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Ask Dr. Lynch:The State of the U.S. Educational System

EducationWorld Q&A columnist Dr. Matthew Lynch is a department chair and an associate professor of education at Langston University. He has researched topics related to educational policy, school leadership and education reform, particularly in the urban learning environment, and he is interested in developing collaborative enterprises that move the field of education forward. Visit his Web site for more information. Read all of his columns here, and be sure to submit your own question.

Dr. Matthew Lynch

This week, reader Anthony D. asks:

At one point in time, the United States K-12 educational system was considered to be the best in the world. However, currently we are not even ranked in the top ten. What are your thoughts on the matter, and what can we do to get our K-12 educational system back on track?

ANSWER:

Anthony, thank you for submitting such a timely question. The United States entered the 21st century as the world’s sole superpower. Our diplomatic strength, military might, financial resources and technological innovation were, and continue to be, the envy of the world. However, in the crucial area of education, the U.S. lags behind many other developed countries. Although the U.S. spends more per student than almost any other country in the world, international exams have demonstrated that we consistently perform well behind countries such as South Korea, China, Japan and Finland in the areas of reading and math.

The ramifications of this trend are considerable. China, Japan and South Korea understand that well-educated workers are crucial for survival in the competitive global economy. Thus, they are placing enormous emphasis on education, ensuring that their students acquire not only foundational reading and math skills, but also the ability to think creatively and solve problems. Their youth are poised to take on and conquer the world.

Educating, hiring and retaining high-quality teachers are the keys to lasting reform. The teaching profession in America is undervalued, certainly in comparison with countries such as Finland and South Korea. In addition, U.S. schools are using more money but have less to show for it. Test results, especially among the children from low socioeconomic backgrounds, are dismal. America has extraordinary natural resources, a solid, functioning democracy, and an excellent infrastructure, but unless we can reform our educational system to produce students who are able to take advantage of new technologies and compete in the global economy, we will cede our position as world leader.

A number of recent books and films have brought this situation to the attention of the American public. What is needed now, though, is a plan to solve those problems. The educational system involves seven major players: the federal government, district authorities, the community, parents and family, the school administration, teachers and the students themselves. In order to reform our schools, we must look at each of these players, investigating the interactions among them, and offering suggestions for bolstering their involvement and efficacy.

In areas where schools are successful, community involvement has proven to be a critical element. In low socioeconomic communities, there is often a sense that schools are separate entities, run by elite elements that have little connection to the community. Perhaps the starkest difference between students from low socioeconomic environments and those from wealthier environments is the amount of parental involvement in students’ education. 

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), while admirable, has also proven fundamentally flawed. It is not producing the anticipated results, and has forced schools to teach to the exam, rather than foster a love of learning among students. There is mounting evidence that the U.S. education system is failing our students. Appropriate engagement and direction by district authorities is crucial to creating a quality learning environment. Too often, cronyism, corruption and misuse of resources diminish the influence of the district-level administration.

Society in general needs to understand that the lack of highly valued and well-supported teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors that contribute to the current state of our educational system. The country must unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America’s future via educational excellence. We must become supermen and superwomen.

 

About Dr. Lynch

Dr. Matthew Lynch is a Chair and Associate Professor of Education at Langston University and a blogger for the Huffington Post. Dr. Lynch also is the author of the newly released book It’s Time for a Change: School Reform for the Next Decade and A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories. Please visit his Web site for more information.

If you have a question for “Ask Dr. Lynch,” submit it here. Topics can be anything education-related, from classroom management to differentiated instruction.


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