If you’re in the AP/honors track, it becomes an overly elitist, upper-class/middle-class population. Students of all skill levels may occupy the same building, but who they associate with is limited to the people in their classes and clubs.
And the tracking system affects your ability to attend more prestigious universities. That, too, can determine your ability to earn higher salaries and gain access to opportunities in the future.
Certain neighborhoods are often assigned to specific school districts. This sounds reasonable, until you realize that housing is often segregated. White and black suburbs and neighborhoods often vary in quality, safety, access, and food security. This disparity often results in schools segregated by the racial makeup of its surrounding resources, and since they’re funded by local tax dollars, the economic resources at their disposal also vary.
Insufficient funding/lack of enforcement and accountability
Most local and state governments don’t have the funding or the manpower to enforce their policies. And there’s not enough money in the education system: teachers have to pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket. And without money, it’s difficult to obtain enough textbooks and other important education-related resources for everyone.
Teacher attrition and disempowerment
Teacher retention rates are often very low in areas that need them the most. The poorest school districts are left with unqualified, inexperienced teachers who often aren’t compensated for their efforts to try and educate children. Teachers also move from school to school, often due to financial need. Poorer school districts can’t afford to keep them, and they can’t afford to live off of such low pay.
Disciplinary issues are often referred to people higher up on the hierarchy, which disempowers teachers. Teachers often lose their authority when they submit student problems to the decision-making and judgment of their higher-ups.
The preschool to prison pipeline
Yes — I do mean preschool. Kids who aren’t even 3 years old yet are getting sent home for unruly behavior. And this sort of misbehavior is often typical for children.
And need I say it — black and brown children are sent home through suspensions at disproportionately high rates. Before long, they learn that the school system isn’t there to support them, and their teachers, classmates, and administrators all treat them differently as a result. Kids wind up in prison for minor offenses and then are punished academically for missing school. It’s this vicious cycle where kids are labeled as “problems” or “troublemakers” who regularly get suspended over and over again. And some age out before they’re able to graduate, particularly if they had to repeat grades. And from then on, their prospects for the future aren’t bright.
This is just a brief overview of all the problems that exist within the American education system. And seeing it from all these different levels has made me realize that I want to change how things work more than ever. I want to attack the roots of these problems — economic inequality, poverty, etc. — through the lens of education policy.
I don’t know how much of an impact I can hope to make on the education system here, but as someone who’s been through it all… we definitely need to improve how all of this works.
If you’d like to learn more about or add anything in particular, feel free to comment below!