Ideally, education should continually prepare an individual for life so that they may live it to the fullest while aiming at an experience of the greater good for all and sundry. Nurturing of the human capacity for creativity requires a fertile environment for growth. Thus, education can be acquired from home, where the educative process is informal. It can also be appropriated from an institutionalized setting in the form of a public school or a privately owned school. In the United States, each of these environments is well represented as a source of education. The extent to which each of them has been instrumental in the drive for the greater good has, however, not yet been established.
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Also, it would be an interesting engagement to try and determine how much each of the three entities have contributed towards this goal in the American context. This article shall explore education in the United States based on the aforementioned sources of enlightenment. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, no database extant in the American continent provides data regarding public schools. Furthermore, no database collects the same; also, no database compares findings concerning private and public schools (NCEA, 2010). This treatise shall attempt to make such comparisons. Findings of privately run schools and home-based learning centers shall be considered in mutual exclusivity, and comparisons made of the same regarding various parameters of interest. The author shall then endeavor to draw logical conclusions from the comparisons thus made.
General Structure of the Education System in the United States
In the United States, education can be seen from two perspectives. There is a level at which education is considered not to be compulsory, and there is compulsory education. The non-compulsory level of education is below kindergarten. Different states have different ages at which children may enter compulsory education. This is usually six years of age. However, the range is usually between five and seven years (USAEducation, 2011). This level of education is also known as pre-higher education, and it lasts for ten years on average. For example, a child who joins compulsory education classes at the age of six years shall be expected to graduate at the age of sixteen, approximately ten years later. Within this level, one starts with pre-schooling, which commences from age three to six. The types of schools that provide pre-primary education include nursery schools, kindergarten, and daycare centers. A child in kindergarten spends two years in school (EuroEducation, 2011). In some cases, certificates are awarded as proof that a child indeed attended pre-primary classes. These certificates make the children eligible for admission into Elementary school.
Elementary school lasts four years, and the age of entry is usually six years, immediately after completion of Kindergarten. There are four grades at this level, but that also depends on the state and local practice. At ten years of age, one is likely to graduate with a certificate or a diploma that is awarded by the State or District. The student is then eligible to join Middle School. Sometimes, however, the issuance of awards may not be necessary (EuroEducation, 2011). For example, when a student is to maintain their residency within the same school, there will be no need for proof of graduation to the next level since the student is already known.
From ten to fourteen years of age, a student attends Middle School. This is from grade four to grade six but in some cases, it may go up to grade seven, or grade eight. On average the level takes three years to be completed. High school is from grade seven (or eight) to twelve and lasts six years; from thirteen to eighteen years of age. Some schools offer a level known as the Junior Secondary, which typically runs from thirteen to fifteen years of age and lasts an average of three years. The representative grades in this level are grade seven to eight, seven to nine, or eight to nine. It is a level followed immediately by the Upper secondary. The latter takes five years, is composed of grades nine or ten to twelve, and involves children who are between fifteen and eighteen years of age. Twelfth grade is the level for graduation from secondary school in all states. When one graduate, they are awarded a High School Diploma together with a transcript which details the marks that the student obtained and the curriculum in which he or she was involved (USAEducation, 2011).
Beyond secondary school education, there are two branches of education that one may opt for. They may get vocational education and training. This does not culminate in one being awarded a degree, but under certain circumstances, there may be transferable credits that lead to the award of a degree. On the other hand, a high school graduate can opt for the pursuance of a degree in any field that interests him or her (USAEducation, 2011). Higher education, also called post-secondary education can last an entire lifetime. It might also last for only three years after which the student decides to seek employment either in a field relevant to the acquired knowledge or an entirely different field. The transmutability of knowledge gained from higher education places the scholar at an advantage in that they are not confined to their area of expertise. The open-minded graduate will find gainful employment in whichever field they opt for. The essence of education is not to end up having a job, but to live life fully. Therefore, one who gets a job after they have acquired their degrees is fortunate
Subjects Taught at Various School Levels
Much of what children are introduced to while they are in Kindergarten is repeated through the course of their elementary school life. Numbers, language, and social science are taught using computers, film, and books. These lists are, however, not exhaustive. Teachers have the responsibility of shaping the way children will think at this level and what the children learn shall be important determinants of whether or not the students shall be successful in the future. The teacher encourages them to play so that they may develop language and social skills. At Elementary School, one or two teachers are usually held responsible for a group of children whom they instruct in one of several special subjects. These subjects include science, music, and art (United States Bureau of Labour, 2002).
