Public EducationAre we witnessing the beginning of a sea change in American education? Does it seem possible that one day public schools will educate only the poor and disadvantaged, while new,...

Public Education

Are we witnessing the beginning of a sea change in American education? Does it seem possible that one day public schools will educate only the poor and disadvantaged, while new, alternative educational systems will serve everybody else? What do you see as the future in public education?

Expert Answers
brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Not unless the system used to fund public education is substantially reformed in the near future.  As one columnist recently wrote, "we need to build the profession".  That doesn't just mean reasonable and dependable pay, although that should be a part of it. 

Teachers need opportunities for mentoring when they first enter the classroom, utilizing the wealth of experience and talent already in our schools.  They need scholarships so the field is more attractive and economically feasible.  They need incentives to teach in the inner cities.  And we need teachers to be nationally championed as opposed to demonized.  It seems a cruel irony that the nationwide education debate seems to conveniently shunt the blame for "poor performance"--which is crudely measured, incidentally--onto the teachers.  You can't create disincentives, social or economic, for entering a profession you claim to be trying to improve.  You also can't solidify and expand a disparity of wealth in this country and expect schools to somehow remain the great equalizer.

I don't see it happening anytime soon.  We're just too easy a target for the pundits and politicians to resist.  The success I have in the classroom now is in spite of school reform, not because of it.

docent5353 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When Billy Holiday sang, "God Bless the child that has his own."  I understand her sentiment well. 

I was blessed with the gift of intelligence, dedication and a lack of fear for perspiration.  I take pleasure in challenges.  I also had a mother that devoted her every effort to teaching us, her 5 kids about the problems; social, financial and personal that would be encountered if we did not obtain a college education.

My mother was unable to finish high school and she often told us, with tears in her eyes, that in America; you can get wealth and respect if you pursue an education.

To that end, every child she gave life to graduated from college.  Not one child from my dear Mom Evelyn's womb has ever forgotten that  "school is a place to learn, study, question, answer and grow."

We were not born to wealth or high social status.  The members of my family would each find a race or 6 six to relate to in the United Nations.  We were taught that family, church and school were to be the central institutions that we would inhabit.

A lackluster public school system leads to greater social and economic division.  As Americans we owe it to the next generation to improve our children's access to a decent education. 

enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

No one disputes the need for quality education.  The arguments of how to bring that about will not produce a viable solution, until facts are accepted -- wealthy parents will tend to spend more for their childrens' education.  The fact that they consider choosing "outside of the system" via private or other non-traditional schooling choices implies that the standard "public" system has failed their kids.  Those who cannot opt out, the poor and disadvantaged, of course will be the ones left behind in the public system.  One can point fingers at teachers, unions, administrations, government, but the fact that given a choice, those who can leave the system will leave the system  suggests that the public school system must undergo radical change -- not just insuring everyone passes the same standardized test, which does nothing to solve the deep systemic problems.  The fact that private schools, on average, can educate more cheaply and more on target with a given student's method of learning suggests that that model should be the one employed.  How (and if) that ever becomes feasible in the public school may never be addressed, and the chasm will forever widen.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would love to play the optimist here, and say that public education will be just fine in another 10 or 20 years, but clearly, that just isn't the case.

As an educator, I choose to teach at a private, independent school because I am allowed the professional autonomy I desire and my curriculum is dictated largely by me and my department.

As a parent, I chose to enroll my child at a private school (not the one where I teach -- different age levels) because the public school he was zoned for is a disgrace.

