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The Science Survey

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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

An Analysis of the U.S. Educational System

America’s education system is complex and dynamic. Here are some suggestions for ways in which it can be reformed.
Education has received more attention in recent years. There are several different opinions on how to reform the educational system in America, and different ideas on how to increase America’s rankings. (Photo Credit: MD Duran / Unsplash)

The United States education system had been believed to be the best until economists realized in the 1980s that student’s test scores had been declining sharply since the mid 1960s. While there has been debate around the root cause of this issue — curriculums, different political ideologies, choice of literature, among others — it seems that there has been a constant comparison between the Western approach to education and the Eastern approach to education. 

While people often compare the Western systems to the Eastern systems — it is difficult to tell where the U.S. stands in this, and how the Western educational philosophy affects the decline of the U.S. in various subjects within international education rankings. 

A distinctive feature of the U.S. education system is that it is free and is protected within state constitutions and federal legislations. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) exemplify the significance that the U.S. places on education. 

The U.S. has committed to educational equity and has helped make significant strides in increasing enrollment and reducing inequality in access to schooling by putting in place various acts and policies among other changes. However, there are still numerous challenges in ensuring equal educational opportunities for all students, including those from marginalized communities: English language learners, students with disabilities, different racial groups, LGBTQ, and more. 

The U.S. education system comprises thirteen years, known as K-12, followed by post-secondary education, such as vocational training, community colleges, and four-year universities. Standardized testing holds a strong emphasis within the U.S. education system, with assessments such as the SAT and ACT significantly influencing college admissions and serving as accountability measures for schools and educators. However, there are various controversies surrounding these tests as students of financial advantage or able to perform better on these tests than under privileged kids, questioning the fairness of these tests. Currently, students must take several standardized tests during their school years, including state tests. In New York, elementary and middle school students take state tests, while high schoolers take Regents exams.

The No Child Left Behind Act was put in place in order to better the averages and test scores of American students. This policy is a U.S. federal law that was passed in 2001, aimed at improving public primary and secondary schools. However, over the years, the act has received severe  backlash, with people questioning if this act has truly left no child behind. Despite having  mandatory levels put in place that kids were required to reach by 2014,  their learning paces, financial/ domestic circumstances, and funding of their schools were not considered in the act. The act failed to see that kids from all over the country are at different levels for various reasons and that progress looks different amongst every student. 

In recent years, the U.S. education system has faced increased scrutiny and calls for reform in response to persistent achievement gaps, declining international rankings, and concerns about the preparedness of graduates in an increasingly competitive global economy. However, there is so much more behind all of this. There are behind-the-scenes issues such as inadequate funding, inequitable distribution of resources, outdated instructional practices, and disparities in teacher quality as barriers to improving educational outcomes. Curriculum content, teaching methods, and the role of standardized testing have also fueled contentious policy discussions on  federal, state, and local levels. Several schools within different states are all at different levels. Some receive more money and can improve their curriculum/foster student growth, while other schools can’t waste the little money they have on such things. 

Unlike many European and Asian nations with centralized education systems and a national curriculum, the U.S. prioritizes the local control system. Leaving management to representatives in cities, student councils, and school committees. This allows for greater flexibility and diversity in educational approaches, while only requiring that students meet certain levels by certain years. The U.S. also values the open-mindedness of a student and very personal growth while in countries such as China, Singapore, or other East Asian nations, the focus is on excellence among students. Journalists have said that what Asia fails to implement in their education system is opportunities for students to express creativity. 

While this decentralized model allows for innovation and experimentation, it also creates challenges in achieving consistency and coherence across the education system and the nation. The U.S. education system also features a lot of choices with the type of education and schools students choose to go to. Families often select schools based on factors such as academic reputation, extracurricular offerings, and proximity to home. For example, in New York City, many families select specialized high schools for their kids in hopes for the best education. 

Despite the fact that international students tend to want to come to the U.S. in order to go to elite Ivy Leagues or other Top 20 universities, recent comparisons between the U.S. schooling and educational systems in Asia impose another view. Countries such as China, Singapore, among others have now consistently ranked higher than the U.S. in almost all subjects of education. Recent feedback within the past decade on the U.S. system such as articles from the Atlantic among other various media have advocated for an approach similar to Asia’s.

While there have been many controversies, it seems that the U.S. should reform. This could mean taking inspiration from Eastern education philosophies or improving in other methods. Following the models in Asia may boost American school rankings, but emphasis should still be placed on fostering a creative environment that allows students to thrive in any area whether that is STEM, humanities, the arts, or more. 

On the contrary, parents in the U.S. have pointed out that there may be too much emphasis on the students themselves. Parents across the nation have argued that there is too much focus on mental health and sexual orientation. It is hard to tell exactly what areas the U.S. should be focusing on, when it really varies from school to school. Every educational institution has different circumstances that all have to be considered when thinking about possible solutions for these issues. 

The issue is both on a state and federal level and comes down to what each school values for their particular students. Some schools are more art-based, stem-based, or humanities-based; this plays a significant role in how administrators may foster their specific needs. It’s also important to consider whether the students feel safe and accepted in their institutions. Much of what affects rankings in an academic standing are also heavily affected by student’s lives outside of school. Several students cannot finish their homework due to extracurriculars, jobs, and other external factors. So how can this all be solved on a national level quickly? 

The U.S. education system is a complex and dynamic system shaped by several factors that grapple with both financial and political ends as well as the student body itself. While the U.S. does constantly strive for more inclusivity, equity, and equality, there is still much room for improvement. It is unclear what the U.S. really has planned as of now, but there are several opinions surrounding what the U.S. should focus on. From students and parents to journalists, numerous people have shared their various opinions about the education system. Overall, the United States has inspiration to look up to and voices to listen to in order to further improve their education system.

In recent years, the U.S. education system has faced increased scrutiny and calls for reform in response to persistent achievement gaps, declining international rankings, and concerns about the preparedness of graduates in an increasingly competitive global economy.

About the Contributor
Sophia Nguyen, Staff Reporter
Sophia Nguyen is a Staff Reporter for 'The Science Survey.' What she finds most appealing about journalism is how she gets the opportunity to write on topics for which she is passionate. For Sophia, journalism serves as a platform for her to voice her own opinions, as well as hearing those of others. One of her favorite things about journalism is the connections that she makes during interviews and what she learns about the person she is talking to. She loves hearing people’s opinions on any subject and gaining perspective about the world. Other interests of Sophia's outside of school include playing the piano and competing in Model United Nations.