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The private education system in the United States
Behind every decision for one to embrace either the public school system or private school system, there is a motive. The rationale behind American people opting for private education is multi-faceted. However, there seems to be one underlying reason (opines the author) that traverses all others and that is, a collectively disgruntled group of people who have lost faith in the education that the public sector provides. What are some of the reasons for opting to go private? If the 2004 publication on private schooling is anything to go by, private schools are a reserve of the financially capable. The same publication gives the impression that the majority of rich people prefer having their children attend private schools that have no religious affiliations (Education Week, 2004). It would also so appear as if this group of people detests the idea of their progeny being indoctrinated with religious dogma; that not being relevant to their realization of the good life. Moreover, it depicts the definition of “the good life” as something subjective, arguable depending on personal perspectives of what comprises the good in life. If the observations on religious dogma were true, then a paltry 10% of the school-age population would still be an overestimation of the proportion of people who do not view success in life as a function of one’s religiousness or lack thereof.
According to the Council of American Private Education, one of the reasons the American populace opts for private educational institutions is the provision of quality education that they appropriate (CAPE, 2011). The implication of this is that, for the parents of school-going children who attend private school, the delivery of quality is better experienced away from public institutions. Other reasons cited for preferring private to public schools are supportive communities, safety and orderliness in private environments, and the impartation of morals and ethical values. When each of these factors is taken in isolation and regarded as a polarizing factor, it does not appear to hold much water, if any at all. About the quality of education, for example, it would be expected that public schools would offer better quality. This is because the federal government has the backing of the whole American population, albeit begrudgingly for some, in form of income tax returns. Therefore, the acquisition of quality personnel and educative amenities would/should not be an unbearable burden.
The National Centre for Education Statistics (NCES) defines a private school as one that does not obtain its financial support primarily from public funds. Besides, such schools use classrooms to deliver educative material from kindergarten up to grade 12. Other levels that compare to K-12 but as yet ungraded are also considered, for example, some Montessori schools assign institutions to “primary” or “intermediate” levels rather than giving specific grades. The said schools should also employ one teacher or more, for them to snugly fit within this criterion. The NCES does not consider a private school an institution or organization that does not use a classroom set-up to deliver instruction. It has been running the private school survey since 1997, with data derived from administrative personnel in the same institutions (NCES, 2011).
According to NCESs 2009-2010 survey, some private schools had religious orientations and these formed the majority of private schools (Broughman, Swaim and Hryczaniuk, 2011). The religious leanings notwithstanding, an interesting fancy that comes to mind is a look at the reasons behind these proclivities. It would also be of sensual appeal to study the various religious interests represented in the various school, to find out which is the most represented and why.
From the same survey mentioned above, it was evident that the majority of private schools around the United States had no religious affiliations at all. That is, not one religion had several schools that exceeded that of schools devoid of religious inclinations. These “unspiritual” (read non-sectarian) schools were closely followed in number by private schools that are predominantly Roman Catholic (Broughman, Swaim, and Hryczaniuk, 2011). According to the National Catholic Educational Association, when a single year is considered, examining test scores to determine student achievement, and to compare the quality of education between public and private schools avails very little relevant information (NCEA, 2006). This statement has been construed to engender the lack of comparison of other relevant data within any single academic or survey year.
For example, based on the 2009-2010 NCEA report, one may easily compare the enrolment of students in Roman Catholic schools and those in the Baptist church, thereby concluding that the higher the number of schools, the higher the number of students who enroll in them. This conclusion, however, is flawed, especially when one goes a step further and makes the same comparisons with, say, Jewish schools. The conclusion would imply direct proportionality between the number of schools and the number of enrollees. Nevertheless, the Jewish schools number less than half of the Baptist schools, but students enrolled in Jewish schools are more than half the number of those in Baptist schools. Similarly, it would be expected that since the number of Greek orthodox schools are exactly half the number of schools of the Church of God in Christ, the enrollees in the latter institution would be, ideally, half the number in the former give or take a few thousand students. A stark contrast is observed in this case, when the number of Greek orthodox enrolees exceeds the number of enrollees in schools considered to be affiliated with the Church of God in Christ (Broughman, Swaim and Hryczaniuk, 2011). With such discrepancies, it is highly unlikely that comparisons within different years would avail anything different.
