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School Problems

School Problems

Author: Paul Hannan

Identify current problems in education, such as student passivity, grade inflation, tracking, and functional illiteracy.

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Source: Intro Music by Mark Hannan; Public Domain School; Public Domain

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to this episode of Sociology-- Studies of Society. Today's lesson is on school problems. As always, don't be afraid to pause, stop, rewind, or even fast forward to make sure you get the most out of this tutorial.

So today we're going to be breaking down some of school's problems. Now, it's important, as I go through these problems here, to understand that school problems can be taken in many different directions. And I'm focusing on the six problems that I think are the most important facing schools. But they're going to be different from sociologist to sociologist and different educational theorists. So different people are going to highlight different aspects of school problems.

So the first one I want to talk about though is inequality. So one of the major problems facing schools is that it's really an unequal education for different people. And it's unequal for a lot of different reasons. It's unequal because there's different resources. So some school districts have considerable money, some districts have way nicer facilities, and way nicer books, and way better technology.

Sorry, I shouldn't even say actually school districts because there are different types of schools. You could go to a private school versus just looking at different districts. And there's also differences in staff though.

Another way that school inequality really is shown is with segregation. And segregation can happen amongst a couple of different ways. But the two places you really see it the most in schooling is with the races and the classes. So you end up having schools that are 95% black or 95% non-white. And then schools that are 90% white. And there's really not a lot of mixed schools.

Also you get segregation of classes because you end up having schools that are in a wealthier neighborhood. And so all the wealthy kids end up in that school there.

Now, another major problem facing schooling is assessment. And there are many different aspects to assessment that you can look at. I'm really going to focus on two different aspects of assessment. And that's the standardization movement and grade inflation.

So the standardization movement is this movement that's trying to standardize what people learn in schools. So what that ends up looking like is that there are standards that are produced, like maybe by the state of Minnesota or national standards. Then there are tests that are made to test to see if people learned those standards.

Now, what that ends up doing is that it really can create this environment where people are teaching towards that test. And these tests become really high stakes. You maybe even heard the term "high stakes testing" before because students need to pass these tests to graduate, to receive their degree. And then schools are punished if their kids don't do well on them.

And so an unintended consequence of the standardization movement can be that you get a really cookie-cutter education. This doesn't happen everywhere. But you have some schools that focus so hard on the standards that you really cut out all the other things that make education important and good for individuals.

Standardized testing can also been used to track individuals. So when you're tracking someone, you have them take a test. You assess them. And you say, OK, this student is smart, or very good at math, or however you decide to label them. And they get put in a certain class.

Oh, this kid is not very good at math. You're going to label in a different class. So it separates the two groups into different sections.

Now, this can be a problem because in theory it might sound good. You have the kids that are really good in math, getting instruction. That's a little bit higher level. And then you have the kids in lower math. They're being able to be caught up.

But research really shows that both kids do better when they're put together. Students with lower skills learn better in a classroom that has a wide variety of learners. And those students in the higher track get something out of seeing the way that other kids work through math.

Another issue facing schools is grade inflation. Grade inflation is the idea that marks for people-- so people's grades continue to go up over time. And so you're actually slowly lowering the standards and raising people's grades. And that can be a real problem in education.

Now, an aspect of assessment that I want to make sure I touch on is functional illiteracy. And so functional illiteracy is when you lack the basic reading and writing skills needed for everyday life. So one of things that the standardized testing-- the standardizing movement is supposed to have done is to help make sure that people leave school with certain skills. And specifically, one of the biggest pushes is do they have the basic reading, writing, and math skills to be successful in everyday life?

Now, personally, as someone that has taught in the K12 environment before, I think that is one of the good things that come out of the standardization movement, is this focus on making sure that those three basic skills, reading, writing, and math, are good enough for you to be successful in life.

Another major issue facing schools is teacher retention. The number one thing is keeping young teachers. I believe-- I read this last week, that 50%, or a little over 50%, of teachers actually leave the profession after five years of teaching. So think about all the effort that is made by those individuals to go into teaching.

They get their degree. They get their license. They student teach. They get practice. And then by their fifth year, they've already decided to leave the field.

That's a pretty high burnout rate. In fact, it's either the highest or one of the highest, along with doctors, for people that choose not to be in that profession.

Now, two things that tie into that teacher retention are tenure and merit pay. And these things aren't necessarily good or bad for teacher retention. But they're important to think about for teacher retention.

Tenure is that teachers, after they've worked in the district for some time, they get tenure. And they become harder to fire. But it can set up some difficulties because you sometimes have really young, good teachers, who can't stay in the business because the tenured teachers hold onto their job.

Also there's the issue of merit pay. Now, some people think merit pay would help retain teachers and some people think will hurt-- hurt it. Merit pay is when you pay teachers based on how good they do. And what that translates to is you pay teacher based primarily on how good their students do on standardized tests. And are students' scores on a standardized test the best way to see if you had a good teacher or not?

Another major issue facing schooling is engagement. So let me throw out there, too, this term student passivity. And that's just basically when students are bored. They're disinterested. They're just being passive. They're just receiving information. They don't really care about being successful in an educational setting.

That's a real problem for schools. And schools and teachers are always struggling with how to reach students, make them engaged, and make them care about their education. This is one place where I think standardized testing really hurts schools because it can become difficult to make schooling really interesting if all you're doing is teaching to the standardized test.

Another issue facing schooling is funding and cost. School districts receive highly disproportionate funds. And whether you're looking at a K12 school district-- you know, you have someone in the inner city versus the suburbs, you're looking at different colleges, whatever you're looking at, schools have a very different funding base. And that ends up for, as I mentioned a little bit earlier, this wide variety of inequality between schools.

And with that, ends up this idea of school choice. So people are choosing whether to go to private institutions or public institutions. And there's this whole voucher movement, which is trying to allow students in K12 education to go to private schools, being paid for with a voucher from the government. And this can make the whole system really a mess. And where funding is going, and who has funding, and who's getting adequate funding, it's really hard to understand and make sure that the kids are getting what they need.

Another thing that ties in with the funding issue is college tuition rates. College tuition rates are exorbitantly high right now. And they continue to rise. And so how is college going to stay affordable for your everyday, individual person?

Another problem facing schools is violence. And I have two examples for you on the screen there, the Virginia Tech shootings and the Columbine High School shootings. In both cases, you had a student or students violently attack their classmates. Both are examples of extreme violence done in schools. And that can really-- and it really hurts the institution of schooling in America.

And another issue of violence is the issue of bullying. And that's students being pushed around and being made fun of in the school environment.

So today's take-away message. I talked about many different problems facing schooling. But here are a couple of key terms. Student passivity is bored, disinterested students, who are passive about their educational success. Grade inflation is the tendency to give work of comparable quality, higher marks over time, so higher grades over time.

Tracking is the process of assigning students to different educational paths based on their test scores, on standardized tests. And functional illiteracy is the absence of basic reading and writing skills needed for everyday life.

Well, that's it for this lesson. Good work. And hopefully you'll be seeing me on your screen again soon. Peace.

Terms to Know
Functional Illiteracy

The absence of the basic reading and writing skills needed for everyday life.

Grade Inflation

The tendency to give work of comparable quality proportionately higher marks over time.

Student Passivity

Bored, disinterested students who are passive about their educational success.


Separating students by virtue of their scores on standardized tests.