The State Of Education In America: Go To An Elite School Or Else?

from the getting-better-or-worse? dept

Clearly, education is one of the big issues facing the USA — and reports on the current “state” of education have been very mixed. The general sense is that teachers these days are being pressured to teach to various tests, rather than actually teach, and resources in schools are rather lacking. However, a reporter who went to check out schools has found that many do seem to be adapting. Of course, it does sound like most of the evidence is anecdotal — and he isn’t discussing the local public schools that have to accept students. All of the schools he’s talking about are ones that students have to apply to get into (public or private). At the same time, however, there does seem to be a lot of emphasis being placed on what schools a child attends and how they perform at the age of four — which seems to be a bit early in deciding what sort of life someone is destined for. Schools are one important element in a kid’s future, but not the only one. That doesn’t mean that the school system doesn’t need to be improved — it clearly needs some work. But, focusing only on the school system isn’t the answer either.

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Comments on “The State Of Education In America: Go To An Elite School Or Else?”

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dorpus says:


You mean parents shouldn’t beat the hell out of 5-year-olds whenever they do badly, and make them stay up late with caffeine drinks, like Asian countries?

Or is it more desirable to become a post-industrial, burned-out country like Japan, where the majority of kids do not know fairy tales, college students do not know basic grammar, nobody understands anything?

Jim says:

Re: Asianization

What children in the U. S. know fairy tales, there are to many other things pulling at them for anyone to have time to read or tell fairy tales to thier kids. I personally think we as a country need to return to teaching the basics and let parents decide where and how much other education thier family should have. I see nothing wrong with punishment for bad behavior, but not beating…..we have became a country that has confused spanking with beating, there is a big difference and spanking is a good teacher of right or wrong, but then what is right or wrong now. There is no such thing as truth, truth is whatever someone believes it to be, not cut and dried right and wrong any more. I don’t know what Asianization has to do with it, but maybe it does.

Mark says:


It is not clear what point you are trying to make. Schools are ineffective, and there are various attempts to make them more effective. Sniping at the problem is easy. Solving the problem is not.

A four-year-old may be tested for readiness for kindergarten. She/he is not undergoing career testing.

If we really want schools to improve, we need to increase teachers’ salaries significantly to attract talent to the profession. It takes a great deal of intelligence and talent to teach masses of students effectively. Right now, we’re not paying for that.

enoughalready says:

Re: Schools

Increasing teachers’ salaries is absolutely not the answer. I am sick of whining teachers complaining about not making enough money, when k12 are making a LOT of money and not even working a full year. Teachers in California can easily make $50-70k after just a few years. And yet they complain when their summer vacation gets interrupted because they have to go in a few days before classes start in order to set up their rooms. They get home before 5pm every day, they have lots of holidays and paid time off during the year. Ugh, nothing like a real job.

The problem is who they have to teach. Our test scores are brought down by hungry non-english speaking children of illegal immigrants who oftentimes come here way behind where they should already be. Let’s separate the non-english speaking scores out from the english-speaking scores, and I bet our average in California shoots WAY UP.

And don’t claim this is racism. It isn’t. It is common sense to anyone paying any attention. Getting a classroom full of non-english speaking varied culture and background hungry students would OF COURSE make it difficult to attain good test scores compared to having well-fed, well taken care of kids with similar backgrounds and communication skills.

Those kids are in private schools now because their parents, who would NEVER DARE comment that they don’t want their kids going to school with a bunch of non-english speaking poor kids, are sending them to private school!

Public school (k12) = welfare for the poor. The answer is not to pay teachers more, it is to lower our expectations for what these “disadvantaged” students can learn.

Let’s stop bashing our school system for doing so poorly and start questioning whether in fact it IS doing so poorly. California in the 1950s and 1960s was considered to have great public schools. What, did we lower all the teachers’ wages since then? NO. We opened the borders and let anyone in who could crawl under a fence or through a tunnel. THAT is the difference between now and then.

Fed up.

dorpus says:

Re: Re: Schools

Are public schools really so bad? I took some courses at community colleges, where there were a lot of these poor immigrants who could barely speak English. They lacked sophisticated study skills, but their motivation was definitely high. I respect them — they have families to feed, don’t understand the system, can barely speak English, but they were trying their best. They make our country great.

Mark says:

Re: Re: Schools

I appreciate your interesting comments. When you say that teachers in California make $50-70K, where is this? Can they also afford housing in California on this salary?

Educating the masses, with their diverse languages, is inherently ineffective. There is no cure for this with an acceptable level of fairness.

I was educated in California in the 1950s and 1960s, and the education was very good. My father was a teacher in California in the 1950s and 1960s, and we could afford a decent house on his salary, only because he worked extra jobs, and did summer work in grocery stores, etc. We really had to scrimp.

