Why Is The U.S. Education System Failing?

Rimsha Syed
September 6, 2023

Published: June 2019 Updated: September 2023

Why Is the American Education System Failing?

In 2019, teacher walkouts and protests dominated the K-12 education sphere, bringing deeply embedded and longstanding disinvestment issues to light. Since 2020, the mass teacher exodus has shown that burnt-out teachers understand they bring value to other industries and will be compensated for it. Classrooms, districts, states, and the country as a whole have been severely impacted by the general lack of funding since the systemic disinvestment following the 2008 Great Recession. Now, educators are demanding that their needs be addressed. Problems with the American education system foster critical limitations in student achievement and, moving forward, it’s essential we repair the system to retain teachers.

Prioritizing Investment In Education

Once upon a time, a formal education system was created to meet the demands of young citizens in need of guidance, and America made secondary education compulsory. It was unprecedented in the 1800’s, but the rigid system has failed to adjust that model in the following years as we’ve moved towards global innovation, a competitive economy, and shifting economic needs. A lack of investment in education and educators is one of the 10 reasons the American education system is failing.

Simply put - educators as professionals are undervalued, and by extension, students are missing out on improved educational outcomes, predominantly affecting low-income students. Money plays a crucial role in the quality and affordability of education. In recent years, many districts have offered raises to faculty, substitutes, and staff, however many teachers say it’s too little too late. These are the first small bonuses or raises teachers have received in years, and it is still not met with the extra support they need as their workload grows. Teachers are funneling out of the profession.

Local, state, and federal governments play a part in overall education funding; all constituents perpetuate some inequalities. This requires public policymakers to consider building an even playing field when it comes to spending in the poorest and wealthiest districts within a state. Unequal finding is one of the major problems with the American education system because it leads to quality issues.

As of now, instructional quality and related support are systematically unavailable to students in impoverished schools. A large body of research indicates that educators in the top 25 percentile of experience are less likely to teach in low-income areas and/or students who are Latino or Black. Although the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act highlights Congress’ recognition of “the need for a federal role in ensuring equal educational opportunities,” students in certain states receive only a fragment of funds that students in other states are given.

Historical increases in education funds are generally associated with one to one teaching in schools and increased student graduation rates among other life-changing benefits. Needless to say that school funding has the responsibility to provide significant additional resources for low-income students if we expect to overcome issues of poverty and equity.

The 2019 protests were in states starved of public education that continue to cut funds: West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. Resulting from over a decade of frustration, teachers demanded a higher liveable wage, tired of working multiple jobs to make ends meet. Other states demanded better funding for students to be able to replace outdated textbooks and supplies as well as sizable classrooms.

Download the eBook: Making Educational Equity a Reality for All. Join the movement and make a difference.

Where Are The Teachers?

On a related vein, researchers have called attention to the worsening teacher shortages, including state-by-state subject area vacancies and the overall decline in enrollment for teacher preparatory programs. School teacher shortages are perpetuated by low salaries, high student loans, increasing workloads, and reduced budgets. As a result, class sizes have increased to spread the reach of certified teachers producing less interactive and personalized learning. Restoring student-to-teacher ratios to pre-crisis levels is challenging.

Some states, like Oklahoma, are turning to emergency or short-term certificates to fill teachers in the classroom regardless of their experience. In other words, positions are filled recklessly by those who may have a bachelor's degree or have further education requirements to fulfill.

The effect that this has on young students is clear. Between the lack of consistency and quality of their education, student achievements are negatively impacted. Furthermore, teacher shortages are worse within high-poverty district lines. It is easy to infer that qualified teachers, high in demand, have more options with respect to where they want to teach and are more likely to be recruited by higher-income districts.

Although some states saw marginal success through their activism, such as a 9 percent increase in funding in Arizona or the 11.7 percent pay raise for educators in Denver, these states still rank amidst the worst in America. What’s even more shocking is that none of these states are close to the level of funding they would receive before the Great Recession.

Teacher strikes are becoming a common organizing tactic, especially in places where government investment is not following inflation patterns. In the wake of this social change, the American Federation announced an initiative to encourage lawmakers to increase funding. The initiative, Fund Our Future, draws attention to the fact that “25 states spend less on K-12 than they did before the Great Recession.”

A first step in exploring inequities in teacher access is acknowledging that the shortage is a result of several interdependent factors that create imbalances.

A Revolutionary Solution To Helping The Chronic Disinvestment

For decades, access to quality education has been outside the realm of possibility for thousands of low-income students in America. Whether the barriers stem from geographic or demographic restrictions, students’ learning opportunities are largely shaped by factors out of their control. In any case, synchronous virtual education is curbing limitations and dramatically expanding educational opportunities.

According to The Heritage Foundation, as many as 1 million children - roughly 2% of the K-12 population - are participating in some form of online learning. Today, 27 states offer statewide virtual schools that allow students to take a class online, and 24 states and the District of Columbia offer students the opportunity to attend a virtual school full-time.

In light of the growing crisis, Proximity Learning, a K-12 online provider, educates over 50,000 students every day. Contrary to asynchronous, self-paced online programs, Proximity Learning’s services provide live certified teacher-led instruction delivered via livestream directly into classrooms that may otherwise suffer from a number of disadvantages.

Some of the key advantages that Proximity Learning brings to education are giving access to certified teachers and flexibility for students who are not succeeding in traditional schools. Most importantly, the curriculum feeds into the consistency needed for progressive education.

“We are not simply throwing them in front of a computer to 'learn' on their own,” said Proximity Learning live instruction teacher Kris Wedington. Certified teachers lead lessons cia livestream and interact with students all year, providing a high-quality, personalized education for the class.

Proximity Learning was specifically designed to serve the common cause of providing every student with engaging and affordable educational opportunities. Now more than ever, our nation is in need of academic institutions that surpass financial barriers and accessibility, giving students an equitable means to lead productive lives. As the evidence points to students benefiting from these revolutionary and relatively new routines, enrollment in online programs like Proximity Learning’s virtual school is expected to increase over the next few years.

“As we grow, we have spread our wings and begun to offer more non-traditional subjects--perhaps Marine Biology, Geology, world languages like Arabic, Spanish for the Medical field, and French for the Business field. Our reach and our offerings are limitless,” said Wedington.

Learn more about how we are striving to provide equity for 1 million students.

about the author
Rimsha Syed

Rimsha Syed

Rimsha Syed is an Austin-based Pakistani Muslim daughter of fierce immigrants. In Urdu, her name means a bouquet of flowers. Rimsha is a freelance journalist, community organizer, and creative who hopes to disrupt imperial influenced media and re-write history from the perspective of all those oppressed by systems of power meant to exploit working-class people of color globally. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 where she studied journalism and women and gender studies.

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