Are American Students Being Let Down by Their Education System?

Paulina Vazquez, Opinion Writer

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High school students in America often find themselves  stressed due to school. This isn’t anything new, it’s not uncommon for schools put tension and high expectations on their students. However, even with the induced American schools often end up with frankly disappointing results when it comes to international assessments such as the PISA.


PISA is the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment. Every three years, they test 15 year olds from all over the world on reading, mathematics and science. The most recent results, from 2015, put America at a ranking of 31 out of the 71 countries that were assessed. The top ten countries, in order, were Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Estonia, Canada, Taiwan, Finland, South Korea and China. Many of these countries also put a high amount of stress onto their students; however, Finland is known for having a different approach to how it, as a country, educates its people. They have more of a casual and composed approach when it comes to teaching. All while  still maintaining their reputation as one of the best countries to seek out for education. Not to mention, Finland is ranked as the happiest country in the world by the World Happiness Report, while the United States ranked in nine-teenth place this year, 2019, on the same report, which makes you think maybe they are doing something right.


In Finland, teachers claim that their priority is their student’s happiness. In the documentary  Where to Invade Next a math teacher states that “We try to teach them to be happy people, to be respectful to others and themselves.” The documentary takes place in a Finnish High School, and they discuss about how Finnish students are given homework, but receive reasonable amounts.  The principal of the Finnish High School shown in the documentary, Pasi Majasaari, is seen saying, “the whole term ’homework’ is kind of obsolete, these kids, they have a lot of other things to do after school like being together, being with family, doing sports, playing music, reading.” These students also receive little to no standardized tests, the only mandated standardized test for Finnish students being at the end of their senior year. The benefits that students receive from the approaches taken towards education by Finland are clearly visible.  The results that come from their tactics also help visualize how applying some of these tactics to our school system here in America would help improve or facilitate not only each student’s experience, but also the quality of their education.


Homework has proven to be helpful to students, but like all things, it should be done in moderation. The truth is, students have more to do at home other than work on schoolwork.. Often students find It’s hard to try to fit everything into one day. Everyone has to spend at least some time with family at home, eat, shower, and just over all take some time to themselves after they come home after a long day. Students are loaded with hours of homework every day. On average, a high school teacher gives out 3.5 hours of homework a week. If we consider the number of teachers that students have that give homework, this builds up to a staggering amount which is hard to fit in with everything else that needs to be done in a day.  According to Sir Ken Robinson, a speaker that has done multiple TED talks and is very outspoken about an ‘education revolution’ and Lou Aronica, who has written many books himself,High school students who work with five teachers in different curriculum areas may find themselves with 17.5 hours or more of homework a week, which is the equivalent of a part-time job,” which is a lot of extra work; This work is done by students who already are  stressed out by the responsibilities they have to deal with outside of school.


Standardized testing is something many parents let their students opt out of, and while the reasoning for this is understandable, the reasoning as to why standardized testing is mandated in the first place is understandable as well. The Washington Post’s reporter, Valerie Strauss, wrote that “[There are] three very different approaches to teaching—telling, showing, and involving. The first two lend themselves to standardized testing. The third one—the only one that really works—doesn’t.” The approach taken to teach students, with the objective being students being able to pass these tests, is stopping teachers from truly emerging themselves into what they are trying to teach. However, some may argue that these tests provide teachers and schools with feedback on where their students excel in and where they might need help. . However, Finland provides an example of schools being able to be successful with little to no standardized testing. In fact, many Finnish teachers say the U.S. should get rid of standardized tests. Another teacher seen on the documentary Where to Invade Next stated “What you’re teaching your students is to do well on those tests and you’re not teaching them anything.” Perhaps this teacher does have a point.


In America education is something of high value and every child in the US has the right to receive education, which is amazing! However, according to the ASCDNearly half of the funding for public schools in the United States […] is provided through local taxes, generating large differences in funding between wealthy and impoverished communities.” and “In 1998, for example, the state with the highest average level of public school funding (adjusted for differences in cost of living) was New Jersey, with an annual funding rate of $8,801 per student, whereas the state with the lowest average level was Utah, with a yearly rate of $3,804 per student. This means that the typical student attending a public school in New Jersey was provided more than twice the fiscal resources allocated to his or her counterpart in Utah.” Students are not receiving the same resources because of where they live and are expected to have the same output. How is it the student’s fault that they are not fortunate enough to live in a nicer area? How is this fair at all, and why is funding divided like this? Most importantly, why is it not being changed?


Schools in America also disregard teenager’s need for a good amount of sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics, also known as the APP recommended that “middle and high schools should aim for a starting time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m.” However, according to the NCES, the average start time for American high schools is 7:59 a.m. A more personal example, especially to students that attending East High School, where class starts at 7:45 a.m. Many students get to East High at around 7:20 due to having to take school buses. The secretion of melatonin, a chemical that helps us sleep, does not start until around 10:45 p.m. for teenagers. With the amount of sleep a teenager needs being 8-9.5 hours, this would mean that the earliest a teenager should be waking up would be at 7 a.m., which is when many of East High’s students are already on their way to school. Sleep deprivation causes teenagers difficulties with concentrating and affects how they perform academically, not to mention the many health concerns, such as more of a likeliness of suffering from depression.


Children and teenagers will get in trouble at least once in their lives. At home, parents get the choice of how to address these problems with their children. However, at school when a student doesn’t oblige with the rules the school decides a valid punishment and it is not uncommon for students to be suspended. Turns out, this is probably doing more harm than good, as it keeps students from learning and puts them behind, only leading to more problems. According to a study published in 2012 by the U.S. Department of Education, the majority of students who are suspended are minorities, people who already seemingly struggle more than their caucasian peers. This is not only harming the suspended; According to EdSource, “After tracking nearly 17,000 students over three years, two Midwestern researchers found that high rates of school suspensions harmed math and reading scores for non-suspended students.” It would be a lot more helpful if schools were to find alternative ways to apprehend students and cut the suspensions back unless absolutely necessary. 


 As Sir Ken Robinson said in his TED talk, “I knew that Americans get irony when I came across that legislation: ‘no child left behind’[…] because it’s leaving millions of children behind.” The ‘leaving behind’ of these children is not caused by the laziness of students and not because they do not want to learn. Indeed, humans like and want to learn, but our system sometimes withers away at that natural want with countless hours upon hours of busywork and countless hours of lost sleep, when school should be fueling and encouraging their student’s curiosity and creative instincts instead. Nothing can be expected to be perfect, the American school being one of many imperfect things. However, there are many ways that it could be improved. Yes, a lot would need to be implemented; however, America would benefit from this in the long-run. These children are America’s future, their school system is failing them, and little action is being taken.