A Broken System

Colby Abuhoff, Content Editor

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Timmy comes home after being in school for eight hours. He immediately begins his math and history homework which takes him a load of hours. After this, he quickly eats his dinner in a matter of five minutes, then begins studying for his other classes. By the time he is finished, it is 1:00 AM and he begins to fall asleep. However, he needs to get up at 5:00 a.m and repeat this same process. 

This illustration represents some of the many faults within the American education system. On average in the past decade, America has been ranked 16-17 in comparison to other nations in the world for the best education systems, with Finland being at the top. Prior to their massive increase, Finland and the United States of America alternated ranks. During this period, Finland and America had similar education procedures. Krista Kiuru, the Minister of Education in Finland ,enforced the changes in the system that caused this rise. Finland began to realize the issues within their school system and found a way to correct it. When changing their procedures, their main goal was to run the system with the thought that children “ should have more time to be kids, to be youngsters, to enjoy the life.” 

Faults of the American Education System 

There are many faults in the American education system. One of these is that the system focuses too heavily on analytics. The higher scores students obtain, the more money the higher-ups of the schools get paid.  Schools are focusing too much on teaching their students how to pass a standardized test, rather than teaching them practical skills they need to know once they leave the classroom. In the U.S,. schools prioritize testing because they are more focused on competition with one another, rather than to benefit the educational experience of their students as a whole. Focusing on teaching students how to pass a test defeats the purpose of them learning the curriculum. In doing so, teachers may skip required parts of the syllabus either because they are in an internal conflict between teaching students what they need to know and spending more time on the parts they struggle with, rather than showing apathy towards their struggles. Furthermore, teachers may skip the required parts of the curriculum due to their desire to teach students how to pass their exams. Consequently, schools shift their goals to testing their students rather than teaching them the content. A myriad of students complain about the amount of stress they feel over exams and the amount of time wasted in the classroom on testing. Yet, it should be noted that the emphasis on in-class testing is not a teachers’ fault. Most teachers are required to give a certain amount of tests during each semester. 

Another set of major faults in the American education system is that the curriculum is based on complex subject topics rather than basic principles that are essential to real-life scenarios.  For instance, a decision was made in elementary schools to take out the Holocaust from the curriculum in exchange for the study of the colonial era. Many consider the Holocaust a significant event for students to learn about. However, it was deemed inappropriate for students to learn about this event at a young age. A similar scenario can be found when observing high school lesson plans.  The reason that students are taught the abstract parts of each subject is due to the low likelihood of students choosing subjects such as Algebra or World History if they were not required to do so. However, in contrast to what may be assumed, many students would enjoy these subjects if they were not mandatory.

In today’s society, services are a growing industry. Unfortunately,  many schools have failed to adapt to rapid changes in society. Many schools do not offer classes that may prove helpful in newly appearing jobs. A class about coding, for example, could be very useful for someone who would like to work with technology. Classes like these would teach students basic ways of how to work computers, which they can use later on to help them get a good-paying job. Other classes, while not required, are offered at schools as electives. Yet, many students may not be able to fit all these classes in their schedules. For example, classes on Finance or Driver’s Education both teach necessary skills for the real world.  The prevailing issue is that individuals are condemned for not having awareness of the same skills they were never taught.

 According to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, all people have the right to an education. This right entails that people should be taught all their rights as human beings. However, in schools in the U.S, the Declaration of Human Rights are never taught to their students. Therefore, unless students learn this information on their own time, they will never know their rights. Some argue that all parents should teach their children the things that they were not taught in school. The flaw in this is that not all children have guardians to teach them this information. In the U.S, there are about 400,000 children who either do not live with their parents or do not have parents. (https://showhope.org/2014/03/24/4-statistics/) What if the child’s parents are in prison or have died? 

In addition, the American education system focuses on giving students large sums of work rather than utilizing innovative methods of learning that correspond to individual learning styles. American schools primarily cater to auditory learners rather than any other type of learner. This catering to a smaller audience of students would provide a more efficient way of learning. The homework given to American students can occupy numerous hours of their day. As a result, many students lose many hours of sleep, causing many other side effects to their bodies. Only about 15% of high school students will get close to obtaining eight hours of sleep per night. Lecturing students does not allow them to experience things such as projects, getting outside in nature, or seeing things in person rather than through a screened image. 

