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The purpose and methods of education are constantly being discussed and perceived differently. As I am sure, education should not only give knowledge, but make students worthy citizens, able to think critically, promote equality, and honor the diversity of their society. To achieve that outcome, students should be allowed to speak and reflect freely. Unfortunately, the contemporary American education can hardly fulfill this ideal. As Jonathan Kozol proves, diversity has become a meaningless declaration in American schools. Additionally, the education system based on standardized testing not only fails to give students wide outlook, as Diane Ravitch states but also discriminates poor and minority students.
The Purpose and Methods of Education
As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (Ratcliffe 137). The purpose of education, as well as and the range of methods it should use to achieve that purpose, has always been and still is discussed. Some thinkers claim that education should make an individual morally virtuous in the first place, and achieving knowledge is a secondary aim.
Others are convinced that education should provide a person with a comprehensive knowledge about various aspects of the living world, and the more knowledge in different fields a person gets, the batter. According to another opinion, education should prepare young citizens for their future adult life in a competitive environment, and for that reason the school system should provide a mini-model of such an environment, making students learn how to gain a competitive advantage.
To my opinion, apart from giving broad knowledge, education should provide individuals with necessary skills for living in a certain society, as well as a wide outlook, and make them understand fundamental principles of this society. In multiracial and multicultural countries, such as the USA, one of the fundamental principles, which education should address, is diversity. Despite the fact that nowadays, in the 21st century, honoring diversity has become an almost a common tradition, recognizing the need for diversity in education is still a controversial issue in the sphere of education. In fact, honoring diversity has become an official, often insincere act, which merely covers the real problems related to the racial equality in education.
Jonathan Kozol, an educator, writer, and activist, wrote at length about the inequality in education and the difference between the real and false diversity. In his work “The Uses of Diversity,” he acknowledges that “the subject of diversity is introduced to children in most public schools has come to be a very bland and boring ritual,” an expression, which would be sincerely supported by virtually any school student if you ask them.
Kozol criticizes the fact that the concept of diversity is present in school curricula, but in reality there is next to no diversity at schools; this “diversity” looks more like racial segregation. Such a strong word is not an exaggeration. Kozol mentions his own experience when he collected information from community schools. He witnessed that schools mostly lacked diversity in students’ racial backgrounds. Kozol reveals the truth: instead of having diverse students studying together, schools mostly represent either all-black, all-white, or all-Hispanic contingent, with a small percentage of other races (Jacobus 608-609).
Apart from that, Kozol criticizes the way, in which the history of civil rights was presented in American education system. He states that it is given in a form of “heroic stories,” which creates in children a false positive sense, making them believe that the aims of those struggles are achieved and secured. Such an approach forces children to think that the reality, which they see in and out of school, is not to be believed (Jacobus 609-610).
As for the methods that should be used in education to achieve its ends, I totally agree with Jonathan Kozol: instead of making children repeat false claims about diversity and civil rights, it is necessary to let them speak freely about the problems that they witness and challenges that they face, even if it would not (and it would not) sound pleasant. If educators allow students to analyze the situation and make conclusions by themselves, it will forge a generation of responsible citizens, who rely on their own critical thinking rather than on school textbooks. Only such a generation can honor diversity in its true meaning.
How the Ideas of Education Are Implemented
Apart from the faked diversity, there are plenty of other flaws in American educational system. I am utterly convinced that applying the market model to education and making schools and students depending on the interests of business owners is among the most terrible disasters that plague American education. Another problem, a consequence of the latter, is the standardization of knowledge, its presentation is a form of standard portions ready to be consumed. These measures are taken to make students more likely to pass the variety of tests that they are required to pass to get their school more funding. Such an approach have nothing in common with raising educated citizens with a wide outlook and developed critical thinking.
