Control and funding of our nation’s public schools has always been a topic shrouded in controversy and uncertainty. Ever since release of the Coleman Report back in the 1960’s our nation has been become more engrossed in determining a way to fund our schools in a way that is fair to all cultural groups and that, perhaps more importantly, leads to greater academic success of all K-12 students. Currently, the heart of this topic circulates around the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation and the shift in focus that it has caused toward national standards in education. Pundits exist on both sides of support for what this legislation has to offer in regards to a national system of standards for our public schools of today.
On one side of the issue is support for continued development of a system of national standards. Finn Jr., Julian, and Petrilli (2006) argue that a focus on developing national standards for our schools will serve to raise academic performance of our nation’s students. The reason for this is because too often there is inconsistency from state to state in the quality of content that is taught. Implications include the idea that students from more affluent communities will be held to higher standards than poorer kids at lower quality schools, which in effect will keep poorer kids coming up short academically as compared to richer kids, maintaining the cycle of poverty.
On the other side of the issue is an argument against the development of federally-mandated public school national standards. This argument includes the idea that teaching is a profession that is contingent on teachers being motivated and engaging effectively with their students. Uzzell (2005) argues that with a continued shift away from local entities such as teachers and principals having control over curriculum and learning standards there will be a growing number of teachers who begin to lose motivation to teach because they see the power they have in the lives of their students diminishing and instead shifting more toward the federal government as education continues to become more centralized.
I can see benefits in both approaches. On one hand I see the value in creating a single set of standards that all states can employ and therefore be able to collaborate together on. Having 50 states with schools that use the same standards might also stir up healthy competition among private education companies who want to compete for the business of the educational community through sale of their quality educational materials.
On the other hand, creating national standards with the aim of bringing all students up to the “proficient” level may not be realistic. In reality there are unmotivated students across our nation who exist in a place of hopelessness mostly because of the socio-economic background they came from. For them, education often is not a priority. This puts an even greater burden on our teachers who now must deal with motivating these under-inspired students.
In short, I believe there are greater social issues at play in our society that must be dealt with in order for our approach to education to be effective, regardless of whether national standards become more centralized or not. But this is another topic for another night…