Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Low education standards cripple U.S.

Americans must find a more effective way to combat substandard international averages in education

According to a Huffington Post article by Joy Resmovits, America’s educational performance has fallen behind international levels.

Resmovits reported that in an exam known as the Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC), Americans performed well below the international average on math, reading and problem solving, lagging far behind top performers.

Photo credit: Abigail Bocke

Photo credit: Abigail Bocke

There are many methods that people and agencies have implemented to try to halt the decline. According to the National Education Association (NEA), rewarding teachers and schools that produce students who do well on achievement tests is a popular solution. However, I doubt its true effectiveness.

Another approach the NEA has found America implementing to fix the issue has been to impose more external testing — an approach that I believe lowers academic standards. This method makes schools appear successful, but it fails to help students succeed. If anything, I believe they feel less inclined to put forth effort because they know they can obtain the same grades with less work.

“For years, states around the country dummied-down standards to make it look as if students were more prepared for success after graduation than they actually were,” Joel Klein said in a New York Post article. “Raising standards will mean we now have a more true measure of how well our students are learning.”

Unfortunately, success seems to be defined by the number of graduates a school spits out, rather than the students’ caliber. According to Amy Weisberg, a teacher and columnist for the Huffington Post, students are hardly encouraged to excel when the teachers’ only ultimatum is to pass as many as possible. Pupils are rushed through their education, taught to take standardized tests without truly learning.

“The current focus of education is on results, as in test results,” Weisberg wrote. “The powers that be have deemed it the sole measurement for students’ success, and when the scores don’t add up, the finger of blame is pointed squarely at teachers.”

When success is measured in numbers, quality is sacrificed for quantity.

It would be naïve to submit that declining education quality and standards is the root of Americans’ misfortune. But it certainly exacerbates our problems. The issue is not only limited to youth either — adults’ outlook is grim, too.

PIAAC was given to “157,000 adults in 24 countries and regions,” Resmovits wrote. “Most participants took the test at home and could use computers to help with answers.”
“Americans scored 270 in literacy on average, compared with 296 in Japan,” Resmovits wrote. “In numeracy, or math, the U.S. scored 253, below the international average. The oldest U.S. adults were close to the international average, but American adults in every other age group performed far worse than the world average.”

Addressing the problem is easier than solving it. First, I believe it requires a level of personal responsibility. We should acknowledge our individual lethargy and support positive changes within the education system.

Weisberg presented five significant steps on the path to effective education. Some of the steps included early education, support and funding for teachers and students, and parent accountability, according to her article.

I do not fully agree with all of her opinions or ideas for implementing her steps, but supporting teachers and students and holding parents accountable seem to be decent places to start.

All things considered, I would argue that the U.S. has a long slog ahead, no matter what corrective path it follows.

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