Posted in education, schools

Why are so many U.S. public schools so awful?

Once upon a time, many U.S. public schools were very good. Though they obviously lacked the rich resources available to private schools, they nevertheless employed solid teachers and taught everything they needed to. There were also many after school programs. Now the educational system is deep in the toilet, leading many parents to choose charter schools, private schools, and homeschooling.

What might be some of the problems which cropped up over the last few decades?

1. Funding, funding, funding. With less money coming in from taxes and donors, schools are unable to pay teachers more, improve the buildings, buy updated textbooks and technology, send teachers to conventions where they can learn new pedagogy and techniques, or hire more teachers.

2. Common Core. Who thought this was a good idea? It’s as pathetic as the Regents system in New York. I understand the importance of learning specific subjects and having basic standards, but education shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all paradigm, with no deviation allowed for struggling students or students who learn most optimally in different ways. And what’s with the jacked, non-intuitive, overly complicated math rules?

3. Speaking of Common Core, teaching for tests instead of tailored to each individual student and making the material enjoyable. I failed chemistry my sophomore year in part because my awful teacher only taught for the purpose of passing the almighty Regents final. When I repeated the course in summer school (with a teacher who was also a former pupil of hers), I pulled an 84 on the Regents, since the material was actually taught in an engaging way, and the teacher wasn’t going by a script she dared not deviate from.

4. Overcrowding. This makes everything even more difficult for teachers and students alike.

5. Outdated pedagogy. Just because something worked, or at least you were convinced it worked, forty years ago doesn’t mean it’s still effective and relevant today.

6. And speaking of, outdated textbooks. There’s no reason for kids to have to learn from books that haven’t had any major revisions since 1970. Math obviously doesn’t change, but science, history, literature, and language are constantly evolving, and people think differently about them in each generation.

7. Lack of options for gifted and advanced students. I was barred from entering kindergarten a year early, not allowed to skip any grades, and excluded from my elementary school’s Advanced and Talented track. I also attended a lot of sub-par schools. In a private school, my intelligence could’ve been nurtured so much more, and I would’ve been gradually eased into more intense coursework instead of tossed in without a lifeboat my sophomore year.

8. Again speaking of, kids of wildly disparate abilities are heaped together. This makes it harder for teachers to tailor lessons and assignments based on abilities, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. It also increases the risk of bullying and cliques, and smart kids feel stupid when the teacher caters to the lowest common denominator with snail-paced lessons and material they’ve already mastered.

9. No longer teaching basic skills like library research, cursive, and typing. Society has failed when modern students take pictures of a whiteboard with their phones instead of God forbid taking notes by hand, and when they only know how to text instead of touch-typing and handwriting. And since when are students allowed to do 100% of their research online instead of using actual print sources?

10. Teaching towards university attendance only. The entire world isn’t wealthy and bourgeois. Many students go directly from high school to a blue-collar job or working on a farm. They don’t have the luxury of attending college or university.

11. Being unable to fire a tenured teacher, no matter how demonstrably awful.

12. School days beginning too early, when science shows it’s unhealthy for young people to be deprived of sleep. A better model would be beginning at 9:00 and ending at 5:00. A longer school year would also be very helpful, as well as a longer lunch break and healthier food options.

13. Hearkening back to several other points, bad teachers. How can kids succeed when they have sub-par teachers?

14. Lack of after school programs, particularly for at-risk youth.

15. Outdated, ineffective discipline. Newsflash: Detention doesn’t teach any lessons but anger and annoyance, and it’s often doled out to students who didn’t do anything to deserve punishment. Like, why does being one day late with a paper merit an hour of sitting in a desk? And what if older students have part-time jobs they can’t miss? Parents like mine will also freak out if the kid doesn’t show up at the car or get home on the bus at the usual time. Don’t even get me started on how some schools, esp. in the South, still use corporal punishment.

16. The general strain of anti-intellectualism and dumbing-down of society.

17. Too much busywork.

18. Failure to diagnose and treat things like depression, anxiety, mental illness, abuse, and trauma, which all have a huge impact on academic performance and overall behaviour.

19. Lack of parental involvement.

20. In recent years, putting more emphasis on political and social issues than actual academia.


Writer of historical fiction sagas and series, with elements of women's fiction, romance, and Bildungsroman. Born in the wrong generation on several fronts.

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