From the survey carried out by the NCEA, several questions are likely to arise in the curious-minded. One would ask, for instance, how religious affiliations affect examination scores or how the religiously inclined to turn out in life after attending school. Furthermore, one would be interested in knowing the drop-out rate per grade of the religiously inclined vis a vis the non-sectarian. This, followed by an exploration of the reasons why would be a worthwhile engagement leading to a keener understanding of the school demographics. It would also enlighten one who needs to make decisions regarding which school his or her children ought to attend. However, the report provided addresses none of these concerns. Where one would probably get the answers to these questions, the data is not as detailed as to be of much relevance. A document by the Council for American Private Education, in mentioning the scores by students doing science, states that in 2009, 44% of the students in private schools “scored at or above the ‘proficient level’ in science”. The same publication further states that, for students in the fourth grade, 48% were deemed proficient according to NAEP (CAPE, 2011). It is thus evident that one might need to investigate to arrive at the answers to the queries above.
Apart from the meager statistical information from the well-established institutions like NAEP and the NCEA, several studies have been carried out whose objectives are congruous with the raised questions. Some studies have concluded that students from private schools perform better than their public school counterparts. However, other studies find conflicting results. Those whose results are in the affirmative invariably find out also that the best performers are students from catholic schools (Figlio & Stone, 2011).
According to Figlio and Stone, these studies did not employ robust instruments for the adjustment of non-random selection. They, therefore, proposed the implementation of a system of study that would improve system power prediction by about three times compared to studies done before theirs. They, like the aforementioned National Catholic Educational Association, did their studies while considering high schools in three categories: religious private high schools, nonreligious private high schools, and public high schools. Having made these modifications, they found out that nonreligious schools have a significant superiority to the religious schools in as far as science and mathematics subjects are concerned (Figlio and Stone, 2011).
There exists a debate about the benefits (if any at all) that private schools bring to the American schooling system. Those who criticize the private schools say that parents decide to opt for them being driven by the desire to appear socially elite or simply to separate themselves. It is the collective points of view of these critics that parents do not necessarily choose private schools because of better academic performance. They contend that these parents are hell-bent on keeping their children separate and untainted from those who come from other races and backgrounds. Furthermore, they say that for these parents, their children’s attending private schools is an attractive status symbol. The critical punch line they put forward is that private schools propagate segregation by class and race (Education Week, 2004).
On the other hand, there exist proponents for private education. In support of the system, they say that the monopoly extant with many public schools is not competitive. They add that a competitive system that opens up the opportunity for people to choose the schools to which they shall take their children is required. To support this point, they say that private school students are superior academies to their public school counterparts. They contend that schools need to be autonomous, and such a system would promote this autonomy; also adding that due to autonomy, student performance would improve. The proponents say that there is bias in the private school system. They propose an opening up of the system by the introduction of children from low-income families and those whose affiliate groups are underrepresented. This would mean that a means of supporting these students’ education be established. They, therefore, propose the use of vouchers as well as school choice programs (Education Week, 2004).
The proposal regarding the use of vouchers and increased school choice was given a counter-offer by the group called Americans United. On their website, they gave several reasons why people ought not to support this emerging trend. Among the reasons was the fact that the First Amendment gave a guarantee of freedom of religion from state influences. That is, they invoke the unending debate of the separation of church and state. They contended that this law would be broken when Americans agreed to support the issuance of vouchers for schooling. Citing the fact that a majority of private schools have religious affiliations and that these institutions have the mandate to indoctrinate the students and to educate them as well, the Americans United felt that Americans would be inadvertently supporting religion against their free wills. Americans would be paying for their children to be indoctrinated with religious dogma with which they did not agree (Americans United, 2011).
Ostensibly, the issuance of the voucher would be a tad more acceptable if it appreciably led to an improvement in the academic performance of students in their academics. That not being the case, however, the Americans United group is vehemently opposed to the idea. They contended that students in public schools performed much better in mathematics and reading than students in private schools. Furthermore, they would have expected the program to cause several changes in the students who participated in it. For example, participants were expected to have positive aspirations concerning their schooling in the future and to improve in the frequency with which they did their homework. However, the program never did bring such changes. On the contrary, student participants’ likelihood of absenteeism from class increased significantly (Americans United, 2011).
The report by the NCES never detailed graduation statistics for the year 2009-2010. Instead, it had data for the previous year. Whereas the reason for missing this data remains unknown, the NCES reported that of the twelfth graders who were enrolled in October 2008, ninety-eight percent graduated in 2009 (NCES, 2011). That was a very high success rate for graduates in private schools, which would have been taken as indicative of the quality of education that private institutions have to offer. Furthermore, 64% of the high school graduates from private schools later enrolled in 4-year colleges. This was representative of 308,813 high school graduates, who enrolled by the fall of the same year as they did graduate (NCES, 2011).
