Is the U.S. Education System Broken or Is it Working?
Dr. Rosanna Pittella
As I diligently and painstakingly research and document how our American educational system was conceived, its precise path and evolution into its current state I am compelled to reconsider my core assumption. My assumption was that the Great Experiment (The United States of America) had designed a system to reflect its unparalleled commitment to democracy, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I pore over the original transcripts and documents resulting from the congressional and senate hearings, legislative sessions, committee meetings, and more. Reform after reform implemented, law after law passed, study after study conducted, I review and absorb them all, drawing parallels, delving further, summing up and drawing conclusions. I look for the points in the history, the elements of the chronology where the system broke down. My problem-solving instincts tell me that if I can identify those critical points where plans went awry, I can design a solution. I have been doing this very thing for large organizations for decades, so I am at home with the enormity of this task.
The sad reality is that every day, the further this project goes, the more I expand my research, the more clear it becomes that my first assumption may have been completely wrong. I thought the system was broken, had to be broken, because no one would design it to work the way it does. But I think I am heading down a path of conclusions that will prove that my thesis was completely incorrect. I am fascinated and horrified to find that each piece of legislation and each resulting reform structured the system, deliberately, to do exactly what it does.
As designed, based on my research so far, the system seems to be focused on maintaining the status quo. Those American children, who attend public schools in locations where the tax table is low, the poorer areas of the country, statistically, will over their lifetimes, earn less and remain at a lower socioeconomic level than those who attended public schools in locations with higher tax tables, the wealthier areas of the country. The teachers, infrastructure, technology, amenities, safety, nutrition, and countless other comparative factors of the schools vary in proportion to the tax incomes that pay for them. Now in the world of NCLB (No Child Left Behind) the lowest performing schools are not surprisingly in the poorest areas of the country, and children coming from the lowest performing schools have less chance of transferring to higher performing schools regardless of their grades. More children in public schools in the poorest areas of the country are categorized as in need of “special education” another liability in the path to transferring to a better performing school.
Statistics also show that children of lower socioeconomic origins statistically having less options for social mobility, and as a result populate, in the majority, the service class of the country. Such children, as adults, are statistically more often employed by those from higher socioeconomic classes, more often than not, those who attended public schools in wealthier areas of the country. In other words, as designed, and regardless of all current and past reforms, the public school system does not provide, as democracy would dictate, and even playing field for children of all socioeconomic levels upon which to succeed. Rather, the research seems to support the portrait of a public school system that deliberately follows the standards of capitalism and feeds the needs of an oligarchy not a democracy.
I am hoping as I finish this research, I will find that my first assumption was correct and that the system is well intentioned but just broken, and we can all work together to fix it. This certainly would be preferable, than if it, in fact, confirms for the record that what American taxpayer have been paying for, all these many years, is a classist school system that is designed to limit the futures of so many precious children. If this is the case, we can fix that too. Bigger issues of prejudice in our country have been addressed in the past. Either way, there is much work to be done by all of us who believe in the value of education, and the unique value of each human and his or her potential contribution to the world.