Education spending in California plummeted in the 1970s and 1980s, in relation to costs. I was there, and I know the politics behind this. Spending was cut. Property taxes rolled back.

Think about it. The problem is very hard. There is no cure. It takes a great deal of effort, dedication and expertise to do the job effectively, given the circumstances. I know many former teachers who were extremely talented, but just couldn’t take it anymore. They jumped ship and moved into more rewarding careers.

I’m not a teacher. I can’t afford to be one. Teaching is not on my children’s career list because of the low pay. This is not the “party line”, this is reality.

You can’t export the problem.

Grant says:

Re: Re: Re: Schools

The US school system ranks about 28th right now. Estonia ranks higher than us but guess who is number 1? Not any asian country that gives their students caffeine drinks to keep them up but Finland! Yep, Finland is number one. Maybe we should just go over and take a peak at what they do. Maybe they just teach instead of being social directors.

Grant says:

Re: Re: Re: Schools

Exactly, I am a teacher and have to do contract work on the side to make money. I teach because it’s rewarding and I do contract work because it pays. I could raise my family on a teachers salary but just barely.

The guy above that mentioned that teachers make more per hour than anyone but docters is full of it clear up to his eyebrows. For every hour you spend in class you spend a half an hour outside of class grading papers, preparing exercises, dealing with parents etc… If you divide their salary by their hours you get about $25 per hour. Maybe that’s a lot in a third world country but it’s nothing here. My rent in a townhome in the suburbs is 20,000 per year. That’s 50% of my income which is way below standard.

Teachers get paid too little, have too little power, have to babysit instead of teach, have too few funds, and too many students. Anyone who disagrees is disconected from the school system. Ask someone who’s there.

Grant says:

Re: Re: Schools

“Let’s stop bashing our school system for doing so poorly and start questioning whether in fact it IS doing so poorly. California in the 1950s and 1960s was considered to have great public schools. What, did we lower all the teachers’ wages since then? NO. We opened the borders and let anyone in who could crawl under a fence or through a tunnel. THAT is the difference between now and then.”

So does this mean that the rest of the countries schools are great because they don’t have this problem? They’re not doing any better. Remove the variables and you only have one thing left – a bad education system.

patrick says:

Re: Schools

I have to call BS on the salary increase. Teachers’ salaries have been rising for 4 decades, while the quality of education has declined. Don’t buy into the NEA propoganda machine. A study done here in St. Louis by the Post-Dispatch found that only doctors earn more per hour. The problem is that the only thing teachers are taught are The System. Knowledge and accuracy in their lessons do not matter, as long as the lesson fits within The System.

Katherine (user link) says:

Re: Re: Schools

Wow, I cannot believe you people! Has anyone who commented on this actually ever been put in front of a classroom of middle-schoolers, and been expected to not only teach a forever expanding curricula, but to teach a myriad of things that should be taught by parents and in the home?


Oh wait, all of this on top of every other core subject you had in school. Not to mention that because parents don’t do their jobs in raising their children to not be a classroom distruption, a teacher becomes more and more the disciplinarian rather than the teacher, what they’re being paid to do.

The biggest issue I have with education is the parents. Send your children to school. Dress them properly. Make sure they’re not bringing crap they shouldn’t be bringing with the. Be an active force in their lives so they know how to sit in a classroom and learn so that the teachers can do their jobs.

Maybe people should stop reproducing all these behavioral disorders or start teaching their children how to act before you put this all on the teachers. No wonder why so many teachers leave the field after a few years. They have their own lives and don’t need to pretend to be the parents to your children.

Matt says:

Re: Re: Re: Schools

I totally agree with Katherine’s comments. I believe that the fundamental problem is that too many parents (not all, but far too many) have abdicated their responsibilities as parents, and the education system has been expected to pick up the slack.
Not only are teachers responsible for educating, but they are now responsible for teaching basic social skills: how to listen, how to share, how to show respect, etc. So much time must be spent disciplining children within the class room, and compensating for parents who aren’t helping in the child’s education outside of the classroom, that the quality of real education has diminished.
What is especially damnable about it, is that the parents and the government then come back and complain about the quality of education, and expect to fix it by making greater demands. “Little Jimmy’s four years old; why isn’t he reading?” Or, “your school only had 25% attain a passable score on this mandated test.” So, teachers are stuck meeting ever-increasing demands with ever-eroding support.
Money does not solve problems like these. Educational techniques and methods do not solve problems like these. The solution is for more parents to assume their responsibility to be actively involved in their child’s education.
Again, this is not a problem in all familys; there are plenty of parents out there that are working hard to be involved; homeschoolers are an excellent example of this. However, there are enough parents who AREN’T involved, that it is generally diminishing quality for everyone.
Unfortunately, the demands and priorities of today’s society really make it difficult for parents to spend time with their children and still make a decent living.