Using multiple sources of data, Heckman and LaFontaine made estimations of trends of graduation rates in the United States high schools. They noted that previous calculations were rife with biases and corrections had to be made for their study to be acceptable. Eventually, they found out that the rates provided by the National Centre for Educational Statistics were substantially high and thus misleading. They also found out that for forty-odd years, there had been a decline in the rate of graduation. Furthermore, they observed that even though the number of immigrants and minorities was on the increase in American society, this was not the cause of declining high school graduation rates among native populations. Therefore, they were able to explain why college attendance was also on the decline. Findings concerning gender differences in graduation from high schools were also useful in deciphering the reasons behind the gaps extant in male-female college attendance, and why those gaps were gradually increasing (Heckman and LaFontaine, 2011). These findings were not specifically for high school graduates from private high schools, but a traversal of all high schools regardless of their administrative leanings. In an appeal to the part being a representative of the whole, one would comfortably suggest that these findings could be transmuted to the private school population with similar implications.
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The sizes of private schools might affect the effective transmission of knowledge and its receptivity among students. Here, the paper explores what other people have said regarding this, and the recommendations that they put forth towards improving the education system in the United States. Taken from an economic perspective, larger school sizes are better than smaller ones because of economies of scale benefits realized in the former. According to Ferris and Leung though, this is a consensus that requires revision because the benefits accrued from one side are outweighed by the disadvantages from other fronts. They cite the fact that more and more students are growing frustrated by the system, and coupled with the escalation of violence in the same schools, the drop-out rates are also on the rise (Leung and Ferris, 2008).
Since class sizes in most private schools are small, the student to teacher ratio critical for individual attention is easily achieved. This ratio stands at 15:1, but smaller ratios are more advantageous both to the teachers and students alike. With smaller ratios, teachers have fewer students to deal with and can divide their time well among the few students demanding their attention. Each student benefits by having more time spent with the teacher. Therefore, each student in a private school classroom has the opportunity to be personally aided by the teacher when the need calls for it (Kennedy, 2011).
A Summary of Some of the Benefits of Private School System
According to the United States Department of education, when private school students and their public school counterparts are compared, the former generally outperform the latter on standardized achievement tests. Also, for the former to graduate, they pass through requirements that are more demanding than for their counterparts. Completion of advanced-level courses is more likely for private school graduates than for their public school counterparts when they take three academic subject areas. National Assessment of Educational Progress results showed that private student scores were above average nationally. Experts recommend students to take up challenging subjects that push them into striving for excellence. Private schools make provisions for this by making it a requirement for students to take difficult courses like calculus before they graduate. When it was assessed who between the two was more likely to attain a bachelor’s degree by their mid-twenties, those who had gone to private schools in their eighth grade scored 52% compared to 26% for the public school attendees (CAPE, 2011b).
Depending on a school’s financial resources, compensation for private school teachers might be higher than that for public school teachers. On the whole, however, they are usually comparably lower. The teachers usually benefit from getting free housing and meals as opposed to the public school teachers who do not get such benefits. Also, teachers in private schools have widely variable pension schemes. They are required by private schools to be credentialed. That is, a teacher has to have a teaching certificate backed with a degree in the relevant subject. Armed with these two documents, a teacher stands a greater chance of being hired than one who does not have them. However, concerning budgetary costs, public schools stand a better chance of raising significantly large amounts of money. They do so by making annual appeals, cultivating alumni, and soliciting grants from corporations. Private schools nurture strong bonds with their alumni. Therefore, they also have high rates of fund-raising success. They also have a management structure that is considered to be lean. This means that a critical decision does not have to pass through several authorities to get approval. Rarely, if ever, will a private school have to contend with a union of teachers (Kennedy, 2011).
Some observed discrepancies to the generalizations regarding private school superiority
Rothstein, Carnoy, and Benveniste filed a report regarding the accountability of private schools to students’ parents, the outcomes parents expected of their children, and policies for retention and selection of teachers. They found out that in elementary school accountability to students’ parents does not differ significantly from the same in public schools. There was also no clearly defined school outcome expectation in private schools, and that was in no way different from the situation in public schools. Neither type of school did mentor teachers nor evaluate them formally to assess variation in their performance and delivery of instruction. They also found that where there was a competition between private and public schools, innovations by private schools never made their competitor public schools improve in any way whatsoever. Therefore, they made a point to the proponents for choice in public education, that to improve academic achievement, choice of public versus private institutions held very little weight (Benveniste, Carnoy and Rothste, 1999).
