Throughout my experience in the public school system, I have heard the line, “What do I need to know this for anyway?” about 1,057 times. It is not uncommon to hear students complain about the worth of their education. Regardless, there seems to be a unanimous agreement that the youth needs education to succeed in life. What is education anyway and what does schooling accomplish? In his book, “A Time to Learn” George Wood provides a definition of education as “making wise citizens and good neighbors who can think deeply and intelligently about issues of self and society, take care for and respect others, take care of their family needs, and contribute to the welfare of others” (Glickman 48). Is school necessary for developing this type of educated citizen? If not, how is it we measure success and how is school important in attaining that?
The purpose of the public school system is to assure every child the natural right to an education. Currently, every state in the nation has laws requiring attendance in school (grades K-12). There are also requirements on what subjects the students must learn. Standardized testing measures every student’s ability in these required subjects and assesses all tests equally. These high-stakes tests are used to determine the student’s achievement and their progression to the next level of schooling. Statistics show that students from underprivileged families have lower test scores and are more likely to drop out then white, middle class students. When I think about it, I recall a line from a rap song about a southern black child’s education in the public school system, “I’m making 300 on my SAT’s and I am equal”. So then, why are these students, who are equal, performing so poorly in our public schools? To reach a conclusion we must examine the curriculum and standards, and their purpose.
The movement toward standardization is mainly concerned with the school district’s responsibility to generate students that are proficient in basic reading, writing and math skills. These skills being the most essential for business transactions, political and professional relations and most every aspect of life in today’s society. The students are assessed indiscriminately by tests structured around what the students are expected to know. The problem is that a student’s test score varies day-to-day. The districts realize this so they develop a curriculum that measures the progression of the students learning. Because these standardized tests are used to measure the student’s ability in certain subjects, the curriculum ends up being structured around this so that they know the material come time for assessment. To standardize, you need a curriculum to test from but the tests end up determining the content of the curriculum.
Under this curriculum, statistics show that white children score higher than black or Hispanic children in proficiency tests at all levels and every subject. The graduation rate is higher for white children than it is for blacks or Hispanics and white children are more likely to finish four years of college. Other statistics show that the parent’s level of education has a positive affect in their children’s test score and is also an indicator of family income and class status. So while children from lower class families may be no less intelligent than children from upper class families, they are less likely to perform well under the standardized education system.
I don’t mean to dismiss the importance of standards for public education. There must be a means to monitor a student’s progress and to make sure that they become sufficient in the basic skills that concern our society and its future. The question then is what