Nowadays, education plays increasingly more important role in the life of society, at large, and each individual, in particular. Moreover, the level of development of education indicates at the general level of the development of the country and its people that makes education one of the strategic issues and primary concern of any nation, including American. However, the situation in American education, in actuality, turns to be far from perfect and modern system is often criticized. It is worthy of mention that modern public schools are considered to be particularly ineffective and it is argued that they are in decline that, to a significant extent, is true.
At the same time, it is extremely important to be thoroughly analyze the current situation and reveal problems that exist in this system though one of the main problems is evident. This is the problem of a substantial gap between academic achievements of white and non-white students. Unquestionably, public schools have a bunch of problems that need immediate solutions but it is impossible to find out any effective solution of any problem without the analysis of its causes.
This is why, it is necessary to briefly analyze the current situation, find out main problems and its causes that will help find possible solutions of the current problems among which the growing gap between white and non-white students remains probably the most significant.
The current situation in public schools
On analyzing the current situation in the American education, namely in public schools, it is necessary to underline that in recent years quite disturbing trends have appeared. To put it more precisely, the situation in public schools is getting to be worse and the deterioration is so significant that many specialists (Ballenger 1999, Hirsch 2005) indicate at the serious crisis within the existing system of public schools in American educational system.
In fact, one of the major factors that deteriorates the current situation in public schools is growing gap between academic successes between white and non-white students which, to a significant extent, is predetermined by the problem of ‘educational apartheid’ (Kozol 2005) that contributes to the new segregation of American public schools. In fact, despite numerous proclamations of the general strategy aiming at the diverse education, implying that public schools are culturally diverse, the modern public schools reveal quite a different picture. In fact, nowadays the official policy practically ignores the growing segregation of public schools since the official appeals to diverse classrooms are totally contrasting to the real situation in public schools. Recent researches (Kozol 2005) reveal the fact that in many public school, if not to say in the vast majority of public schools in large cities, the share of non-white students is reaching 80-90% and, in some cases is next to 100%. For instance, Kozol (2005) underlines that in Chicago by the academic year 2002-2003, 87% of public school enrollment was black or Hispanic, while less than 10% in public schools were white. In Washington D.C., 94% of children were black or Hispanic, while only 5% were white. In St. Louis, 82% of the student population was black or Hispanic, in Philadelphia and Cleveland, 79%, in Los Angeles 84%, in Detroit 96%, in the New York City nearly three quarters of all students were black or Hispanics, while in some districts of New York like Bronx the percentage of non-white students approaches 90 and often 95% (Kozol 2005).
In such a situation, it seems particularly ironical that many public schools named by outstanding leaders of anti-segregation and civil right movements are getting to be re-segregated at the present moment. For instance, in Seattle, where approximately half the families are Caucasian, 95% of students at the Thurgood Marshall elementary school were black, Hispanic, Native American or of Asian origin. Similarly, in New York City there is a primary school named for Langston Hughes with 99% of black and Hispanic, a middle school named for Jackie Robinson with 96% of black and Hispanic, and a high school named for Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the great leaders of the integration movement in the South in which 08% of students are black or Hispanic.
Naturally, such statistics is extremely disturbing since it reveals the trend to the segregation of public schools in large cities at all level, it means from elementary to high schools. naturally, such a situation contributes substantially to the growing achievement gap between white and non-white students who do not have equal opportunities for receiving equal education and, apparently, white students often turn to be in a privileged position while public schools gradually transform in a kind of ghetto schools where the representatives of lower classes study and, as a rule, these students are non-white.
This trend has become particularly strong in recent years, or even last couple of decades and, what is more important, it affects substantially the quality of education as well as social and health services that traditionally accompany public schools. In this respect, it is worthy of mention the fact that since 1970 the number of school physicians working in public schools has decreased dramatically. It is worthy of mention, that statistics is really striking, for in 1970s when substantial number of white students still attended New York public schools, 400 doctors had been present to address the health needs of the children while by 1993, the number of doctors had been cut to 23, most of them part-time. Remarkably, the number of white students in public schools had also decreased significantly within the same period of time.
