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Public education



I read so much in the media about how public education has failed. I read about inexperienced teachers staffing the schools that struggle the most. I read about poverty. I read about a dearth of parenting skills. I read that the teacher's union encourages mediocrity. I read that the schools have no money, and on and on. I have three questions that I would sincerely love to hear people's views on:

1. Is public education indeed failing? Why or why not?
2. If it is failing, can we assign blame? Is it someone's "fault?"
3. If it is failing, can it be fixed? How?

I am looking forward to an intelligent discussion and lots of well thought-out opinions. As teachers, I think this is an important topic for us to explore. So what do you think?


Senior Member

An interesting question that will surely bring out many points for us to ponder! I am probably going to seem really pessimistic, but here are what I think are the answers to your questions:

1. Is public education indeed failing? Why or why not?
Yes, for many reasons. Parents are uninvolved, we have reduced our standards (moral and academic), we focus more on testing than teaching, there is a lack of support from administration (in general). I'm sure there are more reasons, but those are the ones that come to my mind first. Also, our government forces things on us that we cannot help, and they do not provide the funds for us to fulfill their requirements.

2. If it is failing, can we assign blame? Is it someone's "fault?"
I don't think it's any one person or group's fault. As a society we are failing. The blame can fall on parents, teachers, administrators, children, politicians, etc.

3. If it is failing, can it be fixed? How?
I'm not sure if I have a solution, other than to just start over from the beginning. I think we have lost sight of what education is about. By "we," I mean our society.


Senior Member
Saving Public Education

Yes public schools are failing...they are failing because in our city only the impoverished, and minorities overflow our district. Our society would rather see these children disposed of than educated. If our society as a whole cared about public schools and education.. teachers would be paid what they are worth. In my city, the garbage man makes more than I do and I have a Masters degree! Our state is considering lifting the cap on Vouchers which will totally bankrupt our public schools this is funded entirely by the conservatives a.k.a. Republicans yuck! It is a scheme to keep our society marginalized! It is the same reason why Scripted Progams are allowed to infect our schools. Social stratification and class systems must be in place in America! Makes you wonder....seriously read Shame on the Nation:Apartheid in America BY: Jonathan Kozol it will clearly explain these philosophies...let me know if you agree...desperately trying to inspire and teach against the grain.



1. The United States is failing if you compare world-wide. Iceland, Sweden, and Finland rank at the top of the world in language arts and mathematics. Germany is in the middle, and the United States is in the bottom 25%. That's very bad.

2. Is it someone's fault?
Well, we have a non-conservative society that is shifting in standards and tolerance. The family unit of the real mom and dad in the household is breaking down, and kids are getting the brunt of it. Violence, aggression, and a myriad of discipline issues are on a significant rise at a younger age as a direct result of the declining family unit. It's our new standard.

We have a liberal society that is so busy with tolerance and self-esteem issues, that we make teachers teach crummy programs that take away challenges and true teacher-guided learning. For example, curriculum companies have now taken more challenging texts from their language arts books, quoting that children are not able to "feel successful" by reading material that's too hard. "Ira Sleeps Over" was removed from first grade text to THIRD grade text by some companies after 20 years of being part of the first grade curriculum. So we want to dumb down the system even more, and turn our students into a lot of even-keeled, on the same playing field graduates who can just barely get themselves a job. This is heading straight for a socialist/communist path of thinking. It's a scheme to keep our kids dumbed down. (Yuck!) It obviously was corrupt and didn't work behind the iron curtain, why are we wanting this for America???? Watered down curriculums may feel better for a handful of students, but is hurting a lot more students that could handle more challenges. LET THE TEACHERS TEACH!!

We have taken the textbook reading away again because it's "too difficult" (don't get me wrong about balance, of course) BUT seems to me students in high school and college and Master's level all use textbooks. I did. I wonder if the recent lack of exposure to textbook reading is creating more struggling students later in life--there are lots of college dropouts.

3. We need to look at the facts. Teachers are not revered in America's school systems. In other countries where it is an honor to attend, grades/scores are higher. Teachers pay is higher overseas. Students have intrinsic motivations. The standard set in the U.S. is not as such, and I'm worried that it is just disintegrating even more. The liberal media needs to quit leading our people into further dismay about the education system with their bad teaching examples and biased, untrue information, i.e. the recent 20/20 episode (take the double meaning there) classrooms out-of-control. We look like dunces trying to contain children through their perspective. We are glorified babysitters in the eyes of the public, no more. There kids have to go, so why worry about discipline, teacher salaries, and better curriculum?? True revelations about students learning and teacher involvement would only be the tip of the iceburg in shifting the current standard.


Full Member

I teach in Australia, in the state of New South Wales. Our literacy and numeracy standards are only fractionally behind the world leaders mentioned above. The more I read discussions on Proteacher about the systems in place in the USA, the more I worry that we in this country are preparing to go down a similar path. I am referring to the increased use of standardised testing, and data driven teaching programs, nation-wide curriculum documents and various other new policies which have alarm bells ringing for MANY teachers in Australia.
I get the impression that Australian teachers are paid relatively more than our US colleagues, but we still have a major problem in this country in attracting and retaining good quality teachers. Many are disillusioned with the way education is heading. As I said before, up until now, we have achieved excellent results. Why are we proposing to emulate a country whose standards are apparently declining? Our administrators are failing us, too.
I have a funny story about a state-wide comprehension test which has been quoted in our media as proof that literacy standards are falling. A series of questions was devised about a poem, and children gave written responses. The poor quality of the responses was publicised as proof of the drop in literacy standards. Trouble with the test was that when the actual poet who wrote the poem was given the same test, he actually failed, according to the criteria set by the examiners! Didn't know the meaning of his own poem? Or, just maybe, something wrong with the test.....
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Senior Member

I believe you shouldn't believe everything you read. A lot of the media is one-sided and out to make teachers look bad.