Private schooling also has its disadvantages. Some things are not implicitly taught in private schools. For example, a graduate from a private school would find it difficult to strike a conversation with any other person, who is essentially different from them. Unless it was a fellow graduate who came from the same institution, or a school with a similar status, building meaningful rapport would not be easy. Indoctrination also occurs in private schools albeit of a different kind than the commonplace religious dogma inculcation. That indoctrination goes a long way to assure students of private schools that they are better than those who never succeeded in attending similar schools.
The latter is seen as inferior people who are not even worth spending time with. The effect of this influence upon the indoctrinated was made evident in the Democratic presidential nominee, Al Gore, who could not speak to the populace. Thus, such students remain ignorant of some facts like there being other smart people apart from those who attend similar schools to theirs. They remain unaware that some highly adept people never see the inside of classrooms. Also, they realize rather belatedly that some of the so-called smart people are not smart at all. School is lacking in the instruction on social intelligence, the ability to be creative, and it does not teach emotional intelligence (Deresiewicz, 2008). Deresiewicz does not, however, give the way through which one may be educated in these latter aspects, pertinent through the acquisition of this knowledge might be.
The private school system achieves the creation of analytically biased minds, thereby developing lopsided intelligence that may not be entirely beneficial in seeing and appreciating the value inherent in other people. Such people are more adept at dealing with machines or analyzing books than interacting with other members of the human race. The system of private schooling essentially alienates one from that which is human in the sense that it creates a block to interpersonal interactions that are every bit human. Besides, a person develops a misguided sense of how worthy they are to receive certain rights and privileges. The unbearable truth in all of this is the fact that all through the life of a student who has been in private school, they have been graded using numerical rankings. Such students end up equating their grades to their identity and value. Absolute excellence, they forget, does not imply academic excellence or vice versa (Deresiewicz, 2008).
Whether it is a private school or a public school, one would contend that both have a common disadvantage. This is about the type of interaction a school-going child is exposed to. They can only interact with their age-mates while in school. Bigger children invariably bully the smaller ones, who in turn do the same to yet smaller ones. Among these children, none appreciates how to interact with grownups. The fear that is inculcated into them by the bullies they meet in school becomes the same fear that they show towards their parents back at home. Fear is a monster that feeds upon itself, however. Therefore, the fear engenders a reciprocal propensity for abuse from parents who do not know better. It is not a seldom occurrence to find children who’ve been abused by otherwise well-meaning parents.
The vicious cycle started with their being taken to school, which alienated them from their parents. They then picked up bits and pieces of strange behavior from their peers, which they came home with, much to the chagrin of their unprepared parents. Thus, there is a growing concern that home-schooling would be the only best option for a growing child (Oeser, 2011). Furthermore, time taken out to quietly reflect on one’s own is an alien concept to school-going students, who are more inclined to be rowdy, loud, and disorderly. Also, since they learn to pass their examinations, school-goers eventually lack long-standing applicable knowledge. Most of what they learn is quickly forgotten with the passing of the examination. Their understanding of concepts is not adequate as the knowledge they have does not correlate well with real-life issues.
American Education in Public Schools: A Brief History
A majority of people in the United States who come from low-income backgrounds take their children to public schools. Currently, the parents whose children attend private schools are rather similar in characteristics. For one, they are from affluent backgrounds. The fact that school fees charges in private schools are high shields this elitist group of people from other influences. However, if the restrictive costs of financing education in private schools were to be revised downwards, up to 59% of parents would opt for private education. This would be aided by vouchers which would, ideally, be catering for the whole tuition fees. Besides, parents with low income show greater enthusiasm for private school enrolment, but money continues to be their major hurdle. It is opined that there would be a greater diversity of parents and the group would inevitably be larger if the price of private education were reduced (Education Week, 2004).
For some people, the public education system is the ideal system of instruction. However, it faces a lot of criticism, and many times it has had to be revised so that it may continue playing a pivotal role in the shaping of public opinion regarding solidarity with the government. Having developed in the nineteenth century, its inception was the result of a suggestion by the then President Jefferson. Public school education is under the management of states and school districts. Whereas education in the United States began with puritans and Congregationalists, a purely Christian group of people, the introduction of the public school system came much later. With the coming of people from different countries, there was a foreign influence upon the natives. The entrant people did not all embrace the Christian faith, they have been of different inclinations. For this reason, private education began and thrived in the mid-eighteenth century (Thattai, 2011).
