November 1st, 2010
Like everything created and operated by fallible humans, the American education system boasts some impressive strengths but lags behind with some rather egregious offenses. Studies persistently become available that shed light on the positives and the negatives, allowing teachers, administrators and parents a look at what factors need some serious tweaking. Ignoring the issues means compromising students’ abilities to succeed in college (should they elect to attend) and careers alike. By no means comprehensive, this list points out some of the more surprising statistics available – so be sure to explore other research for a much broader glimpse at what goes down in the nation’s schools; not to mention the impact on society on the whole.
- Twenty-two percent of American adults are considered illiterate: Intensive testing by the National Center for Education Statistics in 2003 revealed that 22% of American adults displayed "below basic" literacy. The study did not include those with Alzheimer’s or other cognitive or learning disorders, and they noted discrepancies based on sex, race and education level. Adults with a high school education or higher understandably scored higher than those who ended in elementary or middle school. Theories abound over why this is allowed to happen, and many attribute it to apathetic teachers passing kids with inadequate reading comprehension skills just to get them out of their classrooms. Many believe that parents form the first line of defense against illiteracy and shoulder the responsibility of teaching their children to read. Others blame internet and text message-speak for the degradation of the English language. Whatever the source, which likely varies from case to case, the citizens of the United States must work harder to ensure that every child leaves the education system capable of basic reading and comprehension skills.
- Forty-three percent and 53% of eighth graders receive inadequate music and visual arts educations, respectively: For most Americans, knowing that on an NAEP from 0 to 300, students scored between 105 and 194 on music assessments and between 104 and 193 on the visual art equivalent seems like a trifle. After all, schools tend to emphasize math, science and athletics at the expense of most other subjects. When institutions need to scale back their budgets, the visual and performing arts usually take the heaviest hits. In reality, a well-rounded education means balancing logical, analytic and objective disciplines with the creative, abstract and subjective. Music and its mathematical constructs make for an especially viable bridge between the two. Ignoring the importance of all arts means students graduate with incomplete skill sets — certainly a handicap when searching for colleges and employers who value creativity and improvisation. So yes, these statistics should be extremely disconcerting to parents and educators alike. Much more horrifying than knowing that the football team won’t be getting shiny new jerseys this year.
- Around 57% of preschool-aged children are enrolled in center-based daycare programs: Daycare centers and preschools offer harried parents a convenient way to keep their kids safe while they tend to work, but the advantages extend beyond that. Those genuinely concerned with the well-being of their clients provide appropriate educational toys, games and activities as a means of granting them a head start in their academic careers — especially when it comes to reading and math. Considering around 90% of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of 5, this definitely puts this 57% at an advantage once they enroll in kindergarten. In addition to nurturing their educations, daycare providers also facilitate socializing at an early age, teaching children an awareness of and ability to relate with their peers. Certainly skills they need to succeed in school and business!
- Only 73.2% of students graduate from high school on time: As of the last data aggregation from the class of 2005-06, anyways — though the number has likely fluctuated little in 2010. Every dropout or student who repeats a grade has their own personal reason for their status, and almost all of thempossess enough self-awareness to know how their decisions may negatively impact the future. At least half of those who never complete high school made the decision because they felt disengaged and bored with classes, though serious illness, unexpected parenthood, caretaking and failing grades also contribute heavily to the dropout rate as well. There will always be students who either never graduate or take longer than four years, of course, but knowing that so many quit on account of apathy offers up a massive challenge to educators. Finding creative ways to capture student attention without compromising the ultimate lesson can certainly solve a major component of the issue at hand.
- Forty-seven percent of female and 38% of male teenagers understand proper birth control methods: Said comprehension of practicing safe sex comes either courtesy of parents, school or both. Both sexes seem to equally understand the dangers of contracting an STD or STI, yet young women typically know much more about the proper methods of preventing them — and unwanted pregnancies. Considering worldwide efforts to stop the spread of AIDS and HIV, the fact that only two-thirds of American teenagers know anything about prophylactics whatsoever is beyond jarring. It seems as if abstinence-only approaches and their "Just Say No!" tactics give curious kids an incomplete picture of sex that could lead to irreversible consequences. Yes, abstinence is the only strategy for a 100% avoidance of diseases and babies. But that information won’t help the 38.9% of students who already do not use condoms during intercourse — probably because nobody ever taught them how. Only well-rounded, objective discussions that never purposely circumnavigate certain corners can help prevent such risky behaviors.