I agree with you, GB, the liberal society is making a huge mess.

Let the teachers teach says a lot. Who knows when it will ever happen. They just think we're not smart enough to know what we're talking about. So they increase standards for teaching training and water down the curriculum for our students. Who are the real dumb ones?


Senior Member
Public Schools

So many are a mess but there are many great ones out there too. I teach in a Catholic School but did all of my student teaching and subbing for 2 years in public schools. Many of my friends teach in public schools and I know a lot of parents who send their kids to the public schools.

My observations as an outsider.

There is a lack of respect for teachers and education in general. I do believe it has a lot to do with socioeconomics, past failure of parents in the school system and society in general.

For so many years, people black, white, rich, poor were segregated. For many years desegregation was a big topic. For so many years our society has changed and not for the better.

First, I find it remarkable that every child in this country does not have the same amout of $$ spent on them by the government. Some districts spend $3000.00 and $12,000.00 per student. How can education be fair and equal?

Some children have 2 parents, married, a nice house, a warm bed and breakfast. Some children have one parent, don't know their father, live in shelters or housing projects, no heat or electricity and nothing in the fridge to eat. Some have an Aunt or Grandmother trying to do their best rasing a child/children from a loser daughter or sister.

Some children have schools that are well kept with books and supplies and some have peeling lead paint, asbestos, few books, no work books and little supplies.

Some districts have certified full time teachers and some have substitute teachers all year because they cannot find or keep good teachers.

Some children have seen more drugs, death, poverty, murders than any human should ever have to endure.

A President who has the NO Child Left Behind Act and then cuts funding and expects miracles, yet has no clue how most children live.

Some children were bless with prenatal care, proper nutrition, exercise and a birth at a hospital. Some children never were seen by a Dr. for prenatal care because their mother was in denial of being pregnant, on drugs or alcohol.

Some children were born healthy and were nurtured and loved. Some children were born with disabilities of no fault to their parents. Then there are those crack addicted and fetal alcohol syndrome children who suffer before birth and through their entire life.

Then there are those parents who want to be their child's friend and not their parent. They believe that Johnny and Susie should have everything and the word NO is not in their vocabulary. Then there are those parents who abuse their children and all those children hear is I hate you and wish you were never born.

So with these few examples a 5 year old comes to school without the opportunity for preschool and has no idea how to act socially. They are put in a classroom for 4 hours with 25 other kids and are expected to sit still, learn, and do what they are told without hesitation. They are expected to follow rules that they have no idea what rules are since no one ever took the time to teach them. They are expected to tie their shoes and sit quietly and buckle their belts and put their coats away and yet they never have learned how to do these things.

Then they are in 2nd or 3rd grade and behind because the teacher has only 6 hours a day to teach then, but remember behavior, disabilities and personal problems of each child is thrown in the mix. On a good day only a few kids are missing. But on Friday and Monday so many do not come in because they have parents who are lazy or drunk or just don't care.

So now that I passed on a few observations who is to blame. Burned out teachers and terrible teachers are, TV is, politicians are, parents are, a breakdown in morals and ethic are.........

Can it be fixed. YES! When you have a child. Bring them in to a loving marriage with two parents. Show your child respect, how to love, how to make choices, understand what consequences are. Expect your child to follow rules. Expect to take an hour a day to sit and read to and with your child. Turn off the TV. Turn off the Computer. Show your child how to cook. Show your child how to pick up their clothes. Show your child that they have a job just as you do. Their job is to be the best student that they can be. You go to school to learn. You have recess to socialize. Education is a gift that no one can take from you. You show them that talking back is not acceptable to you, the teacher or the janitor. You teach your child that anything worth having is worth working for. You teach your child to have a friend you must be a friend first.

If a child would enter the school with the respect that it deserves. The child would learn that it is theres. It must be taken care of daily. If you make a mistake you admit it, accept the consequence, learn form it and move on.

Teach your children that education is the most important thing. Sports and extra curriculars are just that extra. If we put education first and extras behind it many more children would do better in school.


Senior Member
I've only taught in this one district, so I don't know how it is in other places first-hand. I guess the schools are failing to some degree, but haven't they always? I think the major problems with education are in the domain of the family unit more than the in the institution of school. Parents don't insist on homework being completed. They don't read with kids or engage them in any mental activity. They don't value education so the kids don't either. C'est la vie.

That doesn't mean we should toss out public education. I think we need to keep fighting the good fight. We are affecting the future!!!



Fun_Friend: You've hit the nail on the head with "They don't read with kids or engage them in any mental activity."

This prompted me to write about my thoughts. The schools don't either. We've taken away using our mental processing units (the brain.) We supply calculators, have touchy-feely open-ended testing, and like GB said, we are watering down the curriculum.

Then with "aussiejane" saying that the poet couldn't pass the test on his own poem, I wonder about the world's assessments: there seems to be no validity or reliability. So how do we truly know where any nation stands?


Senior Member
Well, Gail, you may be right that schools aren't engaging the students to a high academic degree. I don't think it's wrong for kids to use a calculator if they truly know how to calculate without it first. It does save time if you are doing higher-level math.

We just had a lively debate at our school to convert zero grades to 60 when we calculate student averages. To me this is watering down grades, but truthfully, all teachers massage their numbers to some degree (all the teachers I know have their own methods). I feel like raising zeros to 60 is erosion of standards and a reaction to NCLB and all the rest that's wrong with education today.

Even with all the erosion, I think schools are necessary and provide an important function in society. Schools do provide education to people who wouldn't otherwise be educated, even if the education is imperfect or incomplete. Much of that burden to get the most out of public school and education opportunities must truly fall on the learner and his/her caregivers.