In her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” Diane Ravitch offers a comprehensive description of these flaws. In this work, Ravitch describes the educational reform, in the implementation of which she participated, and explains what were the initial intentions of the reformers, and why she has become seriously disappointed with the outcomes of the reform. The author states that current education system fails to meet the ideas of education, such as personal empowerment, free choice, and freedom. According to Ravitch, nowadays schools became part of the capitalist system, implementing business models in their curricula.
Ravitch describes the way of reasoning, as a result of which charter schools emerged: “Why shouldn’t schools be managed by anyone who could supply good schools, using government funds? Free of direct government control, the schools would be innovative, hire only the best teachers, get rid of bad teachers…” (Ravitch 24). She explains that educators were sure that applying market rules – only the best will survive – to schools seemed a god idea, but the adoption of school choice only worsened the situation, making schools in urban centers, especially charter ones, made public education less democratic and accessible. Instead of introducing free competition and choice, charters started the rivalry for the best students in poor communities. Sometimes they accept all the applicants and then throw the outsiders back into public schools. As a consequence, those students from poor areas, who do not perform well, have no choice but to study in public schools (Ravitch 24-25).
In her work, Ravitch severely criticized the No Child Left Behind Act, a 2001 act of US Congress, that supported standard-based educational reform, according to which all the students of the USA had to pass test on a “proficient” level by 2014, and school funding and teachers’ salaries were placed in dependence on their achievement. Ravitch claims that this act establishes unachievable standards and the fact that the act allows to shut down the schools, which failed to meet the “Annual Yearly Progress” requirements, made it even worse (Ravitch 97). The author also explains that the very standards are perceived differently, for the states were offered to work out their own understanding of proficiency. It means that standardized tests cannot be named unbiased indicators. Therefore, the NCLB Act is merely a way for the government to place a severe control on education.
Additionally, she mentions, the NCLB act entails the narrowing of a curriculum (and, hence, knowledge) since students need only a narrow list of things (reading, math, and writing) to pass standardized tests. Ravitch claims that the school curriculum should be changed with more focus on liberal arts and sciences. She reflects on the previous times, when the students were provided with a rich curriculum in history and the arts, instead of learning basic rules of math and English. With the adoption of the NCLB, students were also robbed of knowledge in geography, civics, and science. Consequently, the American students are now less likely to become individuals with “well-furnished mind, shaped by reading and thinking (Ravitch 31).
The No Child Left Behind Act, School Funding, and Tests
Diane Ravitch is not the only one to disapprove of the NCLB Act. The Act is being criticized for a variety of undesirable outcomes. First, it is unclear how low-performing schools are going to be helped by this act, particularly by tutoring. In some cases, students do not use the opportunity to change schools or to apply for a free tutor’s services. The standards of quality for tutors may be vague in some districts and even states. States also often neglect the schools with the lowest level of performance. Next, the growing federal control over K-12 education is frowned upon. NCLB, as it was already mentioned, relies too heavily on standardized tests, which leads to a simplified, narrowed curriculum. Moreover, some states have ignored the requirement to distribute qualified teachers evenly between poor and wealthy schools (Klein par. 14-15).
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Apart from that, the law has been underfunded. The initial legislation supported a high increase in education expenditures. Federal spending on Title I education had to reach $25 billion by 2077, but it receives around $14.5 billion in 2015 (Klein par. 16).
NCLB had a dramatic effect on classroom practices. Because of the need to prepare students for tests, teachers have to allocate the instruction time in such a way as to cover the information needed for the test and teach students specific skills. Thus, time for test subjects increases, while the rest of information is neglected (Dee and Jacob 179).
I suppose that the greatest flaws of NCLB are linking school funding to students’ performance and negative effect on diversity in education. As it will be shown below, these problems are connected.
A 2005 study examines the impact of the NCLB Act and touches, among others, the problem of racial equality. As the authors indicate, the interest of legislators, who adopted the school accountability system, is in a large part focused on low-achieving students. For a number of reasons, such as being from a disadvantaged background, minorities are more likely to be low-achievers. If a school is mandatory accountable for the achievements of students, it will make a racial or ethnic gap in education much wider, despite the fact that NCLB is meant to narrow this gap. The authors of the study found out that Hispanic students benefitted from accountability, while Black ones did not. The developers of the educational reform did not take the issue if racial equality into consideration (Hanushek and Raymond 298-300).
