RFD: Where Does Education Need Reform Most?
PHOTO VIA UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS MEDICAL SCHOOL
Question: What Areas of our Education Need to be Reformed Most?
Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline: Written by Alan Gao
For centuries, societies have believed in the power of education. Today, we still believe that an effective education system can solve deep-rooted societal issues, such as the cycle of poverty and overburdened prisons. This belief has translated into legislation such as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in the United States. However, the existence of the school-to-prison pipeline seems to contradict these long-standing beliefs.
Harsh, zero-tolerance disciplinary policies that push students out of the classroom lead to an increased likelihood that misbehaving students are introduced into the criminal justice system. Many schools, especially those in urban, low-income areas, have implemented strict measures against misbehaving students, including police presence and automatic punishments. These measures have resulted in an endless flow of youth to juvenile detention centers for minor classroom infractions. While these policies may be well-intentioned, they pave the road the road to institutionalization for many youths, a consequence that has lead many to refer to these policies as contributing to a school-to-prison pipeline.
What is perhaps most concerning is the two groups of students who are disproportionately victim to the school-to-prison pipeline: racial minorities and children with disabilities. For both groups, there is a significant difference in suspension and expulsion rates than the rest of the population. It’s even worse for racial minorities with disabilities. Countless studies, including those conducted by Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies of the Civil Rights Project at UCLA, have found that the racial differences in disciplinary rates in schools have increased since the 1970s. These studies have also found that using suspension as a method of discipline greatly increases the chances that a student will end up behind bars. To have such stark differences based on race and disabilities is simply unacceptable.
According to the US Department of Justice, between 1997 and 2007, the amount of school resource officers (SRO) in the United States increased by 38%. Schools with these SROs have higher criminalization rates and spend hundreds of millions of dollars on these officers, according to Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools, a 2011 report released by the Justice Policy Institute. Along with zero-tolerance policies, this has led to the unprecedented likelihood for students to be arrested on campus. A vast majority of these arrests have been due to nonviolent offenses. Zero-tolerance policies assume a one-size-fits-all stance for infractions on school grounds. However, the nature of every offense is different, and to dole out the same consequence for every and any offense is illogical.
So how can we stymie the flow of the school-to-prison pipeline? It all begins in the classroom. Teachers should be encouraged to use positive behavior supports and intervention strategies for at-risk students instead of zero-tolerance policies. This should reduce the rates of criminalization and support at-risk students. Schools also have a role to play. The amount of school resource officers should be minimized and police force should be utilized as a last-resort option. Schools should also ensure that the student codes of conduct are up to date and comprehensive so that students are not unfairly punished. Governments may have the most important role. Governments need to allocate funds towards schools for more long-term solutions such as teacher training and development, rather than short-term solutions such as police presence.
The school-to-prison pipeline deprives millions of youths of a quality future and puts them on track for an institutionalized future. Given the already overcrowded prisons all over the world, it is critical that schools start addressing this issue. There are numerous complications to reform, such as school safety, but with cooperation from the classroom to the government, great strides can be made towards addressing this issue.
Focusing on Students Instead of Outcomes: Written by Kaitlyn Willloughby
The children of the United States are currently suffering from adult ills and mistakes previous generations have made. Their suffering is most prevalent in the classroom, where bad education policy and a lack of reform is plaguing the teachers, the content, and therefore the students. Teachers are teaching to a test, students resort to cheating rather than learning the material, too much emphasis is put on standardized tests, and the difference in opportunities from student to student is broad. All of these have devastating effects not only on the child while they are in K-12 public schooling but also when the child moves on to higher education and into the job market. These bad practices hurt the future of America due to mistakes of present America. In order to stop this continuous cycle, our country is in desperate need of education reform. This includes taking weight off of tests and grades as well as equalizing the opportunities for all students.
In the status quo, middle and high school classes are host to a large number of students cheating on tests and not learning the material. We also see teachers not teaching the material, but instead teaching to the test. These issues share a common root: too much emphasis on GPA and test scores. Students resort to cheating because they find it more beneficial to them in the long run. They find the number or the letter they get on the test more valuable than the knowledge within the pages. It is hard to blame the students for cheating when the education system is structured to reward people with high grades and test scores, metrics often not representing the strength of the student. With so much emphasis put on these numbers and letters after high school, whether for getting into college or applying for a job, we find that students strive for this ideal letter and number at the expense of mastering the material. Universities and job openings aren’t looking for what you know about the American Revolution but rather if you got a 70 or 80 on that test.
The students aren’t the only ones caught in this cycle. Teachers have also found themselves trapped into teaching to the test rather than teaching the valuable information kids need to know in order to actually master the subject. This is extremely important to understand because as soon as these teachers don’t produce the GPAs or test scores needed to show that they are a successful teacher, their wages could be dropped or their opportunities within the workplace diminished. It is in the teacher’s best interest to teach to the test and it is in the student’s best interest to cheat. In order to look towards actual reform in the United States with regards to education, the US should look to countries like Australia, where students have different learning tracks for their style of learning and where students have an incentive to learn the material and not cheat, and where teachers teach knowledge not the test. .
Another problem plaguing our country's education system is the difference in opportunity. Much of this can be contributed to the system’s lack of attention to income inequality. Income inequality is plaguing the United States, and one of its most devastating impacts is with regards to education. In education we see students with higher incomes having access to better teachers, better education, more college prep and job resources, more test prep tutors, and more academic tutors. The people with higher incomes simply have a lot more opportunities to be successful in their education. While people with lower incomes simply are left to dry. This then follows them through the rest of their life as education in K-12 has an impact on jobs and college opportunities after the 4 years of public schooling. In order to actually solve for this problem, education policy needs to be enacted to give more resources to schools in lower income areas, and to increase access to college prep and job prep resources as well as test and student tutors. This will start to close the gap and it will start to provide equal opportunities for all of these individuals.
It’s time for policy makers at the local and federal level to open their eyes to the world around them. They are so blinded by the numbers, letters, and money in front of their faces with regards to education, that they believe that our education system is working. It’s time to enact change, it’s time to demand reform, for the future generations of America.
Now It's Time for Your Input
What areas of your current education system need to be reformed? Should the government change the way it distributes resources to schools? Is there an incentive structure that can keep quality teachers in weaker school districts to bring up the quality? Is there an inherent discrimination of a certain group that is exacerbated by education? Our conversation is built on sharing as many perspectives as possible. The more you participate, the better we are able to begin bridging the divide.
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