At first glance, such a change seems to be insignificant for public schools and for academic achievements of students but it is obvious that academic successes are directly linked to the health of students. Practically, it means that students cannot be successful in schools if they have some health problems because they cannot simply afford the learning process if they suffer from some illness that is not cured or even detected. Naturally, the academic achievements of students with low health services would be worse compared to students that can constantly benefit from health services of the high quality as it is the case for the majority of white students.
The situation is significantly deteriorated by the fact that the majority of students of public schools, being representative of on-white ethnic groups, belong to lower classes of American society and their economic and social status is extremely low. As a result such a cutback affected most severely children in the poorest neiborhood who probably lost their last opportunity to receive normal health services as they cannot afford health services of high quality in their neiborhood because of their extremely low socio-economic status. Unquestionably, for such students, public school health services were probably the last opportunity to preserve their health and grow healthier. The situation in public schools is particularly risky for students health because medical services for the vast majority of students are the most deficient while health problems faced by these children are the most extreme because often they live in really terrible conditions. As a result, asthmatic children, for instance, can come into class in a public school with chronic wheezing and at any moment of the day they can undergo more serious attacks but in the schools there is no or a few doctors to attend them (Kozol 2005).
In addition to aggravating health problems, the non-white majority of public schools also suffer from the socio-economic backwardness. It means that the vast majority of children attending public schools represent lower class families with poor social background. Naturally, such families can hardly afford the education of children and often non-white children studying in public schools are deprived of an opportunity of entering a college only because of their social and economic status, that is an additional burden to their basically lower academic successes compared to white students.
Nonetheless, it is worthy of mention that the achievement gap between non-white and white students, which narrowed for three decades up until the late years of 1980s, the period in which school segregation gradually decreased, started to widen once more in the early 1990s when the federal courts began the process of re-segregation by dismantling the mandates of the Brown decision (Kozol 2005).
In such a way, the existing problem of the growing gap in academic achievement between non-white and white students is basically predetermined by the poor socio-economic position of families of non-white students, poor health services, and growing re-segregation of public schools, especially in large cities where the share of non-white students is unjustly large that naturally leads to the lack of equal opportunities for non-white students to receive the education of the same quality as white students do.
The causes of achievement gaps between non-white and white students
On analyzing the current situation, it would be logical to discuss the causes of such a dramatic difference in socio-economic status of non-white students and their access to health services that lead to lower academic achievements compared to white students. Obviously, all these problems have their own causes.
Speaking about the socio-economic problems of non-white students of public schools, it is necessary to underline that as a rule they are provoked by the low social status of their families and the inability of non-white population to equally compete with white Americans. It is not a secret that the current American economic and political elite is predominantly white, while non-white population suffers from economic oppression of upper classes. At the same time, the problem of socio-economic backwardness of non-white population represents a kind of a vicious circle where parents cannot afford their children higher education, while children cannot find a well paid job because of the lack of higher education. In such a way, they doom their children to attend public school and follow their destiny.
At the same time, on analyzing the substantial achievement gap between non-white and white students, it is necessary to underline that non-white students are practically deprived of an opportunity to receive any pre-school education, unlike white children that benefit from a variety of pre-school preparation programs. For instance, in New York City, affluent, mainly white parents pay surprisingly large sums of money to enroll their youngsters, beginning with the age of two or three, in extraordinary early-educated programs that give them social competence and rudimentary pedagogic skills unknown for the children of the same age in the city’s poorer neighborhoods (Kozol 2005. And again the major reason for such a striking difference in pre-school education between non-white and white students is socio-economic position of their families for the most exclusive of the private preschools in New York, which are known to those who can afford them as ‘Baby Ivies’ cost as much as $24,000 for a full-day program. Naturally, families from poorest neighborhoods cannot afford such preschools because of their poverty. As a result, non-white children originating from poor families are deprived of this opportunity and come into their kindergarten year without the minimal social skills that children need in order to participate in class activities and without even such very modest early-learning skills as knowing how to hold a crayon or a pencil, identify perhaps a couple of shapes and colors, or recognize that printed pages go from left to right (Kozol 2005).
