Writing Catalog

Ryan Chang

Grade: 11

University School - Hunting Valley

Instructor: Lee Fallon

The Scholar's Chains — An Analysis of the American Education System

Critical Essay

The Scholar's Chains — An Analysis of the American Education System

The early American education system underwent many fundamental changes that would shape school systems into the ones we see today. Before common schools were established, schooling was disorderly; those that did receive an education, primarily white children, were taught in schools supported either by the church or by local towns, which required payments for tuition, charitable contributions, taxes, and even the state. However, these schools were poorly staffed, underequipped, and overcrowded. The Founding Fathers sought to resolve this problem with a more formal and unified public school system — they granted acres of land specifically for creating and maintaining public schools. As the number of public schools grew in the US, so did the need for increased economic opportunities, cultural diversity, and gender equity in education; chief decisions like the federal case Brown vs. Board of Education (1954) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) allowed a greater educational acceptance. Yet modern institutions still have problems. NYC Mayor Eric Adams shelved a $202 million plan proposed by former Mayor Bill de Blasio to integrate a universal K-12 reading and math curriculum. Melissa Clinedinst and Pooja Patel of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conducted a study in 2018; out of 2,251 surveyed schools, 33% of public schools employed at least one college counselor, compared to 68% of private schools. The 2022 Junior Achievement Teens and Personal Finance Survey also noted that 54% of teens felt unprepared for college finances. Recent school shootings, such as in Uvalde, are becoming an unceasing issue, demonstrating our lack of understanding of students' mental health. The ideology and pedagogy of the American school system need to be revised so that children can express their feelings and embrace the reality we live in today.

The type of schools offered to students varies in the US, and the question remains whether secondary schools should adopt a universal curriculum or a vocational program. A universal curriculum involves colleges' basic knowledge for a professional qualification. States have long debated what students should be able to do in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA) for college. To address this need, the Common Core — Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) — was established in 2010 by the Obama administration to "provide a clear and consistent framework for educators" by providing multiple ways for students to interact with the material. Forty-six states had passed laws to support it, but the views of the Common Core are now changing; four states have withdrawn from the curriculum mainly due to the costs of implementing the standards and providing financial support to teachers and schools, and many others have adopted their own state standards. Vocational education differs from the universal curriculum because it gives students knowledge in a specific occupation for entry into work and career advancement. For example, if one wishes to pursue a career in engineering, one should enroll in more STEM courses than in ELA. Vocational programs were first offered at community colleges and universities to farm kids and immigrants to prepare them for arduous labor in factories. Some secondary schools offer low-income students programs with college prep and career skills. While vocational schools can be less time-consuming and costly than a traditional 4-year college term, they can push students to be less willing to adapt to changes and technologies in the workforce. Students aren't performing well with the universal curriculum or vocational education — so what should high schools support?

Since either of the two types of schools cannot spur creativity alone, high schools should apply a hybrid approach. States may initiate their own standards, but if they continue to endorse the Common Core, according to a review by the American Teacher Panel, they could provide more guidance on repertoires of close reading and skills-based reading instruction and the amount of time and intensity of a topic. During junior and senior years, vocational education can take the form of electives, much like prerequisite courses; students may explore a particular major that they think of pursuing. Instead of separating vocational programs from secondary schools, schools should include them in the universal curriculum to save money and time. These alterations will give students a balance between a greater understanding of topics that colleges may require, a preview of potential routes they would like to pursue, and ultimately increased confidence in the real world.

As a new generation develops, secondary schools should reevaluate their teaching methods. The University of Buffalo and the University of Central Florida identified 13 approaches, including lectures, discussions, projects, and simulations. The overarching factor in each process was the level of student interaction; lectures and seminars display teacher-centered learning and student-centered learning, respectively. Data generally support learner-centered teaching. A study at Harvard University examined students in an introductory physics course in two groups, one of which only received lectures. In contrast, the other received lectures and walked through problems in small groups. Researchers found that although students preferred lectures, those who received only lectures scored 10% points lower than their peers in the semester test. Researchers carried out a meta-analysis and determined that students with classes in active learning scored 6% higher in exams, and students with classes in traditional learning were 1.5 times more likely to fail. As for lectures, if stimuli are unchanged in the presentation, students become disengaged and usually lose interest 10-15 after the lecture has started, and if the lecturer talks too fast and gives too much information, they may not be able to learn the material. But given effectively, lectures can comfort scholars who have an initial resistance to active learning and can deliver specific content that the lecturer wants to present. While some may prefer one teaching method over the other, a relatively new method of instruction is called interteaching. First coined by Thomas Boyce and Philip Hineline in 2002, interteaching is essentially a combination of both student-centered and teacher-centered learning. The lecturer hands out a prep guide with questions from an assigned reading, and the students form groups of two or three and answer questions; the teacher also answers clarifying questions. At the end of the class, the students then complete an evaluation and the teacher addresses the problems that students found difficult. This innovation has consistently improved students' quiz scores more than with lectures, as observed by Bryan Saville and Tracy Zinn. If schools want students to succeed, they should administer teaching methods like interteaching that involve both the student and the teacher.

One thing students dread the most is the long hours of homework, and schools should consider changing homework policies. Researchers monitored 10 high-performing high schools in California and students' views on homework. They discovered that too much homework — more than 2 and a half hours — leads to greater stress, a sedentary lifestyle, and less leisure time. Homework should encourage rote learning and time management but shouldn't do so at the expense of students' health. Instead, homework for STEM classes should be kept at a minimum. There can be an occasional assignment if the teacher feels that students couldn't comprehend the topic, but what would help students more is short-term and long-term memorization through quizzes and test reviews so that they can demonstrate their skills. More group projects should be dispensed to prompt dynamic interactions and a desire for students to extend their learning. Homework for ELA can be sustained, as it lets students analyze texts and learn about history. Perhaps teachers can even give homework to read a book of choice. The change in homework policies will enable students to have a greater quality of life, and this may help to relieve teens' thoughts of school shootings.

To break the chains that restrain scholars from reaching their true potential, schools must redefine their ethos to benefit a changing society. Not only should teachers impart their knowledge, but they should also strive to flourish imagination, for these students are the future. They must be reassured that they will succeed, and in turn, endeavor to give equal, if not more opportunities to their children. It will be only a matter of time before the education system falls apart unless we act now.