Systemic Changes in Public Education

MIDWEST Blog – Schools take the brunt of the budget cuts in the United States. When assessing nationwide problems at an economic and political level, the root of a lot of problems is the quality of our public education system. For such a pivotal aspect of a country’s ability to excel and succeed, it is often cast aside as a necessity that drains state funding. In the 21st century, there are a few systemic concerns to focus on.

Public Education Policy

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was designed to lessen the achievement gaps between students and to provide equal opportunities and expectations for a high-quality education. The far-reaching federal legislation provided more funds towards education and has been reauthorized every five years, with embellishments in the last couple decades by the Bush and Obama administrations. It’s important that as society experiences technological advances, our approach to public education is modified and educational changes are made to fit student needs.

In 2001, the “No Child Left Behind” Act was signed into effect and implemented across the country, attempting to enforce the quality of a child’s education by placing a large amount of focus on standardized testing. This act received criticism from all sides for putting an excess focus on STEM testing rather than overall education and for not being fully federally funded — which caused schools to limit their funding towards the arts — a funding decision that was designed around policy rather than the needs of students.

Funding for public education is an ongoing issue as the amount of money dedicated to schools is disproportionate across cities and states, with wealthier neighborhoods paying more into their schools through taxes. Across West Virginia, schools shut down for two weeks due to a teacher and worker strike that demanded a five percent raise. The organized strike was a successful demonstration of teachers needing higher pay and being willing to take a stand against state budget cuts toward education. At the end of two weeks, Governor Jim Justice signed a bill granting their request.

Gun Violence

Gun violence and school shootings are an ongoing problem in the United States. In the first few months of 2018 alone, there have been 10 shootings across the states, the most violent of which took occurred at a high school in Parkland, Florida on February 14th and was responsible for deaths of 17 students and staff. In the last two decades, school shootings have been among the deadliest mass shootings in the United States, responsible for over 100 deaths

These tragedies force the nation to consider change and to reassess gun regulations in the U.S. Each time a school shooting occurs, educators go back to the drawing board to try to track down the root of the problem and find ways to address the reasons students become overwhelmed enough to murder their peers. On February 28th, 2018, the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence, which is made up of university professors across the country, turned out a call for action to prevent gun violence. This document featured 10 proactive steps to provide students with resources to address issues they may have and to place more emphasis and consideration on potential threats.

The reasons behind the prevalence of gun violence in schools remains a subject of speculation, but troubled kids are bringing guns and violence into schools and that is something that warrants our attention. Although we may not know what the root of the problem is, these kids are trying to say something. The problem has run amok but this week, WalMart and Dicks announced they would no longer be selling guns to people under 21 years of age.

Systemic Change

Teachers have the potential to teach students about these issues every school day. Social change begins in the classroom by learning to respect life, ideas, and differences. When students learn how to use their voice to communicate, enact change and take a part in democracy, they gain the tools to talk to people about the problems they see and are having. Systemic change in our public education system could help shed light on these areas.

Carl Hermanns, clinical associate professor in the teacher’s college at Arizona State University, recognizes that learning opportunities are not the same everywhere and that this prevents students’ ability to achieve success. “We need to understand and address (education system’s) inequities so that every child, in every classroom, every day is being provided excellent and equitable educational opportunities to find success. It’s easy to be passionate about that because you see so many children who just aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve,” Hermanns said.

As a nation, many wonder what tragedy will be cruel enough to enact change. Without systemic changes to prioritize encouraging students to talk with counselors, hiring enough teachers to focus on each student, and providing teachers with enough pay for the work they do, it’s difficult to fix the problems. Our public education system ties our country together and it’s important to provide it and our students with the resources they need to succeed.

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Brooke Faulkner is a mother of two and wilderness enthusiast. When she's not writing, she can usually be found zipping around the mountains on her ATV.

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