You are on page 1of 5

Theodore Larkin

Professor Rick Rubinson


Sociology of Education
9/10/13
A Nation at Risk: The Crisis in Education
As a U.S. citizen, one can easily be deceived into thinking that our educational
system is top-notch, yielding industrious, thriving individuals as we pave the way in a
progressively scientific world. These false assumptions are not completely unfounded as
the U.S. spends more on education than any other nation and is home to the most
confident students in the world; however, our performance on the global scale is merely
average when compared to other leading nations, making reform a necessity. Educational
movements such as former president Bushs No Child Left Behind project and President
Obamas Race to the Top project have failed to significantly change our educational
statistics. The Waiting for Superman documentary and the commentaries by Robert
Samuelson, George Will, and Etienne LeGrande explain how the future of our education
system needs to motivate all students to learn and experience the eye opening wonders of
the world around them regardless of their ethnicity, parental marriage status, location or
socioeconomic situation.
George Will, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, focuses on the relationship
between African American home life and education in his article published in the
Washington Post: For black children, daunting divides in achievement and family life.
One tragic imbroglio mentioned in his article that sets itself apart from other current
American issues is that 70% of African American children are born out of wedlock.

Will goes on to explain that that only 35% of African American children share a home
with two parents, partially describing why, while only 24% of Caucasian 8th graders
watch greater than four hours of television per day, 59% of their black classmates do.
Referencing an article written by Patrick F. Fagan, Will wrote: Out-of-wedlock birth has
been shown to decrease the health of newborns, increase newborns chances of dying,
retard children's cognitive development, decrease educational achievement, decrease job
attainment, increase behavior problems, lower impulse control, warp social development;
and increase the crime rate in a community. Will then goes on to shares a report from
the Educational Testing Service about "The Black-White Achievement Gap: When
Progress Stopped," written by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley. The report states that:
By age 4, the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words
than the average child in a working-class family and about 35 million more than the
average child in a welfare family. Will concludes that About 90% of the difference in
schools' proficiencies are due to five factors: the number of days students are absent from
school, the number of hours students spend watching television, the number of pages read
for homework, the quantity and quality of reading material in the students' homes and,
much the most important, the presence of two parents in the home.
Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and Washington Post columnist Robert
Samuelson begins his article School Reform's Meager Results by stating that the waves of
"reform" haven't produced significant educational gains and the archetypal elucidations
don't explain our lack of progress. While majority of the public may believe that schools
and teachers are responsible for the students lack of success, Samuelson suggests that the
real cause of failure is the rapidly decreasing student motivation: "Students, after all, have

to do the work,", "If they aren't motivated, even capable teachers may fail." Motivation
comes from many foundations: inquisitiveness, parental expectations, ambition,
stimulating or challenging teachers, peer pressure and the aspirations to get into a good
college. Samuelson explains that in a 2008 survey of public high school teachers 21%
judged student absenteeism a serious problem and 29 % cited "student apathy."
Corresponding to Samuelson, Etienne R. LeGrands article entitled "How to motivate
students when culture attacks ambition" also focuses decline in overall student motivation
over the last few decades as the main reason schools fail. LeGrand goes on to references
a few alarming statistics: One in five students says he doesnt try as hard as he can in
school because he is worried about what others will say and only 32% of teens say their
friends believe its important to get good grades while just 20% say its important to go to
one of the best colleges. Le Grand explains that the authority of teachers and schools has
been compromised due to increased peer pressure, increases in stereotypes of school
being uncool and decreased student motivation.
Lack of incentive among adolescents occurs because more students don't enjoy
school, don't apply themselves in school and as a result don't do well in school. George
Will expressed his support of the importance of student motivation at home and school
through his 5 concluding factors: the number of days students are absent from school, the
number of hours students spend watching television, the number of pages read for
homework, the quantity and quality of reading material in the students' homes and, much
the most important, the presence of two parents in the home. A student would become
much more motivated if: he/she didnt miss school often, he/she spent less time watching
television, he/she read more books for homework, the quality of the books in his/her

home was increased, or two parents lived in his/her home. Robert Samuelson and Etienne
LeGrand both expressed their belief in the importance of student motivation at home and
school by suggesting that the real cause of educational failure is the decreasing amount
student motivation. Collectively the three commentaries point to student motivation both
at school and at home as the most important issue in addressing school reform.
The charter school movement described in Waiting for Superman is similar to all
three commentaries but is most closely related to the George Will article since it touches
upon lack of proper home life for all kids, students dropping out at young ages, the issue
of affording college or even private school, and the amount of government spending
which is not correctly being utilized on our Education system. The No Child Left Behind
movement is a federal law that mandates a number of programs aimed at improving U.S.
education in elementary, middle and high schools by increasing accountability standards.
This law focuses solely on increasing standardized test scores although it hasn't been
successful in enhancing public education, as evidenced by lack of significantly better
results in standardized testing. This form of education is severely flawed and biased in
that teachers now care only about student standardized test results instead of how much
of the content the student comprehends. The Race to the Top movement focuses on
educational reform through competition at the State level. The State winners are
supposed to act as examples for school districts throughout the country to follow. The
Race to the Top movement is slightly similar to the three commentaries as it provides
motivation for all states while the commentaries focus on motivation for all students. This
form of education is severely flawed and biased in that teachers now care only about
student standardized test results instead of how much of the content the student

comprehends.

Both No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have turned schools into factories
where kids are taught how to take tests. This removes the excitement from the learning
experience and leads to teachers not focusing on knowledge building. As expressed in the
Waiting for Superman documentary and the commentaries by Robert Samuelson, George
Will, and Etienne LeGrande the United States needs to implement a system that turns all
American schools, regardless of the students ethnicity, parental marriage status, school
location or economic situation, back into a place where kids are not only taught but are
motivated to learn and experience the eye opening wonders of the world around them and
the beauty of how and why things work.