The State of Education in the U.S.

In a country where four in ten children have significant literacy delays, one would think that education would be a top priority. Unfortunately, neither of the U.S. presidential candidates is seriously focusing on this issue.

According to the 2005-2006 U.S. Department of Education No Child Left Behind testing reports, over one million children in the U.S. have failed all or major parts of the comprehensive criterion referenced tests that are supposed to measure a child’s “response to instruction.” These statistics are not just disappointing; they are unacceptable. And, yet the candidates continue spouting rhetoric about how each one of them can make a change for the better.

In order to make a change for the better, presidential candidates must seriously address the broken educational system in this country (and not just as a footnote in their speeches).

The public school system in America is in tragic need of repair. We have the opportunity to teach all children at their level to succeed. We can teach them not just facts, but how to think, problem-solve and be independent.  We can teach teamwork, respect for differences, and basic American values that we have, perhaps, started to take for granted.

Perhaps we should start by taking a really hard look at a jazzy slogan with little resources to fulfill its promise. What is No Child Left Behind really doing?  Is it leaving no child out of the system of success?  Is it teaching to the child in the way he or she can best learn?  Is it providing related-support services such as occupational, speech, physical and assistive technologies readily?  Are these services being offered in a timely way? Or, are children waiting, in many cases, almost a whole school year before interventions are made available? Has bureaucracy invaded the educational system to the point of hypocrisy?

Has the system of deciding who is eligible for services become so cumbersome that those administering the system, rather than leave no child behind, leave many children out of the educational running for success? 

High-stakes testing has rewritten the public school curriculums—for the worst.  Teachers’ salaries and performance ratings now depend, in many cases, on how well students perform on these tests.  So are we teaching creative thinkers who will invent the next life-saving vaccine, the better computer and the environmentally cleaner car? Or, are we teaching students how to pass a test so that teachers, principals and school districts look good?

I am an occupational therapist working with learning disabled children. By definition, these children are average to above average in cognitive/intelligence, with a “glitch” in one or two areas of learning. They need help and yet they are often denied services, told by their teachers they could do it if they want to and just need to try harder. 

I see kids with IQs that astound me, become angry, shut down, and eventually turn into marginal learners. Denied services by the public schools because they are not “failing,” these kids begin to believe that they cannot succeed and they give up.  Many of these children never finish high school. (Research has shown that children with learning issues are three times more likely not to finish high school than traditional learners). If these kids with learning glitches do finish high school, they often cannot find jobs that can pay the bills.

We are a use and toss society. We cannot afford to use and toss children who learn differently. It would be unconscionable to leave a child behind on a field trip. We are ignoring the fact that everyday is a learning field trip and standardized test results sadly prove that we are leaving too many children behind.

If you don’t think that the educational system is really your problem (you may not have kids or your kids may be grown) think of this: who will be working to pay you your social security?