wtf? says:

Re: Re: Schools

I have to call bs on your comments. That study you reference certainly doesn’t take into account the countless hours before AND after school a teacher must work. Making teaching plans, grading papers, parent teacher conferences, keeping up with new certification, etc,etc etc. If one were to accurately weigh the salary to the hours worked, I suspect the average teacher countrywide would be far lower on the scale -closer to U.S soldiers average per hour pay…

Keith says:

Re: Schools

I believe the statement “we need to pay teachers more” should in fact read “we need to get more of the money we spend for education into the teachers pockets”.

I’m all for raising teachers pay, but have a big problem when nearly .50 of every dollar actually goes to “administration” and not the teachers in the classroom. I believe that every principle, vice principle, counselor, etc. shoud be REQUIRED to teach at least one class.

crystalattice (profile) says:

I home-school because of this reason

The American education system blows. I won’t say it’s the worst in the world but I’m sure it’s right up there. Yet everyday I get crap from someone who thinks that home-schooling children is wrong; the biggest “argument” being that kids won’t get socialization.

My counter-argument is the fact that kids go to school to learn, not socialize. Ergo if they aren’t learning because they’re distracted by a girl’s low-cut top or from some kid with a cell phone in class, then why complain about the education system at all? Schools can’t compete with all this crap. Not to mention the whole safety issue between school shootings and “normal” bullying.

So why not try something new? Whether it’s charter schools, private schools, home-schooling, or even public schools that require uniforms (or at least a dress code), something different needs to be tried, because obviously the status quo isn’t doing the job.

Marko says:

Re: I home-school because of this reason

I think the problem is directly attributable to (lack of) discipline in the classroom. Back when US public education was the best in the world, the parents designated the teacher as their surrogate in the classroom. Kids behaved or they paid at home. Now, parents typically see teachers as the enemy and line up on the side of their (ever perfect) children.

Our public school teachers don’t teach; they babysit. I see this as the big difference between private schools and many schools in other cultures/countries.

There are lots of ways to change this situation outside of just telling parents to back teachers better. I think vouchers, via the competition they would bring, would go a long way in solving the problem.

Branden says:

Re: Re: I home-school because of this reason

My question to on the voucher’s issue is, how is competetion going to increase the number of parents backing the teachers? The parents are simply going to go to schools and not back the teachers at the other school.

To the responses in general:
I don’t think the issue here is teacher salaries or their benefits. The biggest issues are, lack of help, early on, for children who need it (ie large class size, lack of people for the one-on-one support that might be needed), displine (you can thank your school board and legislatures for that), and lack of parential envolvment.

My wife did her student teaching in a poor inner-city school. When she would come home at night she would be so stressed because she couldn’t accomplish anything because of the problems I mentioned above.

You don’t like they way they are run, get on the school board and make some policy changes, how do you think they got this way in the first place?

COD (user link) says:

Re: Re: I home-school because of this reason

The very idea of warehousing kids under government control in a institutional setting all day is flawed. It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference how much we pay the teachers. Look at very young kids and how they learn. Now look at the k-12 system and how we teach. Unless you believe that human nature does a 180 at age 5, it should be obvious that something is very wrong.

Kids don’t need certified teachers to learn to walk and talk, and they don’t need them for math or grammar either.

Every kid is different, and you can’t expect superior results by warehousing kids by chronological age and hoping for the best.

Kids don’t work that way.

Gary Klahr says:

Re: I home-school because of this reason

The problem is TOO MUCH EMPHASIS ON UNIFORMS AND CLOTHES—not too little. I agree that schoolkids should wear APPROPRIATE clothes to school. But 50 years ago, in the Eisenhower era, we wore striped T-shirts and denim levis of all different styles and colors. No one was distracted from school or beat up for these clothes. Now 25 pct of school kids—even 10 pct of HS kids—have to wear uniforms OR BE EXPELLED (YES—no joke). Most uniform codes require COLLARED shirts and ban denim pants or jackets. They also ban 99 pct of the 250 colors on this computer. How, sir, do you figure this helps train kids for a democratic society. It only teaches them to follow orders and work at McDonald’s. NO THANKS. I am an 8 year former member of the HS Gov. Bd of the 2nd largest U.S. 9-12-only district in Phx, Arizona. What are YOUR credentials???I am also listed in Who’s Who in America and I am sure you are NOT!!!!