This will continue to happen: Parents who have the money and the concern will pluck their children out of our failing public schools and place them in more nurturing, educationally sound environments. The argument has been made that SES determines the rigor level of education a child receives, and data and research confirm this opinion. Our public schools could take a few lessons from successful, legitimate private schools:  Increase rigor and relevance, decrease standardized testing's emphasis, and let teachers teach as the professionals that they are.

lhc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'll tell you what I would like to see in the future of public education:  a conversation about the role administrators play (or don't play) in the success of our schools.  This is a topic which I feel very strongly about; it almost makes me angry to hear teachers bashed over and over, but I never hear anyone asking questions about the people who recruit and hire these allegedly horrible teachers.  We need administrators who have strong personalities and enough backbone to do what is best for the students and the school--rather than doing what keeps everyone happy (read: parents) so that said administrator can proceed quickly up the administrative ladder.  Increasingly, at least where I live and work, administrators, the so-called "instructional leaders" have very little teaching experience.  I have a hard time accepting the idea of someone who was actually in the classroom for only 2 or 3 years telling me, or anyone else with my years of experience, how to teach. 

vfreed eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Backing up a few posts, I completely agree with trophyhunter1.  I teach in a fairly small rural school district where it is obvious that not all students will go to college; yet, few vocational classes are offered because of the cost of setting up such programs.  I have seen numerous young people drift out of education because there is nothing in it for them. 

I realize that it is extremely expensive to offer metal work classes, or automotive programs, cosmotology, etc, but what is the cost to our students if we don't? 

Pushing students to go to college is wrong.  I agree that all students should have the opportunity to pursue a higher education, but I do not believe that is the right path for everyone.  Colleges are being asked to offer more remediation classes.  Has anyone considered that these students shouldn't be there in the first place?  How many students who start with the remediation classes actually go on to earn a four year degree?

Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The nature and the extent of the damage from NCLB have yet to be realized, and they are ongoing. We all have or have heard NCLB horror stories. One particular elementary school I know of no longer teaches social studies because it isn't tested. I have heard recently of two school districts that have asked for waivers to be exempt from state testing, arguing that their own district assessments, given several times throughout the year, are more comprehensive and identify weaknesses in time to address them during the year. Finally, from my own experience teaching freshman college comp classes, I know that "preparing" students for the writing component of testing pretty much guarantees that they don't learn to think or write.

So, how long will it take before those who are currently micromanaging public education realize they don't have a clue? How bad will it have to get?

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

So often the story "Harrison Bergeron" comes to mind with its satiric statement that in 2081 everybody is finally equal.  Of course, Vonnegut satirizes liberalism taken to extremes where people must wear handicaps to make them as mediocre as all the others.  Public education is going the way Nietzsche suggests with his "der letzle mensch"--the last man.  One of Nietzsche's greatest fears was mediocrity. Tired of life, weakwilled, taking no risks, der letzle mensch seeks only comfort and security.

More damaging than anything to education is the "No Child Left Behind" that has stymied the bright and deluded the weak and made der letzle mensch of many of American youth.

alexb2 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the future of education involves a lot of change. We need to take the best from the trends that are emerging and figure out a way to synthesize them in order to create a fair, equitable public education system. One example would be allowing more online instruction for certain classes or certain learners.

I share the fear that the poor and disadvantaged may be frozen out of some of these advancements. However I've also seen how some (not all!) of the new wave of Charter Schools have been able to turn around students in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods. It may be that the lessons learned from some alternative/charter/magnet schools can be applied system-wide.

trophyhunter1 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that in education, we need to realize that all of our pupils have different skill sets and that not everyone fits into the mold that public education is pushing, that everyone follows an academic track leading to college. Some kids are disinterested by a traditional route and I think in public education, their talents are being ignored. Bring back vocational education in full force for the students who are disruptive due to boredom, or because they would rather learn a skill or a vocation. Why does public education frown on alternative programs? Every kid is not the same, let's not hinder those who want an academic track, or those who want to pursue a vocation.

