The Illusion of Education in America

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The current state of education in America should be cause for alarm for all stakeholders. Fifty years of education reform and American students are still failing at alarming rates. In 2018, there were 4 million fourth graders nationwide. Three million of those 4th graders could not read proficiently. A full 75% of America’s fourth-graders couldn’t read at grade level in 2018. This statistic is both sad and critical. 

In grades K-3, students learn to read. From grades 4-12, students must read to learn. Reading deficits at the end of third grade correlate with higher drop-out rates. A considerable number of these non-readers will drop out of school prior to graduation. This is shameful and unacceptable.

Grade inflation, social promotion, lack of early intervention, and the appearance of special education are all feeding an increasingly failing public education system. We have an illusion of a successful system, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. The hyper-focus on standardized testing has created three groups of students for schools to consider: “Who is going to help us?”  “Who is going to hurt us?” and “Who has a chance of passing?” 

I have heard these actual statements from the mouths of administrators before the school years began. That should make stakeholders wonder what is in store all year for the “hurt” camp. As one might assume, the “hurt” camp will not be the priority in the classroom. The “chance” camp, those who are academically close to where they should be, will be the primary focus as it relates to instruction and intervention.

Given the focus of public schools today, it makes sense for educators to focus on students who have a chance at passing with the right support and intervention. The “help” camp is in good shape. Daily instruction will keep them but what about the “hurt” camp? Few educators will admit that the “hurt” camp is not a priority in schools, but it’s true, and it’s wrong.

This is education in America today. Is this what we want for education tomorrow? It seems clear that waiting for the government to improve public education is a gamble we are likely to lose. While we are chasing standardized test scores, struggling students are falling farther behind. America’s students cannot wait for politicians to decide what they want to do with public education. 

While they haggle over funding, school choice, vouchers, charters, and such, someone must ensure students are learning. The improvement in education that is so desperately needed is in the hands of parents and educators. We must take a stand for America’s students. To allow this monumental failure to continue is unconscionable and speaks to how we value our youth and the future of the United States.

Edited and reprinted from an article published February 2020.

Editors note: the article first said that 75% of 4th graders couldn’t read. The article has been corrected to say that they did not reach proficiency at grade level.

Dr. Teresa Sanders
Dr. Sanders is an international bestselling author, education researcher and student and family advocate in the education setting. Dr. Sanders has presented at international education conferences and is the founder of Safari Small Schools, an innovative micro school in Canton, Texas. Dr. Sanders created Safari Small Schools to meet the needs of learners who aren’t thriving in the traditional classroom. Dr. Sanders can be reached at DrSanders@safarismallschools.com.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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