Thursday, June 4, 2009

Educational Reform in America

It is unquestionable and undeniable that a country with a leading educational system will wind up leading economically in the future. In today’s competitive market, every nation is competing for their chance on the leader board of wealth. Although the United States has been seeded number one in the economic field for the past few years, many countries in Europe and Asia are challenging that spot for the number one position, especially China. Many articles from news sources read, “Can China Compete?” and “Can the New Chinese Economy Compete with the US?” but not anymore. Now the articles read, “Can the US Compete with China’s New Economy” and “Can the US Keep Up?”

Of course economic stability has everything to do with how well the country will run and function, but if the educational systems lack the ability to support such a superpower of an economy like the United States, can it really compete with other nations in Asia and Europe? Those countries for the majority, all have superior educational systems when compared to the educational systems that are in the United States. So, can the infamous country with the world’s leading colleges also lead in the educational standards of the foreign competitors?

Majority of the candidates who run for presidency promise for educational reform, this promise, however, is not a promise that can be kept. Many presidents that came before President Obama has preached about educational reform in America and how many of the schools in the U.S. lack the ability to compete with schools in foreign nations. Much like the past presidents, President Obama has promised us an educational reform that would make the American schooling systems be able to compete competitively with the other nations. However, do not get your hopes up just yet. The economic problem and national security always come before any educational reform.

President Obama’s slogan is “Hope” and many people in America are still hoping for a miracle to occur. Unemployment is a disaster that strikes countless American families nowadays. Major companies such as Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual are either bankrupt or merging with other large companies to prevent an entire collapse in the job market. Other major companies such as AIG, General Motors, and JPMorgan were provided bailout money by the government in order to stay afloat in the markets. The government told the American people that these companies were “too big to fail” and that the bailout was necessary in order to keep the United States economy healthy. Despite the bailout, the companies that were bailed out are still in turmoil and the majority of those companies did not recover well enough to hire more employees.

The availability of jobs is getting fewer every month. The more qualified a person is, the safer he or she is from losing his or her job. On the National Center for Education Statistics website ( it states “Workers who have a record of high academic achievements are unemployed less and earn more than workers with lower [academic achievements].” This is an obvious trend, but how does education directly affect how the economy will be? An example of a country with a high educational standard is South Korea. From the time South Korea was a country to the present day, Korea has made education an importance in every child’s youth. There are no laws that require students to attend high school or college in Korea, but if a student decides not to attend college or even high school, the chances of that student acquiring a job is very slim. Almost all of the unskilled jobs are taken by immigrants. For a Korean to earn enough to support his or her family, he or she must attend and graduate college. In Korea, the unskilled jobs are considered shameful, such as factory work. My grandfather used to own a factory where he would hire Pakistani immigrants instead of Koreans due to their cheaper pay. When my father and mother were planning to build a new house, they used Chinese laborers due to their cheap cost of labor. The United States is somewhat like Korea, where the majority of the unskilled labor has been taken my immigrants. This, however, does not give an excuse to accuse the immigrants of stealing a country’s jobs.

I have given a survey to my teachers and students of Wakefield High School in Massachusetts and asked them about the educational systems in the United States and what President Obama can do to fix it.
The first survey question asked “how important do you think higher education is now for students of this age?”

Majority of the student body and teachers answered that higher education has never been more important than it is now. Considering the fact that Americans without higher education are losing jobs left and right, it has become more important than ever to receive some degree of higher education. President Obama has stated on his webpage ( that “preparing our children to compete in the global economy is one of the most urgent challenges we face. We need to stop paying lip service to public education and start holding communities, administrators, teachers, parents and students accountable…” Even President Obama believes it’s a necessity to stop paying lip service to public education and start to compete competitively with the global economic powers.

Brian, a student in Wakefield High School, stated, “…even though having a degree doesn't necessarily mean that a person is intelligent, [a degree] is still needed” explaining how even students recognize the importance of a college degree. Even if it does not signify that one is intelligent, it has now become almost a necessity to earn a degree in order to live in what is considered the middle class.
I questioned another student, David, asking, “How important is higher education for students like us?” He replied quickly, “I don’t see why this is even a question… As is obviously known, students who have a college education are more successful at life and contribute to society and to the economy.” David is telling the truth. Although college does not guarantee a successful life, it does, however, increase the chance of being successful at life.