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It sounds quite plausible that there will be a wider chasm between the school systems in the future. I have taught in both public and private schools, and the biggest difference is the lack of disciplinary problems to be found in private schools. For the most part, a student who constantly disrupts a private school classroom will not remain a student there much longer. The rampant discipline problems that affect many (most?) public schools today are driving many parents to seek alternatives for their children. I see this as the biggest problem with the ever-changing schools of today.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I recognise a lot of truth in the scenario of #7, particularly with the way that we do not teach how to think or write but just prepare them for specific test components. I don't think there is much hope for a state sponsored approach to education that is more "liberated" and not so bound to results and tests. Our insatiable need for figures, tables and results is effectively "dumbing down" education and resulting in a system where the critical thinking skills that are so important are not actually taught. I don't hold out much hope for educational reform at a state level.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Don't we already have something of a dual system, at least in the urbanized areas of the country?  It seems to me that residential segregation (based on economics and race) have already made it so that there are schools full of haves and schools full of have nots.

Because of that, I don't really think there is going to be much of a change.  We already have (I know this is a generalization, but I think it's relatively accurate) a system in which poor schools and rich schools have very little in common.


Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Reading these posts convinces me that there is more insight going on right here than I've read anywhere in the very loud political debate and posturing on the subject of educational reform. How refreshing and productive it would be if national and state leaders would consult classroom teachers across the country and listen to what they have to say. I sometimes wonder if appearing to address the problems in public education in a way that wins political points is really the only concern. Cynical, I know.

lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The current rhetoric surrounding failing schools and bad teachers is going to potentially drive away some of the best and brightest people from the teaching profession.  Who will want to join the ranks of teachers if the perception is that teachers are not only unappreciated and underpaid, but now vilified?  I don't know what is going to happen to public education, but I do worry about its future and what that might mean for all children.

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bullgator makes a good point, but once again it comes down to SES. The parents looking for and choosing alternatives to public education (other than homeschooling) are generally going to be parents in a higher SES. They can afford to move their child away from the problem, assuming of course that their child is not part of the problem.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If the Tea Party had its way, we would not have public schools at all.  Since No Child Left Behind was passed, the movement has been to make public schools less effective, take away their autonomy, and then privitize them.  Eventually, there will be no public schools.

krcavnar | Student

Ask most teachers and they can tell you how to improve the system.  We know how to teach and how to reach our students.  We don't do it for money, prestige or recognition -- we do it because we love our jobs.  Public schools will always have a place in our society.  Many rural areas don't have private school or charter school options.  We need to demand changes to the system - not charter schools or vouchers.  Parents who could send their children to private schools need to think about the changes they could make at the public school levels.   

We can make changes that I believe will help our children.  First, everyone is not going to college.  It doesn't make sense to send our kids that message.  We know they all can't go.  We know they all shouldn't go.  We need to get back to the vocational technology programs that did interest a certain amount of our student populations from the 70's and 80's.  We need auto shop, woodworking, nursing programs, etc.  We need to divide our kids into the appropriate track to ensure their success.  We need to have a college track and a non-college track available to our students.  Many kids can't wait to finish high school and don't have the desire to go any further. We must give these students options by allowing them some training programs within the schools.  Our manufacturing jobs have gone away and I doubt they will ever return.  These jobs were the ones held by high school graduates and they were good jobs.  Since we no longer have these jobs we must prepare our students differently.  Unfortunately, these programs seem to be on the "chopping block" with education cuts.  This is a true No Student Left Behind program -- not some watered down test.  


jamcclelland | Student

I do agree that we are witnessing the beginning of radical change in education in our country.  mshurn posed the scenario that in the future, public education will be for the underprivileged, while those than can afford it will find alternative means for learning such as private school or distance education.  The state of California just recently passed down a ruling that students in public schools cannot be charged fees of any type for courses such as art, wood and metal shop, or physical education.  This means that students can no longer be required to wear a uniform for PE.  The attorneys are still arguing about the application to extracurricular activities such as athletics.

I truly believe that schools will begin phasing out these types of classes and activities because they just cannot afford to fund them without student contribution.  Then those parents who can afford such fees will enroll their students in private schools which still offer the "extras".

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