Educational Standards in Todays United States (Part 1)

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There are many opinions of the quality of education in the United States today.  Some would say our educational system and its quality are the best.  Others, like Paulo Freire, take the exact opposite position and say that education, not only in the U.S., but all over the world needs to be reformed.  Still there are others who believe that the quality of ones education is based on the social and economic class of themselves and their families.  I tend to agree with that point of view, as to Jean Anyon and John Taylor Gatto.  On the average, in the U.S., the more money people have, the better the opportunities they receive in everything in life, and education is not excluded.  It should not have to be that way, and it doesn’t.  We need to make the same opportunities available to everyone no matter their life situations and social class.
Money speaks volumes for everyone in this country.  There are plenty of examples if we just look around.  Money is involved in all aspects of life: a home, transportation, food, raising children, health care, utilities, and school among many others.  The less money one has to pay in to the system, the less they receive.  Everything in life requires some kind of investment whether it is time, money, or emotion.  School is no different; it requires an investment of time and money.
Our educational system sets us up from the beginning to have the jobs that we are expected to have based on our social class stereotypes.  The wealthy it is believed will always be wealthy and the poor always poor.  I don’t think school should be that way.  I think all schools should be equal in their teachings so that all children no matter what race, religion, or social class have the same opportunities.  There are others who believe that school should not be based on ones economic status as well.  Paulo Freire says, “Education must begin with the solution of the teacher-student contradiction, by reconciling the poles of the contradiction so that both are simultaneously teachers and students…  The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is himself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach.”  He believes that education is a continuous process, that one never should stop learning and that a teacher should not be expected to know everything and have all the answers.  I agree with Freire, sometimes the students should be able to teach the teacher, and the teacher should be open-minded enough to let that happen.  Freire describes two types of education, the “banking” concept, and the “problem-posing” concept.  The banking concept is the process of attempting to teach students through memorization to where the problem-posing concept allows the students more thought processes and experience.  In today’s United States, the lower class schools use the banking method to teach and in the higher class schools the problem-posing method is used.  There does need to be a reform, however, I don’t think that a total reform of all the schools would go over very well.  There would be a lot of people fighting against it.  We should work on making all public schools equal to the top rated public schools to begin with, and I think that would be a good starting place.  It would at least give families with lower incomes more equal opportunities like those with higher incomes.
Jean Anyon studied five different 5th grade elementary classes in five schools of different social class in an area of New Jersey.  What Anyon found might surprise many people, but when referring to the lower income schools she said, “In the two working class schools, work is following the steps of a procedure…  The teacher rarely explains why the work is being assigned, how it might connect to other assignments, or what the idea is that lies behind the procedure or gives it coherence and perhaps meaning or significance.”  She was basically saying that the children in the lower income areas were being prepared for lowing income jobs by their schools.  This is Freire’s banking concept.  They are being prepared for a life of positions where they are told that the big picture isn’t any of their business or concern, their job is to do what they are told to do.
In her observance of the affluent professional school she noted, “Work is creative activity carried out independently.  Work involves individual thought and expressiveness, expansion and illustration of ideas, and choice of appropriate method and material.  The products of work should not be like anybody else’s and should show individuality.”  Basically these schools are preparing children for positions in cardiology, interior design, corporate law, and executive positions.  These are the types of jobs where one has to have either creativity or a steady and careful hand, and maybe more.  In these jobs one makes many decisions themselves and there are few people to supervise them.
I am going to use some statistics from the Indiana Department of Education’s ASAP (Accountability System for Academic Progress) web site for an example of Anyon’s idea that social class affects education.  In the South Bend area of Indiana, there are who schools I will be using statistics from.  The first, an affluent professional type of school, is Penn High School.  The second, Washington High School, I will call lower working class because here many parents are working multiple jobs to make ends meet and there are many single parent homes as well.  In light of that, I believe that this school falls economically below Anyon’s description of the working class school.
At Washington, statistics say that 49% of students are on the free lunch program while 11% are on reduced lunches, making it 60% of the school’s population of approximately 1500 students whose parents need some kind of financial assistance to feed their children while they are in school.  For the past three years, in this school, there are only 45-50% of students passing the state standardized test called the ISTEP.  Compare that to the state average of 72%.  Their graduation rate for the 05-06 academic year was 70% and the state average graduation rage was 76.5%.  Their attendance rate for 05-06 was 87.8% and the state average attendance was 96%.  Comparing this school just to the state average is starting to show how money affects education in some way.
Now let’s take a look at Penn High School, our affluent professional school.  In this school, 90% of students pay full price for their lunch leaving only 10% of 3344 students currently enrolled that receive financial assistance for their lunches.  To give an accurate comparison I am going got use percentages from the same academic year at this school as I did our lower working class school.  For the past three years, this school has had 80-85% of students passing the state ISTEP, well above the lower working class school.  Penn’s graduation rate for 05-06 was 83.2%, above Washington and also above the state average.  The attendance rate at Penn was 95.9%, only 0.1% lower than the state average of 96% but still above Washington’s 87.8%.

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