According to A Nation at Risk, the American educ

According to “A Nation at Risk”, the American education system has declined due to a “rising tide of mediocrity” in our schools. States such as New York have responded to the
findings and recommendations of the report by implementing such strategies as the
“Regents Action Plan” and the “New Compact for Learning”.

In the early 1980s, President Regan ordered a national commission to study our
education system. The findings of this commission were that, compared with other
industrialized nations, our education system is grossly inadequate in meeting the
standards of education that many other countries have developed. At one time, America
was the world leader in technology, service, and industry, but overconfidence based on
a historical belief in our superiority has caused our nation to fall behind the rapidly
growing competitive market in the world with regard to education. The report in some
respects is an unfair comparison of our education system, which does not have a
national standard for goals, curriculum, or regulations, with other countries that do, but
the findings nevertheless reflect the need for change. Our education system at this time
is regulated by states which implement their own curriculum, set their own goals and
have their own requirements for teacher preparation. Combined with this is the fact that
we have lowered our expectations in these areas, thus we are not providing an equal or
quality education to all students across the country. The commission findings generated
recommendations to improve the content of education and raise the standards of
student achievement, particularly in testing, increase the time spent on education and
provide incentives to encourage more individuals to enter the field of education as well
as improving teacher preparation.

N.Y. State responded to these recommendations by first implementing the Regents
Action Plan; an eight year plan designed to raise the standards of education. This plan
changed the requirements for graduation by raising the number of credits needed for
graduation, raising the number of required core curriculum classes such as social
studies, and introduced technology and computer science. The plan also introduced the
Regents Minimum Competency Tests, which requires a student to pass tests in five
major categories; math, science, reading, writing, and two areas of social studies.

Although the plan achieved many of its goals in raising standards of education in N.Y.

State, the general consensus is that we need to continue to improve our education
system rather than being satisfied with the achievements we have made thus far.

Therefore, N.Y. adopted “The New Compact for Learning”. This plan is based on the
principles that all children can learn. The focus of education should be on results and
teachers should aim for mastery, not minimum competency. Education should be
provided for all children and authority with accountability should be given to educators
and success should be rewarded with necessary changes being made to reduce failures.

This plan calls for curriculum to be devised in order to meet the needs of students so
that they will be fully functional in society upon graduation, rather than just being able to
graduate. Districts within the state have been given the authority to devise their own
curriculum, but are held accountable by the state so that each district meets the states
goals that have been established. Teachers are encouraged to challenge students to
reach their full potential, rather than minimum competency. In this regard, tracking of
students is being eliminated so that all students will be challenged, rather than just those
who are gifted. Similarly, success should be rewarded with recognition and incentives to
further encourage progress for districts, teachers and students while others who are not
as accomplished are provided remedial training or resources in order to help them
achieve success.

It is difficult to determine whether our country on the whole has responded to the
concerns that “A Nation at Risk” presented. Clearly though, N.Y. State has taken
measures over the last ten years to improve its own education system. In many respects
the state has accomplished much of what it set out to do, but the need to continue to
improve is still present. Certainly, if America is determined to regain its superiority in the
world, education, the foundation of our future, needs to be priority number one.

Teachers often develop academic expectations of students based on characteristics
that are unrelated to academic progress. These expectations can affect the way
educators present themselves toward the student, causing an alteration in the way our
students learn, and thus causing an overall degeneration in the potential growth of the
student.

Expectations affect students in many ways, not just academically, but in the form of
mental and social deprivation which causes a lack of self-esteem. When educators
receive information about students, mostly even before the student walks into their
classroom, from past test scores, IEPs, and past teachers, it tends to alter the way we
look at the students potential for growth. This foundation of expectation is then
transformed on to our method of instruction.

One basic fallout from these expectations is the amount of time educators spend in
communicating with students. We tend to speak more directly to students who excel,
talking in more matures tone of voice, treating them more like a grown-up than we do to
the students who are already labeled underachievers. This can give the student an
added incentive to either progress or regress due to the amount of stimulation that they
receive.

As educators we tend to take the exceptional students “under our wing”. We tend to
offer knowledge in situations to help push the good students, in comparison to moving
on to the next task for the others. We also tend to critique the work of our god students
more positively than the others, offering challenges to the answers they have given.

The most obvious characteristic that educators present to the students is in the area
of body language and facial expression. We tend to present ourselves in a more
professional manner to our good students, speaking more clearly and with a stronger
tone of voice. We tend to stand more upright, in a more powerful stance, than to the
slouching effect we give to the underachievers. The head shakes, glancing with our
eyes, hand gestures, and posture all contribute to the way we look at certain students
based on our first impressions which came before we even knew the student.