A Finnish Comparison

 Finland currently has the best education system in the world, although they were on par with the United States of America only 50 years ago. Towards the 1990s, Finnish schools completely changed their educational process. In primary school, a student will be on campus for only two or three hours a day, including lunches and breaks in between learning. Throughout the school day, students do not take notes but rather do several different activities to help them understand the basics of what is being taught that day. “The Finnish education system consists of pre-primary and basic education, general and vocational education and higher education. The compulsory schooling consists of one-year pre-primary education for 6-year-olds and nine-year basic education for children aged 7-16.” (https://www.oph.fi/en/education-system).  Schools in Finland have year-round education with several breaks throughout the year. The primary goal of the Finnish education system is for students to be happy in school and for it to be a place they look forward to attending each day. In Finland,  low amounts of students are home-schooled. This is due to a trust in the school system and enjoyment felt by its students.

Finnish schools have several differences compared to America’s education system. One of the major differences between the two is that Finnish schools have no standardized testing. Many disagree with this aspect, saying that the absence of standardized testing leaves no form of comparative analysis between schools in a specified area.  Advocates of the Finnish method argue that all schools are equal and that schools should not be in competition with each other. Schools in the region say that standardized tests only add pressure and stress on students instead of teaching them about the topic at hand. Also, the lack of standardized testing allows schools to focus less on competition and more on building cooperation skills between students. 

Part of their system includes low amounts of homework . On average, high school students in Finland get about 20 minutes of homework a night. Instead, they encourage students to explore the outside world. This contributes to a relaxed environment that is encouraged by Finnish schools. 

On top of that, schools In Finland typically begin at a later time than schools in America. The average school day in Finnish high schools begins anywhere between  9:00 a.m to 9:45 a.m. This way, students gain more hours of sleep. In contrast, high school students in the United States begin their day anywhere between 7:30 a.m to 8:30 a.m.  Low hours of sleep impair a student’s attention span. During the next day, students will have trouble listening to the lesson and will not be able to perform at their full capacity. In Finland, students have several 15 to 20-minute breaks during the school day. These allow students to spend more time socializing with their friends or take a mental break so they can recollect their thoughts for the remainder of the learning period. 

A German Comparison

Another country with a proficient education system is Germany. For students first entering the school system, they begin in Kindergarten. Once past that, for grades one through four, they enter Grundschule. Following that, for grades five through six, they enter an orientation stage of education.  The next level of the German education system has three different levels: Gymnasium, Realschule, and Hauptschule. The highest level of schooling in Germany is the Gymnasium. The middle level of schooling is the Realschule. The lowest level of schooling is the Hauptschule. The differences between the levels are that Gymnasium is built towards students who want to go to college, the Realschule is made for students who will have white-collar careers, and the Hauptschule is for students who will end with trades and blue-collar jobs. Those who choose not to follow this class system of schooling can go to the Gesamtschule. Gesamtschule is a comprehensive school that was introduced in the late 1960s. Currently, only a few German states have Gesamtschule. This level of schooling is from grades seven through ten. The last level of the school system branches off into many other branches depending on what level the student previously came from. These levels are Berufsschule, Berufsfachschule, Fachoberschule, and University. In Germany, homeschooling was deemed illegal in 1919 by the European Court of Human Rights and is still illegal today.

German schools start their days at around 7:30 a.m to 8:15 a.m in the and end their school days around noon to 1:30 p.m.  School is year-round with longer breaks during Christmas and summer, and shorter breaks during other times of the year. 

In Germany, schools function oppositely in comparison to Finland in terms of their emphasis on homework. German schools provide large amounts of homework. 

Although the German and American education systems have similar aspects, they also have highly apparent differences.  One major difference between the two is that outdoor experiences are more extensive and frequent in Germany. German schools have field trips to other major cities where students live in hostels as they learn about the location they are staying at. Compared to American school field trips, which typically include a few hours at a location such as a museum, students who attend German field trips are more likely to enjoy their learning experience due to a unique method of teaching. Furthermore, there is a slight difference between the grading scales in the two countries. Rather than the standard A-F grading scale used in America, German schools use a 1-6 grading scale. Also, in Germany, students are given more responsibility within their classes. For example, when a teacher is absent from class, students do not attend said class and are expected to manage their time properly and be productive. 

 An Italian Comparison 

Italy has a very impressive education system. In this nation, there are three levels of compulsory schooling. Those levels are La Scuola Primaria (primary school), La Scuola Secondaria di Primo Grado (middle school), and La Scuola Secondaria di Secondo Grado (high school). High schools in Italy can range between three levels: Licei (regular high school), Instituti Tecnici (Technical institutions), and Instituti Professionali (Professional institutions).

One of the main differences between the Italian school system and the American school system is the cost of schooling . “Entities and private persons have the right to establish schools and institutions of education, at no cost to the State.” (Article 33 of the Constitution of the Italian Republic). In the United States, schooling can cost close to $20,000 a year without scholarships, placing a heavy limit on low-income families. 