The second question I asked brought up the issue that President Obama addressed on his website. The issue stated, “After graduating high school, all Americans should be prepared to attend at least one year of job training or higher education to better equip our workforce for the 21st century economy.”

When I asked the question “Do you think one year of job training/higher education is enough for a person to compete in the job market?” to the students and teachers of Wakefield High School, I received mixed opinions. Over 60% of the survey takers replied that one year of job training or higher education is not sufficient enough for a person in modern day America to compete nationally; given that the persons who have taken one year of the said educations do not compete globally. However, the issue of competing globally is not an idea that can be disregarded lightly. The remaining 40% of the survey takers replied that not all people are suited for college education. Such people include: people who cannot afford to attend college, people who do not want to work professionally, and people who just simply do not want to attend college or any level of education. Both answers are correct. However, the increasingly competitive global market has led to the idea that “no college degree = no work.” Many people just cannot live life working minimum wage in a factory job. The price of necessities for life has risen and the price of education has risen as well. Especially with the economy at a slump, the persons without a degree are suffering even more so than the people with degrees who have lost their jobs.

Inequality has been a major issue in education since the American educational system was built. I asked, “No Child Left Behind Act is providing almost $54.4 billion in 2001 in federal funding to schools in need of money. Do you think programs like these have done enough to prevent some schools from being “inferior” to others?”

Almost all of the faculty and students that I have surveyed concluded that there will always be inferior schools in America. One of the teachers commented, “…The demographics of Lexington are not the demographics of Harlem, for instance. That’s an uncomfortable reality we don’t always want to acknowledge. But we’re naïve if we don’t recognize the inherent inequities in our society or believe that they don’t somehow impact education.” Lexington is a town that is above average in their income. Even if we compare Lexington High School to Wakefield High School there is a noticeable difference. Many programs in Lexington, such as the core curriculums, athletics, and music, are better funded than in Wakefield. Inferiority is explained by Victoria, a student and a friend of mine, who now lives in Mount Prospect, Illinois. She mentions that, “In my high school, every teacher is provided with a Macbook (A laptop from the company Apple). Every classroom has their own computer projector.” She also mentioned that “they charge for everything here. This is the only public school I've been in that had a registration fee for attending.” Mount Prospect’s students pay to be superior while Lexington’s students have well providing funders. Two schools are equally superior, but one achieves its superiority through a different method than the next. I believe that the only way inferior schools will get equally superior is if that school somehow finds a way to charge students or take larger taxes from the residents in the town. One has to keep in mind that those inferior schools are usually in towns and cities with lower income rates, which means charging anything more than what they are charging now is not an option. Christopher, a student who also attends Wakefield High School, pointed out that, “Well… that’s just life” as I asked him about how he feels about the inferior schools in America.

Although Wakefield is a town of above average income rates, our school still struggles to find money for basic necessities, such as paper. Many teachers from last year have been cut due to shortage in the budget. Also, the school day has been changed in order to properly fit the current financial budget. I noticed that sometimes certain departments lack copy paper. I remember last year, our math department ran out of dry-erase Expo markers and some of the teachers from the math department had to buy their own. Another sad fact is that some bathrooms and classrooms are missing huge chunks of their ceiling. Some classrooms as well as the hallways leak when it rains and snows. I find it amusing to see the students avoiding the trashcans in the middle of the hallways that are put up to collect the dripping water. When I watch the students dodging the trashcans and buckets, it somewhat looks like watching a game of Frogger.

Moving away from the topic of inferior schooling, we get to the topic of “did the government do enough to change the educational system.” I asked multiple students and teachers the question, “Do you think President Obama’s administration has done enough over the few hundred days to revise the educational systems in America to become more feasible with the current economic troubles?” I also provided them with the statement from President Obama’s webpage stating, “We will recruit an army of new teachers and develop innovative ways to reward teachers who are doing a great job, and we will reform No Child Left Behind so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.” All survey takers responded, “A few hundred days are too short of a time period for any president to make a large enough impact on the nation.” This is true that it is too early to figure out what President Obama will do, but we are all hoping for a change and revamping of the educational system in America.