- Nineteen-point-nine percent of students are bullied on campus: The CDC’s survey on risky youth behavior reveals that 19.9% of American high school students have been forced to deal with bullying at school. While educational institutions may not always have the resources for addressing cyberbullying, they can make a better effort to prevent and stop it on campus. This does place many schools at an impasse, though, especially considering the spate of GLBTQIA teens unfairly mocked for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, local parents who distort religion in order to promote hate make it difficult for administrators to promote the tolerance and harmony needed to seriously cut back on verbal, physical, emotional and mental abuse. Stricter policies for dealing with perpetrators and the avoidance of victim-blaming need implementing, but this does put the poor kid on the receiving end at the risk of escalated torture. Faculty and staff members must also keep a sharper eye out for suspicious behavior and direct both the bullies and the bullied towards the proper mental health channels.
- Thirteen-point-eight percent of students have seriously considered suicide: Ten-point-nine percent of them went through with making the preparations, 6.3% actually attempted and 1.9% needed medical treatment as a result. Not all of these instances necessarily stemmed from bullying, either. An estimated 20% of teenagers suffer from depression before entering adulthood. Most schools do offer counseling services for students, but prevailing social stigmas against pursuing psychological help prevent them from receiving the intervention they desperately need. Some states provide outreach to educational institutions with free materials on caring for mentally ill teenagers — regardless of whether or not they experience suicidal thoughts. Concerned parents, faculty, staff and students should work towards encouraging teenagers who need help to schedule a meeting with their school counselor or psychologist. Despite what the vocal ignorant dictate, strength lay in admitting weakness and actively pursuing treatment; not in denying its existence and allowing issues to fester forever until they boil over.
- An average of 5% of students want to avoid school for fear of violence:Race, socioeconomic bracket, gender, sexual identity and placement in a public or private school all factor into a students’ reticence to show up for class, though the total 2007 average sat at 5%. This is an improvement over the 12% surveyed between 1995 and 2007, but no percentage of children should consider a house of education a frightful place. An average of 7% of students did not hope to avoid school altogether, but they made it a point to stay away from specific classes or areas where they felt unsafe. Many of them suffer from the persistent threat of general violence, whether from gang activity, ignorant bullies, shootings or some other source — though females especially have to guard themselves against the threat of sexual assault and rape.
- Six percent of high school students have possessed weapons on campus: Unfortunately, the National Center for Education Statistics did not include survey questions on motivation for carrying weaponry to school. Eighteen percent of high school students, however, confessed to the habit of always keeping something on their person at all times. Regardless of whether or not they lug around a gun or a knife for self-defense or far more sinister purposes, there’s really no place for them on school grounds. If most bring them on campus in order to protect themselves from harm, then faculty and staff members have to seriously contemplate solutions to quell the violent, aggressive behavior. Some of the more dangerous ones out there have taken to installing metal detectors and security cameras, but not all of them can afford such measures. Others perform random or routine bag searches in order to catch any contraband. Unfortunately, such things do not entirely deter violence — the only way to really end such things is to chip away at the broader systemic functions that allow it to occur. Not exactly a realistic undertaking.
- Thirty-five percent of students have seen hate-related graffiti at school:And 10% have reported hearing some sort of hateful slur hurled in their direction. Such actions certainly fall under the heading of bullying, and the same solutions apply — though eradicating hate and ignorance is about as easy as curing AIDS and widespread hunger. In 2007, 5% of students answered that the harmful words spewed on them specifically targeted their race, 3% their ethnicity, 2% their religion or gender and 1% their sexual orientation or disability. Females were more likely to receive gender-based insults, whereas males were slapped with more racial and ethnic slurs.