Reading 4U: Problems And Solutions


  When an immigrant family moves to the U.S.A., one of the first questions that parents ask is, "Will my children get a good education here?" The answer depends on two major factors: When the children attend school and how hard they are willing to work.

  In some schools where the community is stable, the funding good and the school environment orderly, a hardworking student can get an excellent education. But in other schools-especially those in poor neighborhoods in the nation's large cities -it is very difficult to become educated. The flight of middle-class families to the suburbs left big city public shools with mostly lower-income students. Many are deprived children from impoverished homes with only one parent. Many come to school ill-prepared and poorly motivated to learn. A large number need help in learning English.

Many change residences and school often, and a changing classroom population is difficult to teach. In some poor neighborhoods, the students do not attend school regularly because they are frightened by violent gangs. In some classrooms, teachers have difficulty keeping the students' attention because the disrespectful, uncooperative students disturb the class. Because the quality of education varies so much from one school district to another, parents who are planning to move to a new neighborhood often inquire about the schools - and even visit them - before deciding which community to move to.

  Researchers are always studying the schools and evaluating the kind of education being provided. Experts ask: "Are today's students learning as much as their older siblings or their parents did? Are they learning as much as students in other countries?" In the 1980s, many studies revealed weakness in the American educational system. For example, of the 158 members of the United Nations, the U.S.A. ranked 49th in its level of literacy. It has been claimed that as many as 25 million American adults cannot read the front page of a newspaper. Another study focused on students' knowledge of history and literature. The results were published in a book entitled, "What Do Our 17-Year-OIds Know?", and the answer is, "not much". For example, 75% of American high school seniors did not know when Abraham Lincoln was President, and 80% could not identify Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Ibsen as famous authors. In a 1988 study comparing students's knowledge of geography, American young adults came in last of nine countries. In fact, 18% of the American students couldn't even find the U.S.A on a world map! Still other studies indicate that today's students are weak in mathematical problem-solving and writing skills.
  What's wrong with American education? To find the answer and to fix the problem, one must look at all of the elements the students themselves, their parents, their teachers, the school curriculum, the textbooks, and the community. Many students simply do not study enough. (Two-thirds of high school seniors do an hour or less of homework per night.) American teenagers are often distracted by part-time jobs, sports and other school activities, TV, and socializing. Some do not keep up with their schoolwork because of emotional problems, use of illegal drugs, or simply lack of motivation. Clearly, if Americans are to become better educated, students must spend more time studying, and parents must insist that they do so.

  In the 1980s, criticism of American education stimulated a reform movement. As a result, 45 of the 50 states raised high-school graduation requirements. One government study recommended a longer school year. (Now, the average American student attends school about 180 days a year, compared to 210 for a Japanese student.) Efforts have also been underway to increase parental involvement in schools and to improve teaching. College programs that educate teachers are trying to encourage more academically talented students to choose teaching as a career. Schools of education are also improving their curriculum so that American teachers of the future will be better prepared. School administrators are working on curriculum revisions. Publishers are being urged to create textbooks that are more challenging, interesting, and objective. Finally, concerned citizens are urging communities and the federal government to provide more tax dollars for education.
  What can one say about basic education in the U.S.A. today? It has many strengths, but there's plenty of room for improvement. Since the school reform movement began, test scores have risen somewhat, and Americans are optimistic that reform and improvement will continue. Americans deeply believe in education as the best vehicle for individual and social advancement. Improving the basic school system is one of the nation's top priorities. But meanwhile, it is a consolation to remember that, for most young Americans, formal education does not end with high graduation.

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