Naturally, non-white and white children representing different classes cannot perform the same academic achievements not only because of different social background but mainly because of different starting opportunities. What is meant here is the fact that as a rule white students, benefiting preschool education, are initially in an advantageous position compared to non-white children from lower class families who do not possess even elementary but essential social skills for successful learning. Consequently, their achievements turn to be quite different.
Moreover, in the third grade, these children are introduced to what are known as ‘high stakes tests’, which in many urban systems now determine whether students can or cannot be promoted. Naturally, children who have been in programs like those offered by the ‘Baby Ivies’ since the age of two have received the benefits of six or seven years of education, nearly twice as many as those children who have been denied these opportunities. Nonetheless, all children are treated equally and all of them are required to take, and will be measured by, the same examinations. In such a way, the growing gap in academic achievements is caused by the difference in initial basis non-white and white children enter schools with.
Unfortunately, as students grow the difference can hardly be eliminated since there are a variety of causes preventing non-white children and children from poor families to close the achievement gaps. Probably, among the most important problems remain the currently existing tests which are widely criticized and are even rejected by some specialists (Hirsch 2007). To put it more precisely, tests turn to be ineffective making many students simply doomed to fail even in the situations when they study at approximately equal conditions compared to those who pass these tests.
On analyzing the existing system of tests, it is necessary to underline that, basically, they are not testing comprehension strategies, as the states and test-makers suppose, but, instead, they are testing comprehension which is totally different matter (Hirsch 2007). It means that students in public schools are basically taught to simply understand what they read but not develop effective strategies that could be really helpful for them in understanding the texts. It means that students who are more experienced in comprehension strategies could understand the new and quite difficult text than students focused on the understanding of the text properly. As a result, students who studied more and had better conditions of living and studying, as mainly white students have, are in an advantageous position compared to students that are denied of these opportunities, mainly non-white majority of public schools.
Moreover, the learning process is often oriented on these tests making it the major goal of the whole education students receive while it is necessary to remember that students’ knowledge, skills and abilities should remain in the focus of attention of educators and teachers who are high authority, especially in public schools.
At the same time, it is extremely important to objectively assess the role of teachers in the process of education, who can significantly influence students by their behavior, thoughts and ideas (Bauman 1999). In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the problem of cultural synchronization is getting to be crucial in closing achievement gaps between non-white and white students. It is not a secret, that socio-cultural background that shapes students’ identity is of a paramount importance but often teachers in public schools cannot understand this fact, or, to put it more precisely, they cannot understand their students because of a great difference in their cultural identity.
It should be said that, as a rule, teachers working in public schools are representatives of the white middle class and, naturally, it is quite difficult for them to perfectly understand students from culturally diverse ethnic groups. As a result, there grows a gap between teachers and students. However, it is extremely important to avoid underestimation of the role of cultural identity of students since it affects directly their academic achievements and further adult life. It should be said that teachers play an important role in the shaping students’ identity and they should develop their own effective ways to influence students positively and, what is more, to fully understand their students for behavioral expectations, policies, procedures and patterns in classrooms are critical means toward productive educational ends (Monro 2006).
Consequently, students’ academic achievements are highly dependent on teachers’ work and their profound knowledge of students socio-cultural background. The latter is particularly important since it can affect the discipline during lessons that is also crucial for eventual success of the learning process. It is evident that students that constantly misbehave can hardly achieve positive academic results but it is important for white middle class teachers in public schools to clearly distinguish students’ misbehavior from misinterpretation of their behavior. Practically, it means that teachers should know what is the norm for students’ behavior and what is intentional violation of discipline.
At the same time, it is also worthy of mention the significant split in financial stimuli of teachers work since often their job in a public school in a poor district is paid much lower than in more prestigious and richer districts. Nowadays, there exist gross discrepancies in teacher salaries between the city and its affluent white suburbs. For instance, in 1997 the median salary for teachers in a New York neighborhood was $43,000, as compared with $73,000 in suburban Rye, and $77,000 in Manhasset, and $81,000 in the town of Scarsdale. This trend is growing even more serious widening the gap between salaries of teachers working in different districts, notably, the overall figure for the New York City in 2002-2003 was $53,000, while it had climbed to $87,000 in Manhasset and exceeded $95,000 in Scarsdale. Naturally, it is quite difficult to keep teachers motivated working in a public school with the no-white majority if their salary is practically twice as low as in schools with dominated white majority in prestigious districts. As a result, the motivation of teachers is lower in public schools with predominantly non-white students and the best and highly qualified professionals tend to work at schools where their salaries are incomparably higher than in public schools in poor neighborhoods.
