Ask Reading Kingdom: What are the major critical issues education is facing today?




Poverty: It’s long been known that academic achievement is tied to income; the lower the income, the poorer the performance. The current economic climate has significantly impacted academic achievement. Between 1993 and 2000, the poverty rate fell each year, reaching 11.3 percent in 2000. Since then, the trends have reversed. In 2010, 15.1 percent of all persons lived in poverty. The poverty rate in 2010 was the highest poverty rate since 1993.

It is possible to break the link between educational achievement and poverty, but it takes care, commitment and action. In Shanghai, for example, the city has brought children of migrant workers into the school system and is committed to the idea that the future depends on these children being as well educated as children from more privileged backgrounds. The comparison with practices in the United States could not be more dramatic.

Funding: The economic slowdown around the world for the past several years has led to shrinking economies and smaller tax bases. Rather than growing the economy by investing in education, many states have chosen job layoffs, program cuts and increased tuition in higher education. This approach fails to take into account a key factor: public education should not be viewed as a cost, but as a long-term investment. If we do not have a well-educated population, the economic prospects for the nation are grim.

Related to the issue of funding is the enormous increase in tuition and fees for higher education. Today’s college students borrow and rack up more debt than ever before. In 2010, graduates who took out loans left college owing an average of more than $26,000. Student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt for the first time ever. As the rest of the world is working to enable increasing numbers to enter higher education, we are creating obstacles that will impact our students and our nation.

Teacher Morale: Teachers face enormous pressures and burdens which can be eased only by providing them with the support they need to carry out effective instruction. Instead of providing that support, there is a growing trend, particularly reflected in the media, to blame teachers for many ills facing education. This only worsens the situation and adds to the enormous dropout rate that marks the profession. Within five years of starting their careers, almost 20% leave the profession. The percentage is even higher in poor, urban schools—where the losses are 50% higher than in more affluent schools.

A Narrowing of Focus: Pressured by a number of forces (e.g., budget cuts, a need to raise achievement scores, etc.) the curriculum has been increasingly narrowed to focus on the “basics” (i.e., reading and math). As part of this approach, classroom work has steadily become more tedious and dull. It is not a recipe for success.

In addition, in the process, some of the most interesting and appealing aspects of schooling such as music, art and sports have been eliminated. Despite the way these “non-core” subjects are often viewed, they are not luxuries. They not only add breadth that is invaluable, but they can help to deal with serious issues. For example, in London, a music program was established for “problem students” who had high rates of absenteeism. The program led to dramatic changes, including the students developing a sense of purpose and self-worth that had not previously been present.

Safety: Modern school life is marked by a long list of threats to student safety. It includes bullying, thefts, violent crimes, fear of intruders, and on and on. In the wake of tragedies such as Sandy Hook, schools are increasing security, adding  locked doors, video cameras, armed security guards, metal detectors and “lockdown drills”. Not only are the expenses significant, but they create an atmosphere that is far from conducive.

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