The controversial issue of high school students dropping out has become one of the leading topics of the current educational discussions. I asked this contentious matter to my fellow students and teachers of Wakefield High School. I stated and asked, “It says on the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education that ‘Statewide, 79.9 percent of the 74,380 students who entered high school as ninth graders in 2002 or transferred into the class graduated within four years. Of the remaining students, 6.4 percent are still in school, 1 percent completed high school without earning their competency determination, .8 percent earned a GED (General Educational Development), 11.7 percent dropped out and .2 percent were expelled.’ Do you think the high school drop rate is high?”

99% of the people I surveyed agreed that the dropout rate is extremely high. A teacher commented that “Any dropout rate is unacceptable.” The remaining 1% of the surveyed answered that “the dropout rate should be higher to encourage unskilled labor.” The last 1% commented that the unskilled labors would help the economy by funneling money from the bottom up. This idea, although clever, is still somewhat flawed. Another teacher commented, “The dropout rate is high but in other countries, they weed out students who are not so interested in school with tests at the end of junior high school. These countries usually direct these students into skilled trades. In Germany, companies actually work with high school students and train them to be skilled in particular jobs.” Maybe America can learn a few things from Germany. I believe that the ideas that are based around what the German companies think and use are logical. However, it does not guarantee that all those students who dropout will work in the said factories. The same teacher also commented, “To prevent dropout rates, there needs to be more after school programs to help [kids] with homework and to keep [them] busy and out of trouble.”

The follow up question to the dropout problem was “why do you think the students are dropping out at such high rates and what do you think the government can do to reduce the drop rate? What do you think the school systems can do to reduce the rates?”

Answering the question, “Why do you think the students are dropping out at such high rates?” A teacher provided me with an answer, “As long as there is poverty and there are ‘broken’ families, children will continue to drop out of school.” Adding to this answer, I think there are kids who just are not mature enough for education and feel as if learning is not needed in order to live in the current world.

The second part of the question asked, “What do you think the government can do to reduce the drop rate?” Some students and teachers answered that “the way of fixing this issue was to first fix the homes of the kids that are dropping out. Since the work ethic is reflected upon how the kids have been raised, the government should target homes of those dropouts in order to fix this reoccurring issue.” A student answered, “The thought of going somewhere to ‘learn’ for a quarter of the day seems stupid and unneeded for many students. Schools can do a better job to prevent this by offering ‘cooler’ programs and courses. This would provide more choices for the students and provoke more interest helping them stay in school.” The schools must spend money to provide the said “cool” programs. I believe what the student meant to say was that some students are not focused academically. This is cleared up by a teacher, who stated that “…students that are not academically gifted have been turned off to the idea of high school. These students are forced to sit in academic classes as opposed to learning job skills that students in the past have had the opportunity to.” These students may be more content if they were to attend a vocational school rather than an academically focused high school.
The next question that I asked was, “It says on President Obama’s website “We will continue to make higher education more affordable by expanding Pell Grants and initiating new tax credits to make sure any young person who works hard and desires a college education can access it” When the message reads ‘any young person who works hard and desires a college education can access the grants’, do you think initiating this new tax credit to help pay for college would motivate some high school students into further expanding their careers in the high education field?”

99% of the survey takers agreed that loans, grants, and scholarships may help to increase the number of students that attend college. However, they also agreed that students who are not already motivated enough for academic studies will wind up not attending college at all.

Do I think the overall educational system in America needs fixing? Of course I do. Do I think the past few presidents have done enough to reform the educational system? I have seen them try desperately to create legislation to help the system, but I did not see the action to an extent that the reforms dramatically impacted the system. I continuously notice that the competing countries rise in economic and educational power as the United States waits at the top without improving either attributes. I strongly believe that the government of the country as well as the people of the country must step up in order to reformat and transform both the fiscal and the learning systems of America so that the United States could once again be the forerunner of the economic and educational marathon. As I usually end my articles, all that we can do for now is to raise our voices to the cause and speak out for the changes that we desire. It is, however, up to President Obama and his administration to decide if it is time for America to step up and become the leader in education once again.

Thank you to everyone that participated in my survey. Even if you were not quoted in the article, your information did not go to waste.
I will further update this educational topic as the Obama Administration goes on.


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