In Italy, students attend high school six days a week. Students attend school Monday through Saturday and have a break on Sunday. High school in Italy is five years long compared to America’s four years of high school. Students end their high school years at the age of 19.

Colleges in Italy have more specialized education options than American universities for those who have their careers chosen at an earlier age. In Italy, there are fewer course requirements and more courses that relate to a student’s major. Also, admission to Italy is open. In the states,  college admission officers require students to meet certain criteria.  

Also, students in Italy are allotted more breaks compared to American schools. One example of this is lunchtime.  In Italy, those who can drive in high school can go home during their lunch break and eat with their families. During this time, they are allowed to spend an hour outside until they are needed back in the classroom. Also, students are given longer breaks between classes that can span up to ten minutes. In comparison, American students only get between 30 to 45 minutes for lunch and many high schools do not allow their students to leave campus. In addition, students in American high schools do not get as much transition time between courses, with many schools offering about five minutes between classes. School hours also vary between schools in Italy. Some schools begin around 8:00 a.m and end as early as 1:00 p.m.  

Solutions to the issue 

Although there are many problems within the American Education System,  there are many ways to correct these issues. One possible solution is to offer surveys at the beginning of the school year that provide information about how students want to learn. From there, the administration of each school can come to a reasonable conclusion and can change not only the curriculum but how teachers teach the information. 

Another solution to fix the system is to take out state testing from schools. The tradition of standardized testing and a set curriculum is all part of Common Core. While some places in the United States have repealed Common Core, others still follow its policies. Florida is currently in the process of repealing it, as Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order on January 31, 2019 that will not go into effect until the 2020 school year begins. Although repealing Common Core would be beneficial towards students, it could be harmful to the system because the country would not have a uniform set of standards. For example, a student from one state would have a completely different education than another in the same grade from another state. Many countries, such as Finland, have repealed their standards and have seen tremendous success in their schools. 

Furthermore, schools in the United States need to worry less about making money, and care more about being an organization that prioritizes the education of the next generation. Students in the United States are frequently put into higher-level classes they do not belong in because the school obtains a reward for each student who passes the test.  Subconsciously, the primary focus shifts from teaching the content to teaching the format of the exam. By remembering the values of education, schools will see an increase in student performance. 

Schools in America will benefit from the implementation of year-round schooling. Year-round schooling allows for students to not experience “Summer Slide”, which is very detrimental to both the students’ education and the curriculum teachers follow.  This is due to most students having no curricular activities to partake in over the long summer break. Therefore, when they return to school, they will not be as prepared to continue learning at the pace they were before. As a result, teachers often have to slow down their lessons or review past content that students should have already known going into the course. To help solve this issue, teachers may assign summer assignments such as reading a book or a math packet yet these are often either too short to be beneficial. Students will not care to do the assignment or may complete it at the beginning of the break and lose all the information as the months go on. 

Another way to improve the school system is for schools to be more lenient on technology use in the classroom. In a society where careers in technology are becoming more prevalent, middle and high school students are forced to obey very strict rules relating to when and if students can use technological devices.  Removal of these bans on technology in the classroom will allow students to potentially find their passions, create things not possible before, and gain a better understanding of the growing influence of technology in modern-day society. Although there may be drawbacks such as an increase in cheating, the benefits outweigh the cons due to the learning experience one can gain from the internet. 

In addition, talented students are offered little to no ways for them to express their creativity and excel in their environment. This is due to some schools having to lower the difficulty of their curriculum so others can understand it. When schools do this,  students lose their abilities to grow intellectually and become bored in class. Even though this issue is prevalent, schools have difficulty in understanding the proper level at which a student should be learning. Often, schools will either place lower-scoring students in highly challenging classes or gifted students in low-level classes. A way to fix this is to give students placement tests that will help the administration decide the level of each student. 

 Finally, teachers could assign students less homework over longer amounts of time. Several teachers do not consider the fact that students have to study for other classes. Higher-level school systems often lessen the amount of homework they give their students. In Finland, there is a rule which correlates a student’s grade level to the amount of time they should spend completing their homework. For instance, an eighth-grade student would get 80 minutes of homework per night. Furthermore, a sixth-grade student would receive 60 minutes of homework per night. This would allow students to practice topics while still providing time for them to do their hobbies.

The American school system has many flaws in comparison to other nations around the globe. Although there is no perfect solution, various attempts could be made to help the system. This valued institution must be fixed so that students have the opportunity at the best educational experience possible.