Comparing Education Systems Over 3 Decades
What's changed in 30 years in our school systems and classrooms?
The US education system has changed dramatically since the 1980s, not totally for the better. While most learning techniques have become more effective, some of the “personal touch” of many teachers has become too dependent on technology.
Most educational developments have been positive. For example, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975), officially, Public Law 94-142, has been a beacon for meeting the needs of infants, toddlers, children, and all youth with physical or emotional disabilities. Families of children in this category also receive federal and local support and protection.
This Act was amended and improved in 1997 (now known as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The result: Most children with disabilities receive learning assistance in their local schools, in regular classrooms alongside their non-disabled classmates.
Prior to Public Law 94-142, future educational prospects for those with hearing, seeing, emotional, or learning disabilities were almost non-existent.
Is US Education in Crisis?
Legislators feared a future (and current) crisis, believing American students were falling behind their peers in Russia and China, when they enacted the No Child Left Behind Act in the 1990s. For example, as of 2012 US students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science and 14th in reading ability compared to those in 27 other countries of the world.
The efforts to implement affirmative action on our planet has made a difference. The admission rates for African Americans at the top universities in the US have risen considerably, e.g., at Harvard, admission rates have increased over 60 percent. The current higher education system is more useful than ever before. Students have more learning opportunities beyond general education, which is often useless to those unable or unwilling to attend a college or university.
21st Century Comparisons
This century has witnessed the most educated Americans ever. Since the 1980s, the number of US students attending college has been greater than the number of high school dropouts. This reverses a trend prevalent throughout the 20th century.
While education opportunities have expanded in the past 30 years, some of this expansion fosters regression. For example, a significant percentage of university faculty feels that most incoming freshmen have below-college writing skills. Contrast that belief with the confidence of most high school teachers who believe their students are ready for college-level writing.
Growing Popularity of Standardized Tests
The 21st century has fostered the rise of standardized tests for elementary and high school students. These tests often control students’ ability to advance to the next higher grade or high school seniors’ ability to graduate on time.
Like the SATs, the theory is to test the knowledge of students at various levels. Non-supporters typically maintain these tests measure the ability of students’ teachers more than students’ accumulation of knowledge.
What We’ve Learned
The education community has learned the fallacy of simply letting everyone graduate high school as long as they show up for class. They have also learned to help students become proficient using the newest technology to achieve more in less time. The education establishment apparently has not moved forward (possibly, backward) with the importance of teaching students how to think or write effectively.
The focus on math and science has helped U.S. students compete with their foreign competitors, but they still lag behind many students from other countries. Playing “catch up” takes time and much energy.
The focus on more vocational training has helped many students succeed in fields that were ignored in the 1980s (and prior decades) where the focus was hard-wired to the necessity of everyone having a college degree, whether they wanted it or not. The rise of vocational and technical schools has offered marketable skills to those students without a college focus. Stay tuned for further developments.
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A big thank you to our Guest Blogger: William A. Pirraglia
After a 30-year career as a successful banking executive, including two stints as CEO of small institutions, Bill began as a full-time freelance writer in 2005. He has authored over 5,000 published articles, blogs, white papers, web pages, and e-books for clients, many of which are repeat clients.
After earning his Bachelors degree (Boston College), he received an M.B.A (Bryant University) with concentrations in management and finance. He has a passion for writing on diverse subjects to share his expertise with people, helping improve the quality of their life.