Disadvantages of Public Schools
In public schools, teachers generally get better remuneration. However, starter salaries are usually very low. This leads to very few teachers being retained in the public sector. Too much bureaucracy in the public sector implies that decisions take very long to be made even when those decisions are critical. Public schools are usually bogged down with political influences and union contracts. The rules that they adhere to while at work are also antique (Kennedy, 2011). Some courses are considered to be more challenging than others. It is less likely for a student in a public school to be required to take such courses as calculus before they graduate (CAPE, 2011b). This has the effect of developing an individual who shall not strive to excel in real life. It also relegates such an individual to a life of relative ease or one that is not well equipped to face challenges. Such an individual ends up having difficulties solving personal problems. Suicidal tendencies and drug-related escape mechanisms are rife among these people who will under most circumstances seek the easiest way out of any rut. The ways that appear easy, however, are illusions and present the individuals with a false sense of comfort or repose from the hardships they experience.
Of Co-Educational Schools versus Single-Sex Schools
Both private and public schools can be regarded as single-sex institutions or co-educational. In the latter case, a school trains students of both sexes, while in the former the school is exclusively for girls or boys. A debate continues regarding whether the genders should be separated in the school set-up. Those who oppose the idea are the conservative types who feel that there is the looseness of morals that comes into play when members of the two genders are nearby for extended periods. For the feminists, a separation of the sexes is the ideal environment for women to achieve success in life. Historically, it has been normal to separate girls and boys, giving them unequal status to each other based on their acquired societal roles in later life. Literacy was, therefore, more prevalent among males than among females. The former was trained in subjects that would be relevant in their workplaces, politics, and war. Girls, on the other hand, were trained on how to be better performers in the home arena. Thus, the inception of co-education was a threat to the widely accepted status quo, where men were regarded in higher esteem than women (Rury, 2008).
Controversies in the Adoption of Coeducation
In 2006, Title IX regulations of the US department of education were amended. This allowed single-sex school enrolment, but with reservations. It contended that the enrolments ought o be voluntary. Also, an equal school for the opposite gender should have been present or catered for. While endeavoring to convert to single-sex institutions, some schools have been met with challenges like meager finances and political pressures. Enrolment in such schools has also been a problem for some of the administrators (Rury, 2008).
It would have been thrift for the United States to have learned a thing or two from her European contemporaries. Europe’s experience with coeducation has been anything but rosy. They have documented disadvantages that they have observed against female students in such schools. They state that contrary to their expectation that coeducation would bring about a keen appreciation of either gender by the other, the opposite remains true. Girls have invariably been the sufferers while boys (and teachers) have been the perpetrators of a myriad of atrocities. In a literal sense, girls lack adequate space in these schools. They are the objects of boys’ desires, and often battered with lewd suggestive remarks. Male teachers also tend to get romantically attached to girl students. Girls do not get as much appropriate attention from teachers as the boys do, and they are also taken as social workers to be strategically seated next to ill-mannered boys. This is done to cause the boys to learn some good manners from the better-behaved girls. The missing point in all this is that the bad behavior of the boys seated next to the girls might (and does) rub off on the girls, whose behavior will then be all the worse (Anon., 2004).
In coeducational institutions, inequity exists in the meting out of punishments for wrongdoing. Girls get punished more severely than boys even when their misdeeds are essential of similar magnitude. It is understood, in a discriminatory manner, that girls are more diligent than boys, but that boys are more intelligent than girls. Therefore, when a girl performs well in class, it is attributed to her diligence, while if a boy does the same, it is said that he passed or excelled because he is intelligent. Boys are encouraged to be competitive while girls are frowned upon if they act similarly. The latter is expected to conform. They are also given less time for verbal expression than boys are given in class (Anon., 2004).
Other issues that have arisen through the years after the introduction of coeducational institutions include the argument by some doctors that women would suffer from overexertion and get harmed. It was argued that the overexertion would come from the girls’ competition with boys. Indulgence in sexual impropriety was also pointed out as being highly likely when the two sexes were left to interact for extended periods (Rury, 2008).
Outcomes of education that are of most interests to parents and students include academic achievement test scores, an appropriately delineated concept of self, and long-term success indicators. These are more evident in single-sex schools than in coeducational schools, and they give leverage for the proponents for single-sex schools. In comparison, single-sex schools perform academically better than coeducational schools.
