Public Education in America

Published 15 Feb 2017

Education is one of the most important institutions in every society which determines personal development and knowledge level of citizens. Public education is not merely an instrument for meeting the economic and administrative needs of the state; it also promotes personal development and helps to overcome social and economic class restrictions, allowing individuals to escape from their immaturity. Thesis In spite of great social changes and democratization processes, public education is America is still under scrutiny caused by lack of financial support and ineffective educational programs which prevent many low class children to receive good education and enter high educational establishments.

Local school districts are responsible for managing public schools, but few can pursue consistent improvement strategies. School board members continually find themselves in awkward and conflicted positions. Their powers are both legislative and executive: they make policy and then often take responsibility for administering it (Kendall, 2007). Board members are elected to represent the interests of a public that is paying the bills for and expects to obtain the highest-quality education at an affordable price. This means that school boards must spend their time seeking a balance between the quality and quantity of education, and the tax price of those services. On the other hand, school board members are also employers of school administrators, teachers, and many other staff. As employers, they are expected to protect the interests of their workers, which usually means increasing budgets to provide higher salaries, more benefits, and better working conditions, regardless of the preferences of the public, the quality of instruction provided, or the community’s ability to pay.

As both policy makers and public employers, school board members face conflicts about whom they should serve. The lower-grade curriculum was covered in a slightly different way in each group but still followed the state-prescribed frameworks. Bracey (2006) found that “Most programs couldn’t meet our scientific standards, so we lowered our standards and accepted programs that told us they were good programs” (151). A second indicator of governance problems is that school systems seldom have any free resources to invest in major improvements or to intervene in desperately failing schools. “The biggest problem that we have is that we have a tremendous number of inexperienced teachers that just need the basics before they can do what we’re doing” (Wilms 2003, 606).

The quality of the schools in urban ghettos must also be considered in any study of the failure of education with poverty children. Such schools usually have less experienced teachers and a greater proportion of substitutes who are assigned on such a short-term basis that lesson planning is difficult or impossible. In some of the schools, the teachers may tend to label poverty children as unteachable, although this effect is often offset by the assignment of new teachers who are young, idealistic, and unencumbered with stereotypes. That the educational process should be carried out under conditions which will maximize the child’s learning. The content of learning should presumably include the language and conceptual competencies necessary to enable the learner to become a self-sufficient, fully responsible member of society (Heckman, Krueger, 2004).

While much has been written about the failure of the schools in poverty areas, little has been written about the role of the home and neighborhood in providing the necessary support without which school learning cannot be effective. Whereas the middle-class home prepares the child, serves as his trainer and cheering section in the competition for success in school, and ensures his continued focus on school rather than on other child-like or adult pursuits, the poverty home and community provide little or no school supportive services. In calling attention to the parent’s critical role in socializing the child for education and in sustaining the child’s interest in and motivation for educational and later occupational success, educators do not intend to lay all the blame on the parent when a child drops out or does not learn (Kendall, 2007).

A successful educational experience requires both parent preparation of the child and competent teaching at the school. A paradoxical discussion can be entered into if educators seek to apportion blame for the failure of the poverty child in school. Heckman and Krueger (2004) hold the schools fully accountable for their successes and failures, and completely disregards the differential degree of history of America. What is provocative to researchers is how they as educators really can achieve these goals within an understanding of contemporary cultural change. If researchers view generational differences as cultural differences, then any teacher-student interaction becomes intercultural. In the case of the ghetto schools, there are problems of inadequate budgets, less competent teachers as a result of low budgets, or school location in high crime and violence neighborhoods, teachers with prejudicial attitudes toward ghetto children, and general administrative inadequacies deriving from the school’s marginality.