One major way we can avoid these pitfalls and eliminate unfair expectations that help
produce failure in our students is to restrict the past information on the students to a
need to know basis. Instead of telling the teacher how the student did on past
examinations, just present them with the curricula that the student must learn during the
time they spend in that class. This enables the educator to formulate their own opinions
of that student. Also, instead of doing the IEP meetings during the middle of the year,
we should wait till the end of the semester to inform the educators of certain aspects of
the student instead of giving them all the information earlier in the year.

Finally, it is up to the educator himself to evaluate their own teaching methods to be
able to recognize, and change, the way they present themselves to the entire class. To
be able to know what we are doing, and how we are doing it, at different times in the day
is crucial to the aura we present to the students.

Schools are often blamed for the ills of society, yet society has a major impact on our
education system. The problems that schools are facing today are certainly connected
to the problems that are society faces, including drugs, violence, and the changing of our
family structure. There are many methods that schools have begun to use in order to
deal with the problems they are faced with and still offer the best possible education to
our youth.

The use of drugs in the general population has become a very serious problem in
society and within the school system. There are two aspects to drug use that teachers
are having to deal with now. The first is in trying to teach the new generation of crack
babies that are now entering the schools. These students have extremely low attention
spans and can be very disruptive in class. Early intervention programs designed to
target these children and focus on behavior management within the school setting have
been effective in preparing these students for school. Educators have also identified
drug use among students as one of the most significant problems that our schools face
today. According to the text, the rate of drug use among students has declined in last
few years, but recently there has been an increase in alcohol abuse among teenagers.

Intervention programs such as APPLE, (a school based rehabilitation facility) have been
implemented in many schools with the cooperation of school counselors and community
agencies to treat drug using teenagers. Other programs, such as D.A.R.E have been
implemented in many elementary schools to provide education about drugs to young
students.

Violence, both in society and in the school system has also been identified as a
serious problem. The influx of weapons in schools creates a dangerous situation for
teachers, administrators and other students. One remedy for this problem has been
introduced in many public city schools; the use of metal detectors. While this method is
not foolproof it does send the message that violence will not be tolerated in schools and
that severe measures will be implemented in order to curb it. Educators are also being
trained to identify those students who may be violent and to provide non-violent crisis
intervention. It is an undeniable fact that our society has a serious problem concerning
violence and that the violence on the streets is certainly connected to the violence in the
schools. It seems questionable that even these measures will significantly reduce the
problem in schools, but certainly the process of teaching can continue in a less stressful
atmosphere by having these measures in place.

Unfortunately, there are other problems such as the changing family structure
that do not have such clear cut solutions. Some of the problems that teachers are faced
with concerning the family include poverty, single parent homes, abuse and/or neglect
and homelessness.

Statistics state that 41% of single, female headed households live below the
poverty level and that students who live in single parent homes score lower on
achievement tests, particularly boys whose mothers are the head of the household.

Obviously, single parent families are a fact in our society today, given the rising rate of
divorce and single women having children, and it is true that this change is having a
severe effect on students today, but this should not effect the quality of education that is
provided, but rather, encourage educators to be more aware of the difficulties these
students face in order to adapt their teaching style, as well as the curriculum to reach
these students.

Similarly, child abuse and/or neglect has become a major issue in society and
schools. It is not clear whether there is a rise in the occurrences of abuse or whether
better awareness has increased the statistics, but it cannot be argued that this a
significant problem and one that effects those educators who have to help students who
are either abused or neglected. Strict regulations concerning the accountability of
teachers regarding the reporting of child abuse or neglect are in effect. Teachers are
required to be trained on the ability to identify abuse. Community agencies, shelters and
child welfare agencies have begun working in conjunction with schools in order to deal
with the problem with as little disruption in the students education as possible.

Homelessness is another major problem in our society. The rate of homeless
people has grown significantly since the early 1980s deinstitutionalization movement
and more recently due to the rising unemployment rate have led to more families and
children being homeless than ever before. This social problem has become a significant
problem for educators. Low achievement, which may be in part due to low attendance
as a result of a transient lifestyle, physical problems associated with living on the streets
and child abuse are all issues that educators are confronted with when working with
students who are homeless. Unfortunately, because of the lack of government funds,
this problem continues to grow in America. On the other hand, schools have begun to
deal with this problem by hiring additional counselors, some who work specifically to
coordinate service with shelters in order provide assistance to these families and more
precisely to the children. This effort clearly demonstrates that educators are genuinely
concerned about providing education to all children.

Clearly our schools and society face the same problems. It has become
necessary for all people, not just educators, to be more aware of the problems. Although
some intervention programs have been implemented and in some cases are very
successful, it is becoming more apparent that these problems are going to continue and
will have a direct consequence on our future in this country. Unfortunately, we as a
society tend to look for the “quick fix” to our problems without realizing the
consequences for the future. Our society need to understand that the schools are not
responsible for the cause of these problems or the solutions, but rather, all aspects of
society, including schools, are intertwined and need to collectively work together if we
are ever to make progress toward resolving these problems in the long run.


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