Current Trends of Education in the United States
In the late twentieth century, there arose a drive for the reformation of elementary education in the United States. Its purpose was to indiscriminately improve the academic performance of students. Children were left accountable to the schools, districts, and ultimately the states for their academic achievement. However, concerns have been raised that the United States students perform relatively poorly in their academics compared to students of other countries. They blame this on an educational system that they deem not to be enabling the students to perform as it should be. Elementary education in the United States is constantly being reformed and refined. The United States is democratizing its education so that it does not support systems that are representations of goals and expectations, and are industrial or social. It is drawn toward an education system that is open and universal (Howey and Post, 2011).
When students perform poorly, the education system is seen as being a failure. It thus behooves the government to ensure that a running system strikes the right balance. One that places a lot of demands on the students is sure to cause them to perform poorly. A very lax system, on the other hand, will produce individuals who are ill-equipped for their roles in society. Thus, the government has put in place measures to ensure that all children have equal access to quality education. These measures include the creation of a welcoming environment, which embodies the prevention of bullying and harassment, and the outlining of the responsibilities that education providers have towards this goal. The onus rests on education providers to ensure that harassment does not occur. Such harassment might be from the education providers themselves, or other sources. Education providers should take the measures necessary to remedy harassment when they know that students are being harassed. Otherwise, they (education providers) face imminent sanctions, since their laxity (or presumed indifference) allows the education system to be poisoned. Harassment is seen as one of the impediments to the ease of access to educational services. When one is harassed, they may not “participate fully in the educational experience” (OHRC, 2011).
An education provider helps reduce instances of bullying and harassment by being non-tolerant to the act of bullying and being unequivocal about the consequences a student has to face for being a bully. The educator further communicates this by educating students concerning disabilities; he or she then encourages them to appreciate diversity. Appreciating diversity will imply that the students do not taunt their peers who may be disabled in one way or another. They will respect their disabled peers, and even protect them from further harm if necessary. The education provider may also get involved in role-playing to cultivate compassion and awareness of the impact that bullying has on other people. They may act like the ones upon whose taunts are being thrown or being big, act as the bullies. In either case, the students will see the folly behind bullying as a front. Bullies are essentially weak people who hide their weaknesses by attacking others. Finally, the educator protects students who report bullying by maintaining confidence regarding their report (OHRC, 2011). The educator does not let other students know the one who reports instances of bullying to the authorities.
The Role of Universities in the United States Education System
There was a decline in American education as was documented in 1983 by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. This brought about a change that saw the inception of standardized testing and accountability (Heckman & LaFontaine, 2011). A 2001 Act called the No Child Left Behind Act sets out requirements for each state to identify low-performing schools. Another of its requirements is for the annual assessment of students in reading and mathematics. Declining standards in the secondary school level of education imply that very few students get enrolled in universities around the country. America boasts of the largest number of institutions of higher learning throughout the world, but if these institutions cannot enroll Native Americans due to mediocre performance in their secondary schools, one is left to marvel at what the future holds for university education within the country.
Scientific research in universities thrives on funding from various sources. Research is important to the advancement of knowledge since it creates new perspectives to what is already known. Much of what results from research can be applied in areas such as pharmaceuticals for the production of new drugs. The current trend tends towards genetic science, which has brought about a lot of controversies. When universities lack students to carry out research then there is a paucity of funds from donors who fund the research projects. This brings a complication to the universities, which rely much on donor funding. The case of Berkeley and Novartis appears to have been instigated by such a state of affairs as has been described above. Berkeley signed an agreement with Novartis in November 1998 and rescinded about one-third of its patent rights to Novartis in exchange for a $25 million grant towards research (Washburn, 2005). The said company had vested interests in the outcome of the research and, thus, was in a way investing in it. That movie had a lot of ethical connotations.
Another issue that was highlighted in Washburn’s book is the notion that universities have gradually been shifting from their academic role to institutions that run businesses. This is a pithy subject since the university ought to be an institution of higher learning and not drawn into the rigmarole of generating income. Universities ought to set the pace for industry to follow, by making breakthroughs in research projects that will enhance the human experience of living within the planet earth. That notwithstanding, universities have become embroiled in the shaping of individuals to prepare them for employment within the industries. One may contend that they are responding to the dire needs of the economy by providing the market with the best brains the country has to offer. However, the country appears to stand no gain, especially when such patents as were aforementioned are left in the hands of foreign companies (Washburn, 2005).