Today’s public schools are not required to do whatever is necessary to make students succeed. The school’s responsibility for student success ends, for all intents and purposes, with the obligation of delivering instruction and seeing to it that students are not impeded from access to it. Like defensive medicine, i.e., the practice of selecting tests and procedures to avoid charges of medical malpractice rather than to meet individual patients’ needs, public schools are often driven by the need to avoid blame, not to do the best possible for students. In many urban school districts, African-American students are as likely to drop out of high school as to finish, and those who do finish school and take the Scholastic Assessment Test (formerly Scholastic Aptitude Test) are likely to average below the 25th percentile for white students.

Much the same is true for the U.S.-born children of Hispanic immigrants. As the plaintiffs in lawsuits such as Rodriguez v. Anton have demonstrated, the public school system delivers less to them, less money, more dilapidated school buildings, fewer and more poorly prepared teachers, and fewer books, than to other students (Purpel, Shapiro, 2004). No one with any firsthand knowledge of how schools serving these youngsters operate, or with direct responsibility for their quality, has ever argued that these schools are adequate. When challenged about the adequacy of the services provided in such schools, administrators invariably fall back on the defense of process, procedures, and compliance with applicable rules and regulations. They make no claim that the system is structured to ensure that these students succeed in school. Under the current system, schools have few incentives to make pledges about what students will experience or attain, or to critique their own performance. When schools succeed they are seldom reproduced, and Modern standards for education broaden and increase as educators include immigrant and previously marginalized groups (such as women) and move into a more technological and future-oriented society.

“To achieve that degree of public engagement, we must motivate and mobilize the American people and, to do that, we need a compelling narrative on the critical importance of getting all Americans involved in public education.” (Puriefoy, 2004).

Discontent continues to be laid at diversity’s doorstep. Socialization provides the widest constellation of language and communication skills including nonverbal skills, and concepts of time and space. Formal learning may involve some of this, but the emphasis is on formal language and discourse, not on the broader aspects of communication, attitudes, and behaviors. The problems facing African-Americans in the United States are not unlike those being experienced by other minorities: living in a population where the majority is of another race; equality in job opportunities and the handling of applications for jobs and limited opportunities in education (Promoting America’s Public Schools 2005). Such a working alliance of political elements, local, state, and federal entities, and others can be achieved only if these elements and the society in general desire more effective ghetto schools. Without such support, education remains a concern primarily of professional educators and middle-class parents whose children have something to gain from education.

“We have had 25 years of reform with little to show for it. Yet improving public education continues to be at the top of Americans’ list of priorities” (Wimps 2003, 606).

It is the moral duty of a democratic society to give its best education to all its youth, and that the best education is one that promotes the ideal of disciplined intelligence. Today, the deep contradictions in American life and education includes the contradictions between liberal education and vocational training; between the ideal of critical intelligence and the need for immediate and unquestioning obedience in the body politic.

There is every reason to think that the problems of public education are rooted in the basic arrangements by which we as a society provide public education. In their efforts to help public schools respond to the needs of an increasingly diverse population, educators have made public education more rule-bound, rights-driven, and divided into specialties; they have removed decision-making from the school level and centralized it in district offices, courts, and state departments of education.

Hence, politicians and educators have weakened schools as organizations and blurred their focus on the core mission of teaching. The unwillingness of the public to support educational budgets and construction has left public education with less money to deal with children who, with each generation, are even less prepared for schooling, regardless of their socioeconomic stratum. The result has been an increasingly less effective educational process for all.

Works Cited

  • Bracey, G.W. (2006). The 16th Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. Phi Delta Kappan, 88 (2), 151-160.
  • Heckman, James J., Krueger, A.B. (2004). Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policies? Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Kendall, D. (2007). Sociology in Our Times. Essentials. Thomson Nelson.
  • Promoting America’s Public Schools (2005). Retrieved 03 April 2007, form
  • Puriefoy, W.D. (2004). Telling the Story of Public Education in America. Retrieved 03 April 2007, form
  • Purpel, D.E., Shapiro, S.V. (2004). Critical Social Issues in American Education: Democracy and Meaning in a Globalizing World. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Wilms, W.W. (2003). Altering the Structure and Culture of American Public Schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 84 (8), 606.
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