The United States entered the 21st century as the world's sole superpower. Our diplomatic strength, military might, financial resources, and technological innovation were, and continue to be, the envy of the world. However, in the crucial area of education, the U.S. lags behind many other developed countries. Although the U.S. spends more per student than almost any other country in the world, international exams have demonstrated that we consistently perform well behind countries such as South Korea, China, Japan, and Finland in the areas of reading and math.
The ramifications of this trend are considerable. China, Japan, and South Korea understand that well-educated workers are crucial for survival in the competitive global economy. Thus, they are placing enormous emphasis on education, ensuring that their students are given not only foundational reading and math skills, but also that they are able to think creatively and solve problems. Their youth are poised to take on and conquer the world. Educating, hiring, and retaining high-quality teachers are key to lasting reform. The teaching profession in America is undervalued, certainly in comparison with countries like Finland and South Korea.
The U.S., on the other hand, is losing the battle. School systems are using more money but have less to show for it. Test results, especially among the children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are dismal. America has extraordinary natural resources, a solid, functioning democracy, and an excellent infrastructure, but unless we can reform our educational system to produce students who are able to take advantage of new technologies and compete in the global economy, we will cede our position as world leader.
A number of recent books and films have brought this situation to the attention of the American public. What is needed now, though, is a plan to solve those problems: we need to learn to become supermen and women. The educational system involves seven major players: the federal government, district authorities, the community, parents and family, the school administration, teachers, and the students themselves. In order to reform our schools, we must look at each of these players, investigating the interactions among them, and offering suggestions for bolstering involvement and efficacy between them.
In areas where schools are successful, community involvement has proven to be a critical element. In low socioeconomic communities, there is often a sense that schools are separate entities, run by elite elements that have little connection to the community. Perhaps the starkest difference between students from low socioeconomic environments and those from wealthier environments is the amount of parental involvement in students' education.
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), while admirable, has also proven fundamentally flawed. It is not producing the anticipated results, and has had the effect of forcing schools to teach to the exam, rather than fostering a love of learning among students. There is mounting evidence that the U. S. education system is failing our students. Appropriate engagement and direction by district authorities is crucial to creating a quality learning environment. Too often, cronyism, corruption, and misuse of resources diminish the influence of the district-level administration.
Society in general needs to understand that the lack of quality teachers, effective administration, and parental involvement are all factors that contribute to the current state of our educational system. The country must unite and work together to carry the responsibility of enriching and continuing America's future via educational excellence. We must become supermen and superwomen.
Dr. Matthew Lynch is an Assistant Professor of Education at Widener University. Dr. Lynch is the author of three books; It's Time for Change: School Reform for the Next Decade (Rowman & Littlefield December, 2012), A Guide to Effective School Leadership Theories (Routledge February 26, 2012), and The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching (Pearson 2013). Please visit his website at www.drmattlynch.com for more information.