This section of my thesis discusses several reasons why there is a varied amount of learning in America's public school systems. It includes discussions of community factors such as community involvement, affluence, parental involvement, community involvement as well as a discussion of district policies and hiring practice, classroom contextual factors, school factors.
Educating one's children is not a new idea. It has been around for hundreds of years. However, for many centuries it was only on option for children of affluent parents, or for religious purposes. The common masses could not afford to educate their children. This all changed in the 18th century in our country. It was the dream of our 3rd president Thomas Jefferson. He wanted education to be free from religious biases and available to all people regardless of their socioeconomic status. (Thattai). However, education remained largely private until the mid 1800's. (Thattai)
As American society progressed the school system progressed as well. Eventually, the education system as we know it today emerged. There have been many attempts to "fix" the public education system. However, there is no one quick fix or cure-all, as many politicians would lead you to believe. In my opinion, the reason for this is because our public schools are a reflection of the community surrounding them. They are a microcosm of society as a whole. As society changes, so do the schools. This will be discussed at a later time. Rather, this essay will attempt to examine several contextual factors that affect education including community or environmental factors, school factors, district factors, classroom factors, and student factors.
COMMUNITY OR ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Although, there are many environmental factors that influence a student's ability to learn, I will discuss only two of them. The first one I will discuss is demographics and how it relates to affluence, which relates to the amount of teaching resources available to the students and faculty in general.
How do demographics affect learning? It is no secret that communities with a more affluent tax base have better schools then low income communities. Since the acquisition of resources requires money, it stands to logically conclude that the schools with the best learning resources are those that are found in affluent areas. For example I sub in two different school districts in my area. The major employers of these areas are different. In one district the major employers are a community college and the corporate headquarters of a major international discount store chain. As a result, in this area there are many business executives with high salaries as well as well paid college professors. The schools in this area are all equipped with the latest in technology including at least one computer in every class, computer labs, and interactive whiteboards, such as a Smart board or similar device. There are fairly new textbooks and well stocked science labs. In contrast, the primary employer of the second district is a food production plant, warehouses for the major discount store chain. There is also some carry over from the community college as well. However, in this district some of the resources mentioned above are lacking. For instance, the schools in this district have a document projector, otherwise known as ELMO, rather than a Smart board or similar device. There is also more ethnic diversity in the second district, than is seen in the first one. The second district pays less than the first district.
As I mentioned earlier, in general, the more affluent the community the better the schools that serve that community. This distribution of wealth may seem fair at the outset, but nothing is a perfect scenario. Some people dislike a tax increase even if they know that it goes toward the schools. Another problem is that some property owners without children, or who have children that attend private school or home school, resent having to pay for something that they don't use. Some may also feel like the government is wasting their money to support a failing institution.
Another community factor that affects learning and schools is community wide involvement. Research has shown that when communities get involved with education the benefits to the students and the schools are great. "When schools regard their relationship with families as a partnership in which school and home share responsibility for children's learning, the result is an increase in the levels and types of parent involvement as well as the support that the families demonstrate for the school. When this partnership is extended to include the larger community, the benefits are greater yet." (Caplan, 1998)
I am fortunate enough to have this type of partnership in my community; a major international discount store chain operates its corporate headquarters near my community. This corporation has been very heavily involved with education both at the k-12 level and the collegiate level, on a national level as well as at the local level. For instance, on the national level this particular discount store chain gave a grant to schools in Baltimore, MD, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Indianapolis, IN, Los Angeles, CA, New York City, Sacramento, CA, San Diego, CA, and Washington DC for the purpose of expanding summer services for low income children. The aim is to increase student learning, reading, and classroom participation when school resumes. (Walmart, 2011) This company has also granted scholarships to its employees children. Some of these children may not the opportunity to attend college otherwise. This same employer recently announced that it will conduct free vision screenings in the optical department of its stores. (Walmart, 2011). This will benefit thousands of school children across America, as well as the local townspeople who shop at this particular store. Some of the other things that this employer has done include programs to promote childhood literacy, reengage high school dropouts, support teachers, and launch a youth entrepreneurship to encourage young people to stay in school and follow their dreams.
Through a foundation set up by the founder of this discount chain, this multinational corporation has funded either completely or in part instructional materials for schools. These instructional aids can be on a large scale such as funding school construction in whole or in part, or on a classroom level. The results of the work of this foundation have been seen in the local community surrounding the corporate headquarters of this multinational discount store chain. Several years ago, the local public high school was in need of expansion due to growing enrollment. This discount store funded, in part, the construction of a second building; interactive whiteboards were also installed in most every classroom with few exceptions. (Hartsfield, 2010)
Learning factors are not just limited to the community at large. There is a trickledown effect that extends to other levels. These other levels present more unique factors all their own. One such practice is the district hiring policies. In my district, a teacher has to be certified in the content area in which one wishes to teach. For example, if a teacher wishes to teach math, he/she has to be certified to teach math, if a teacher wishes to teach English, he/she must be certified to teach English and so on. He/she also has to be rated HQ (highly qualified) by the No Child Left Behind law. One can attain this rating in several ways. According to the Bentonville Public schools website, in order for a teacher to be rated as an HQ teacher one must do the following:
- have a bachelors degree,
- be fully licensed by the state of Arkansas,
- demonstrate subject area competence by passing the PRAXIS for the subject in which one wishes to teach, or through reciprocity
- have an undergraduate major in the content area in which one wishes to teach, or have 24 credit hours in the content area that one plans on teaching
- have a graduate degree in the content area that one wishes to teach (Schools, 2011)
Before I moved to my current state, I worked as a sub in several other states. In one state where I worked non-certified teachers were allowed to be hired, in exchange for successfully completing an alternative licensure program. They also had to have a degree; however it didn't matter if the degree was in the licensure area. As long as the applicant had a bachelors degree.
Another hiring policy instituted by most districts is the good old boy network. In some districts, a person will get hired based on who they know, rather then what they know about the subject they wish to teach. In my opinion, this diminishes the quality of the education the children receive and is unfair. One can be hired by a principal simply because one personally knows the principal regardless of his/her knowledge of a particular subject area. I feel that this is unfair to the students because that person may not be knowledgeable about a particular subject and teach the students misinformation. It is a lot easier to teach the right information at the outset then re-teaching some concept because the students have been previously taught misinformation.
Another factor that affects learning at the district level is textbook selection. This is closely related to the demographics of an area. More affluent areas have better learning resources, including textbooks, than less affluent areas. Why? Money buys textbooks.
In affluent areas there is more money available to by the newest editions of textbooks every time the curriculum is updated, whereas less affluent areas have to use outdated textbooks. This is a problem in my content area of science, because older editions of textbooks have outdated theories or present outdated information. This can be frustrating for students, when they are trying to complete a ...
This section of my thesis discusses several reasons why state public school systems vary greatly across the United States and from district to district within each state.