A reversal of roles is readily observable in that the industry now makes the demands and the universities dance to her tune. For example, when the industry demands chemical analysts, the universities respond by giving their analysts to the industries. Due to the lack of employment in the country, an analyst who finishes their course at university and immediately finds a source of income sees herself as being very fortunate. This, however, results in a dilution of the high standards of excellence that are expected of all public institutions of higher learning. Universities need to maintain an autonomous stance that is neither swayed by the government nor by the industry as these two entities seek to push their agenda (Washburn, 2005). On one side is an entity with political ideals while on the other is one that seeks financial gains. Both the government and the industrial entities stand in opposition to the universities’ values of serving the common good of all humankind.
The involvement of outside forces in university affairs has made even students forget their primary agenda at having joined the universities. Like Reynolds in the Washburn (2005) book, many a scientist ends up being a politician due to these disruptions in the curriculum. If even the students should get derailed from their “calling” in such a manner, in all probability, the future of the universities is painted in bleak colors. It is necessary to redefine the role of the university and give the students clear guidelines as to the parts they ought to play therein. Not only are grades falling within secondary schools, but also those who end up in university, having attempted and succeeded at a difficult feat, may get disillusioned at what they find.
Hirsch (2006) appears to have the answer to one of the woes so far when he says that students have to read and comprehend. Any student can read, given the time to do so. But their understanding of what they have read is the most crucial part of their acquisition of knowledge. Comprehension is the difficult bone that students need to chew while at school to enable them to sit their examinations and pass with flying colors. Since they are not taught to comprehend, it follows that their performance in class also suffers. They are not even prepared within their extant grades for the grades which they shall be facing in the future. Hirsch says that a broad range of knowledge is required for students to be able to comprehend what they read (Hirsch, 2006). One may question at this point from whence that a “broad range of knowledge” shall be obtained.
Hitherto, it has been observed the diverse challenges that the American child faces as he or she pursues an education. The challenges start right from kindergarten through to university. The American child is also exposed to a lot of information that buffets them from all types of sources: the internet, television, radio, movies et cetera. These sources of information together with the students’ own experiences (however few and apart those experiences might be) ought to be sufficient to give the background knowledge that Hirsch craves for them. If these sources are not enough to give the American child the vast knowledge that Hirsch talks about, then it remains an enigma where else the knowledge shall come from. The school has synthesized the knowledge for the students to acquire, not in its raw form, but in a form that has been more purified; akin to the sugar that one gets on the table compared to the sugar from the cane.
According to Hirsch (2006), knowledge is all around us, but it is taken for granted. In essence, he says that even the modern student has a lot to learn from his or her surroundings. As they walk along the streets, go sightseeing or listen to music on the radio, all these areas hold a bit of knowledge here and a bit there that may stand the observer in good stead when they are faced with the problem of comprehending written material in class. It may be added that comprehension is context-dependent but knowledge garnered from one source can be transmuted to an application that is far much different than its source. Therefore, as students learn to be more in touch with their environments, they shall be better equipped to face the future challenges that they are bound to meet. They shall be able, when in university, to stand for what they know is right, disallowing the interference of other institutions whose missions stand at variance with the mission of the academia.
Reforms in education in the United States are bound to be a collective effort involving, not only the government but also all other stakeholders. America was founded as a nation on solid Christian principles, and these guiding principles worked well for the founding generation as well as the few generations that stood by them thereafter. The encumbrances that America faces are as a result of her generosity toward all nations. These nations have brought with them influences that have diluted the American spirit of democracy and freedom; for even the freedom that the founding father fought for has been misinterpreted. It is time that America went back to her first principles; for there lays the answer to most of the problems she faces nowadays. Democracy per se is a boon that the American people can never take for granted. Nevertheless, it only speaks of good things that have not been counterbalanced by the “bad”. A bit of non-democratization may be required to create the critical balance that America requires. The government needs to step up its authority to ensure that things happen in the correct way that they should, but that ought to be done with discretion as there still is an extant law that governs the land. It is a law that the people have put forth by themselves, and it is in the power of the people to repeal the same and come up with better laws.
The breaches in the education system in America are not irreparable. Since the United States has shined in glory in the past, she still can do the same but only if the people are willing to rise together and make that dream a reality. Right from elementary school to the university level, students have the latent ability to excel, for America does have the mental capacity to read and understand books. She is well endowed with comprehensive skills.
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