Lance Fusarelli reflects on positive and negative effects of NCLB. Among positive effects the author mentions the fact that if one minority group in a school is failing to meet the standards, the entire school will be charged, so there will be no way to neglect the performance of that group, as well as the fact that school leaders will be encouraged to monitor the performance more attentively. However, Fusarelli states, these positive effects are closely linked with certain negative outcomes.
First, the legislators believe that the primary reason for low student performance is low expectations of educators, on which assumption NCLB is based. In fact, there is a wide range of reasons for low performance: being from a disadvantaged family, having a disability, having poor knowledge of English, etc. It is certain that these problems are more likely to affect minorities. Next, if policy makers use testing to bring the quality of performance up to a higher level, it means that students will be punished for not doing well on tests. Motivation by punishment is by no means a sigh of a free society. Finally, this approach places students into stressful conditions, which, ironically, lowers their chances to perform well (Fusarelli 74-77).
James Crawford, Executive Director National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE), has emphasized the discriminative effect of NCLB on English Language Learners (ELLs), i.e. non-native speakers, who study English. As Crowford mentions, NABE had initially supported the pass of NCLB, hoping that the new legislation would establish adequate requirements for English Language Learners and make schools devote more attention to such children. However, it turned out that the kind of attention NCLB drew to them was not beneficial. The law sets such standards in English that non-native speakers are unable to meet them. Moreover, the Act does nothing to remove the obstacles that hinder the achievement of ELLs: lack of resources, a serious shortage of teachers, who are qualified to work with ELLs, non-suitable instruction material, poorly developed instruction programs (Crawford 1-2).
In general, the outcomes of NCLB in the field of equality are not flattering. Children of color and children from disadvantaged families still do not do as well in school as white children. Despite the effort of the legislators to improve the school system, a few changes happened to the lives of the poor and minorities (Meier and Wood 10).
As I am convinced, the main goal of education is to make students responsible citizens, who respect equality and diversity. Current American education system fails to achieve this ideal. It does not promote free thinking and discriminates the students from poor and minority backgrounds.
The purpose and methods of education are constantly being discussed and perceived differently. As I am sure, education should not only give knowledge, but make students worthy citizens, able to think critically, promote equality, and honor the diversity of their society. To achieve that outcome, students should be allowed to speak and reflect freely. Unfortunately, the contemporary American education can hardly fulfill this ideal. As Jonathan Kozol proves, diversity has become a meaningless declaration in American schools. Additionally, the education system based on standardized testing not only fails to give students wide outlook, as Diane Ravitch states but also discriminates minority students.
Crawford, James. No Child Left Behind: Misguided Approach to School Accountability for English Language Learners. Center on Education Policy, 2004. Web.
Dee, Thomas, and Brian A. Jacob. “The Impact of No Child Left Behind on Students, Teachers, and Schools.” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity 32.2 (2010): 149-207. Print.
Fusarelli, Lance D. “The Potential Impact of the No Child Left Behind Act on Equity and Diversity in American Education.” Educational Policy 18.1 (2004): 71-94. Print.
Hanushek, Eric A., and Margaret E. Raymond. “Does School Accountability Lead to Improved Student Performance?” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management 24.2 (2005): 297-327. Print.
Jacobus, Lee A. A World of Ideas: Essential Reading for College Writers. 9th ed. 2013. Boston, MA: Bedford / St. Martin’s. Print.
Klein, Alyson. “No Child Left Behind: An Overview.” Education Week 2015. Education Week. Web.
Meier, Debora, and George Wood. Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004. Print.
Ratcliffe, Susan. Oxford Treasury of Sayings and Quotations. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2011. Print.
Ravitch, Diane. The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education. New York City, New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.