Finally, among the variety of causes of lower academic achievements of non-white students compared to white students may be named the problems in their relationships with other students. What is meant here is the fact that, at the present moment, bullying is one of serious problems that directly affects practically all students in public schools. For instance, one of the recent studies (Hale 2001) reveal the fact that 43% of students worry about going to the rest room for fear of encountering a bully. The situation is particularly difficult for non-white students who are even more submitted to bullying because, on the one hand, there are simply few white students in public schools in large cities, while on the other hand, mentally they get used to be bullied and deprived. The latter means that their social position and low economic status make many non-white poor students feel deprived and they get used to be abused, being unable to resist to richer or privileged classes. The same behavior they extrapolate on their relations in schools and their attitude to bullies making them practically unable to resist to abuses in the result of their deprived mentality and beliefs of being outcasts. Naturally, such a situation substantially deteriorates academic achievements of non-white students who gradually start to hate school and learning process.
Recommendations to the improvement of the current situation in public schools
Basically, the current situation seems to be quite difficult and the crisis in public schools is really serious but it does not necessarily mean that the situation is irreversible and cannot be improved. In fact, it is necessary to start changes immediately in order to make them more effective. First of all, it is necessary to pay a particular attention to funding public schools which should be much better than it is now. Moreover, the increase of funding should be real but not nominal since even nowadays New York City has not yet caught up to where its wealthiest suburbs were a quarter-century ago. And it is necessary to remember that the privileged schools with white majority keep progressing and their funding is still increasing. As a result, public schools with non-white majority do not receive sufficient funding while they need extra-financial support because of the vital needs of students which are deprived of elementary social and health services.
By the way, the development of an effective health system within public schools which could assist children from the most deprived classes to receive essential medical help. Otherwise, the gap between rich and healthy, on the one hand, and poor and ill, on the other hand, will grow further that will inevitably affect the growing achievement gaps between students representing different social classes and ethnic groups.
At the same time, teachers should be also conscious of their authority and high responsibility and perfectly understand the needs of their students. In this respect, the knowledge of their socio-cultural background is of a paramount importance. Practically, it means that teachers should pay a particular attention to the students’ social and cultural environment and possibly integrate in their community. For instance, teachers could integrate themselves into students’ communities through visits to youths’ homes, religious centers, and community organizations (Monro 2006). Anyway, the knowledge of students cultural background will help teachers to celebrate rather than penalize students’ heritage that can increase their academic achievements.
Furthermore, it is necessary to stop the re-segregation of public school and possibly enlarge the representation of white students in public schools, especially in large cities. In such a way, the tolerance of students will grow along with the development of their mutual understanding and cooperation that can positively affect the academic results of the learning process.
Also, it is important to improve the currently existing system of tests and one of the major tasks of the test-developers is to integrate different subjects in tests in order to stimulate the development of broader knowledge of students. In this respect, it is possible to recommend the development of content tests which would be specifically tied to the knowledge goals of education in different areas, such as literature, history, art, etc. Anyway, it is obvious that breadth of knowedge is the single factor within human control that contributes most to academic achievement and general cognitive competence (Hirsch 2007).
Finally, it is necessary to develop students’ self-esteem and the ability to resist to the oppressing influences from outside as well as develop the respect to their culture and identity.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that at the present moment the American system education face a great challenge which is hidden in the profound crisis of modern public schools. Basically, this crisis leading to the growing achievement gaps between white and non-white students can have really disastrous consequences because it provokes the growth of interracial tension and social inequality. In fact, many public schools in large cities of America are getting t be re-segregated transforming in a kind of ghetto that threatens to the future of American state and democracy at large because the current lack of equal opportunities for all citizens resulting in the growing gap in academic achievements can lead to the social outburst and open protest against the totally discriminating system that exists in American education at the present moment.
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