Rikko says:

Paradigm shift

Or maybe we need to change the way in which we teach.. Since time began, we’ve always divided children into their physiological ages and had them crank through the machine.. But we aren’t all at the same level with anything – problem solving, socialization, maturity, physical stature – everybody’s different.
So why, if Timmy was born on June 1 and is a nigh prodigy, and Tommy was on July 7 and is barely above the arbitrary definition for mentally handicapped, should they both be in the same class learning the same routine for their entire school life?

Only when someone is exceptionally bright or exceptionally dim are they separated from the norm – otherwise we all suffer through.

Maybe in the future school will just be a series of transatory ‘classes’, and once you’ve excelled in one, you move on to the next. Praps you have a 25 year old in PE class with kindergardeners because he just really sucks at kickball, but if we as a society can understand that there’s no stigma attached to that (and by breaking this “your age should do this well” rubbish, we could), then what’s the harm?

Each to his own ability – that would also give a great indicator for what careers a young person is really suited towards, instead of “standardized” tests (which seem to vary year after year anyways).

COD says:

Re: Paradigm shift

//Since time began, we’ve always divided children into their physiological ages and had them crank through the machine.//

Actually, in the US, we’ve done that only since the early 1900’s. The first mandatory attendance laws were proposed in the 1860’s in Massachusetts, primarily to make sure the waves of immigrating Catholics were taught proper puritan ethics. The whole school model was based on the the Prussian school system. It wasn’t until around WWI that the rest of the country stepped into line, and that was mostly because the first school efforts were financed by the wealthy industrialists (Carnegie, Ford, etc) because they realized they needed mass numbers of employees to staff the factories, and forced schooling was the way to get them off the farms and re-educated for a life of closely supervised manual labor.

Public school has never been about education – its been about indoctrination since day 1.

It’s all documented in

Anonymous Coward says:

No Subject Given

everything said above requires one thing. MONEY! the people want things that the government can’t hand out (it doesn’t help when you push 80 billion into a fruitless war). when the goverment gives a tax break it has to cut something and one thing they see as expendable is our education. if you were willing to pay more taxes they could increase the money going to schools so kids don’t have to share text books and there are 30 kids per teacher.

??? says:

Re: No Subject Given

There’s more to it than that. When my state lobbied for a state lottery it promised that the lottery poceeds would greatly benefit our schools. Today 15 years after the lottery was approved the lottery commission brags about the billions of dollars it pumps into the school system. Coupled with the higher taxes on the real estate taxes which have risen some 25% + over the past 3 or so years you’d think there was enough money. My mom who has worked in an inner city school for years can’t see it. Teachers salaries aren’t keeping up with inflation, textbooks are old, and her school has structural problems which have gone unaddressed for years. I don’t think it’s so much about cash availability as it is about the irresponsibility of our state leaders.

Anonymous Coward says:


1) If you really think that teachers have such a kooshy job, and are so over paid ? why don?t you go an apply ? there are THOUSANDS of openings, they will pay for your training, and unless you are a doctor, you will get a pay increase… Of course there are LOTS of professions that are better paid than doctors ? AND teachers ? so somehow your reasoning doesn?t quite apply to reality.

2) Home schooling is a great idea, and generally leads to significantly improved academic performance. Unfortunately the cost is socialization. The error that is made by home schooling parents is that success is not dependant on ability or knowledge, but rather on social skills and contacts. Not very long ago Techdirt ran an article about this very thing. How else can one explain W? It is sad, but true. Home schooled children generally grow up to be smart, frustrated adults. Blame society, and insist that it isn?t the way it should be, but that will not change it. Learning to deal with bullying IS a normal part of childhood development, because dealing with bullies is a normal part of life. If you don?t learn to deal with the ass hole who wants your lunch money in grade school, you will have no chance of dealing with the same ass hole in the board room.

3) I went to school in California, in the 80?s and 90?s. There were a lot of Hispanic kids in my classes, and one of my teachers even taught in Spanish ? pissed me off, but I still managed to learn ?somehow.? The thing is, none of the Mexican kids were hungry, what the fuck does that have to do with anything, other than simply being raciest, and demonstrating that you have no grasp on the issues at hand?

4) Arizona is notoriously backwards in the way it approaches just about any problem (I know, I graduated from Arizona State), so suggesting that you are an authority because you sat on a Phoenix school board is not that impressive. Suggesting that you are someone important because you are listed in ?Who?s who? is not that impressive either, seeing as ANYONE who ponies up the $500 a year to be listed, gets listed. Me thinks I will avoid taking advice from someone who brags about getting suckered.

It is a simple fix: pay the teachers fairly (much much more) boot the trouble makers, and impose order, and kids will learn. But then we would have to stop protesting and see order as a good thing, or at least start raising our children.

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