Why is the U.S. Education System Still Failing?
A couple of years ago, I wrote a piece for my “Education Futures” blog entitled 10 Reasons the U.S. Education System Is Failing (Lynch, 2015). In it, I listed ten problems and issues that prevent the U.S. education system from living up to its potential. Even years later, this post still periodically shows up as one of the top-read blog posts of the day on www.edweek.org.
Because of this, Education Week thought it would be interesting to revisit this list in some way, and I wholeheartedly agreed. Since most of the reasons that I listed in the original piece still ring true, I decided not to rehash them. Instead, I decided to create a new list that discusses newly emerging problems and issues with the U.S. Education system. Without further ado, let’s get started.
- In this digital age, we need to rethink literacy. Historically, literacy referred to print texts, but it’s becoming increasingly complex as we transition to a digital age. To accommodate this generational shift, educators need to start incorporating curriculum that covers digital literacy. Beyond basic reading and writing, students should be able to use technology to conduct research and make their own judgments about what they read. Without these skills, students will be left behind in our digital age.
- The way we currently assess students is not working. The current testing system does not accurately measure the progress of individual students. In our digital age, we should be searching for testing options that can implement technology, gather information, and account for the differences among students who take the assessments. The initial cost outlay could be substantial, but we owe it to our students to create a fair testing system to help deliver brighter minds for the future.
- We do a poor job of educating boys of color. Black and Latino boys have consistently been a misunderstood demographic in America’s schools. Their behavior, learning styles, and social skills are often misconstrued as problems. Until this situation is remedied, boys of color will continue to slip through the cracks. They have higher dropout rates, poverty, and incarceration compared to their peers, and perhaps the education system is partly to blame (The Sentencing Project, n.d.).
- We continue to retain and socially promote students. The U.S. education system retains students at astronomical rates. The cost is outlandish at approximately $20 billion annually (Williams, 2007), even though research shows that holding children back has little effect on their academic achievement. Social promotion also poses a problem, as students will struggle to meet academic standards without extraordinary intervention (Hong and Yu, 2008).
- Anti-intellectualism and academic disengagement are running rampant. In this digital age, students are accustomed to instant gratification. In response, school districts water down academic standards to keep students on an equal footing, but the result is academic disengagement. Traditional education is undermined by this growing anti-intellectualism. Today’s students are less inclined to pursue academic achievement if it bears no direct effect on their daily lives.
- Why aren’t there more year-round schools? Most schools in America maintain the antiquated system of granting students the summer off, even though the economic reason no longer exists (Morin 2016). Unfortunately, the solid evidence that a switch to year-round schooling would improve our academic system is ignored because it’s too challenging make a change. Teachers and policymakers alike would have to agree to switch up the status quo to accommodate this drastic shift in scheduling.
- We are not able to consistently produce quality teachers. A child’s education is highly dependent upon the instruction they receive. The reality is straightforward: not all teachers entering the classroom have enough training and experience to foster student learning. A strong teacher is an invaluable classroom tool, but we have yet to discover what it takes to produce strong educators with any degree of consistency.
- We are not doing enough to foster digital equity. In the modern age, technology is an essential part of the world and academics. Students from wealthier backgrounds have greater access to the internet and technology in general than their impoverished counterparts. The result is that wealthy students end up ahead and another barrier is constructed for schools with high poverty rates. Digital equity could eliminate this gap and provide a more level playing field.
- We are not doing enough to get girls involved with STEM. Even with Beyoncé’s famous statement that “girls run the world,” there are still plenty of academic fields where females are under-represented. The booming STEM industry is primarily male-dominated with few opportunities for young girls to join. The issue is not a lack of interest but a lack of encouragement for girls to enter these fields or study the subjects at school. We must find new ways to promote STEM subjects to girls and help them foster a love for the mechanical and chemical.
- Teacher preparation programs don’t teach neuroscience. Most teacher preparation programs focus exclusively on education instead of providing a more holistic view. Truly great educators need to understand neuroscience to grasp how the brain and nervous system work fully. It can help educators to better understand how the brain learns new information and how stronger neural pathways are formed. Even the most basic understanding of neuroscience could influence and improve the way teachers perform in the classroom.
The underachievement of the U.S. education system is not the result of one problem. It is the confluence of issues that undercut the cultural importance of education equity and broad-based intellect. To achieve better results, we must put aside partisan politics and petty policy disagreements and try to improve the U.S. education system, no matter what. I am overjoyed that my last piece has resonated with my readers, and I hope this installment will also strike a chord. Now, let’s get to work.
Hong, G. & B. Yu. (2008). Effects of Kindergarten Retention on Children’s Social-Emotional Development: An Application of Propensity Score Method to Multivariate Multi-Level Data. Special Section on New Methods in Developmental Psychology, 44(2), 407–421.
Lynch, M. (2015, August 27). 10 Reasons the U.S. Education System Is Failing. Education Week. Retrieved from
Morin, Amanda. (2017, October 19). The Pros and Cons of Year-Round Schooling. Child Parenting. Retrieved from http://childparenting.about.com/od/schoollearning/a/year-round-school-pros-cons.htm
The Sentencing Project. (n.d.). Racial Disparity. Retrieved from http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122
Williams, D. L. (2007). Perspectives of Urban Parents Towards Student Grade Retention in Schools. Doctoral dissertation, The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dissertation Abstracts International, 69, 59–60.