Reforming Education

Why United States Education Fails

In recent years, the majority of lobbyist in the United States government have been calling for an improvement in education in the United States. While Presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama have tried to reform public schools, little progress has been evident. Some issues affecting the education system include poverty, standardized testing, and the importance of sports or outside activities in a student's life. Also, the United States falls behind in math and science compared to other countries such as Finland and South Korea. Finally, in recent years the quality of teachers in public school has gone down. While more money is being spent on education, there is little proof of improvement.

Government Reform Programs

No Child Left Behind

  • The No Child Left Behind program was created by the Bush Administration in 2001. The program's goal sought to push all school children to "proficiency" by 2014.
  • Students had to take standardized tests, if requirements were not met, schools faced consequences.
  • The main issue with this program being the allowance of each state to set their own standards of "proficiency". This led to an inaccurate depiction of children's reading and math skills.
  • The program's focus on reading and math also led to a decline in science understanding and basic skills.
  • While the program spent billions of dollars, little progress was actually seen, leading to the conclusion that this law needs to be terminated.
The Race to the Top

  • The Race to the Top program was created by the Obama Administration in 2012 in accordance to the ARRA. The program offered grants to schools who created promising education methods.
  • Many of the winners of these grants all have similar programs based on personalized teaching, the utilization of mobile devices, and for many of the districts, the idea that learning is about whether or not the skill is mastered.
  • While No Child Left Behind was a program that held back classes as a whole, new programs allow children who master their subjects to move up a grade level in the middle of their school year.

How Poverty, Standardized Testing, and Outside Activities Are Affecting Schools


  • Those affected by poverty are less likely to perform well in school. Reasons being a poor parent involvement, distractions from issues in family life, and high probability of becoming a drop out due to influence of a student's environment.
Math & Reading

  • Due to the No Child Left Behind program, there is an unequal amount of time spent for each school subject.

· Reading

o 1991: teachers (grades 1-4) spent about 33% of their classroom time on reading

o 2004: reading consumed 36% of the classroom’s instructional time

· Math

o 1991: 15% of classroom time was spent on math

o 2004: 17% of classroom time was spent on math

· Social Studies

o 1991: 9%

o 2004: 8%

· Science

o 1991: 8%

o 2004: 7%

Standardized Testing

  • The issue with standardized testing is these test are based solely on insignificant information memorization.
  • Many believe we should be focusing on developing a student's attitudes, interests, ideals, and habits.
Outside Activities

  • Many teachers become teachers because their real goal is to become a coach. Therefore, not all teachers in the US are as “qualified” as they should be. It is the common mindset to believe that all coaches are lazy teachers and let anything in their classroom be acceptabl
  • Sports distracts students because such a high focus is set upon them

Finland's Education System Compared to the United States


  • PISA Survey - conducted every 3 years by the OECD

    • Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development

  • Survey compares 15 year olds in different countries

    • Reading, Math, Science

  • Finland ranked high along with South Korea and Singapore students

  • PISA performance of the U.S. was mediocre at best.

Finland’s Reform

  • Decades ago Finland had to change its education system

    • 1 in 10 adults had completed no more than 9 years of basic schooling

    • Success was never based on excellence but equity of students

  • They believed every child should have the same opportunity to learn, regardless of background, income, location.

U.S Schools (Specifically universities)

  • Run for profit rather than for educational benefit of students

Finland’s Schools

  • No private schools (not even universities)

  • Small number of independent schools exist

  • Schools are publicly financed

  • Can not charge tuition fees

Finland’s System

  • No standardized testing

  • National Matriculation Exam

    • Every student takes at the end of upper-secondary school

    • Equivalent to the ACT for high school students

  • U.S. loves competition; being the “best”

  • “Nothing makes the Finnish more uncomfortable”

  • There are no lists of best schools or teachers in Finland.

Finland’s Teachers

  • Very competitive process, equivalent to being a doctor/lawyer in America. Teachers in Finland are respected so much more than American teachers. Some American teachers feel threatened, disrespected, over controlled, and undervalued.

    • When they are employed in a school, they usually stay for life.

    • 10-15% leave teaching during the course of their career.

    • Devote less time to teaching than in other nations.

      • Spend roughly two hours a week planning schoolwork.

      • Outside of class activities and preparation.

Example from Finland

  • It’s possible to achieve excellence by focusing on equity rather than competition.

  • Make every child feel like they have an equal opportunity to be the best they can be, without the pressure of standardized tests.

Solution for U.S.

  • More equity at home could help the U.S. be more competitive abroad.

  • “Teachers are the best judges of how their students are progressing in school.”

  • Students’ individual progress in development and abilities are more important than statistical indicators.

South Korea & Singapore Education Systems Compared to the United States

South Korea

  • Parents insist children learn English in elementary school

  • Education considered best things parents can provide to children

  • Entrance exams popular

  • Greater demand for good education

  • Top tutors key in education

  • 58% of young adults get at least associate’s degree compared to U.S 42%

  • in the 2009 PISA assessments, South Korea ranked second in reading, fourth in mathematics and sixth in science

    South Korean Schools

  • 10-12 hours a day compared to U.S. 6-8, also schools are not only about good grades. A students main goal is to try for a top university for good career.


  • Teachers in South Korea make significantly more than U.S. teachers. At $4 million a year (US dollars). Teachers are like celebrities there.

  • Advances in technology help tutors become famous. Teachers also come from top ten percent of graduates, and are seen as major contribution to building of the nation.


  • In Singapore education is the government's primary priority. Because they have no natural resources→ education gives them power.

  • The Government provides funds for school visits, clubs, and extra-curricular activities so they are required by the law and students are graded on these activities (encourages learning outside of classroom).

  • Schools combine traditional teaching and discipline while also approach it with child-like learning. They are also multi-ethnic and multilingual.

U.S. changes

  • set higher standards to motivate for more effort

  • foreign language only required for graduation in ten states (so more emphasis on knowledge of other cultures)

  • respect teachers more

Final Thoughts On Reforming United States Education

The United States needs to learn when to terminate programs that are no longer successful in improving the education system. The United States education system requires change. The Race to the Top program shows promise, but change also includes offering more help to students in areas of high poverty. Standardized testing also needs to be reformed, or even canceled entirely, and schools need to focus on its academics rather than success of its sports teams. The United States could also take a lessons from other countries education systems such as Finland and South Korea. Teachers should be from the top percentage of their graduating class, and be treated with the proper respect and pay of a job so important. The quality of a teacher is key to a child's success, and children are the future of the United States.


Works Cited

Baker, Mike. "Education: Opinion: Lessons from Singapore." ELibrary. N.p., 17 Feb. 2009. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Camins, Arthur H. "Two Roads Diverge for American Education." Ebsco. N.p., Feb. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.

Duncan, Arne. "Back to School: Enhancing U.S. Education and Competitiveness." eLibrary. ProQuest, 01 Nov. 2010. Web. 13 Nov. 2013.

Indiviglio, Daniel. "Teaching Pays in South Korea." The Atlantic Monthly Group, 16 July 2009. Web. 14 Nov. 2013.

Kenny, Linda Chion. "At the Core of Good Sports: Good Coaches." ELibrary. ProQuest, 1 June 2006. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

McNeil, Michele. "Race To Top Districts 'Personalize' Plans." Education Week 32.26 (2013): 1-17. OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. Wilson). Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Partanen, Anu. "What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland's School Success." The Atlantic Monthly Group, 9 Dec. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Ravitch, Diane. "Time To Kill "No Child Left Behind." Education Digest: Essential Readings Condensed For Quick Review75.1 (2009): 4-6. ERIC. Web. 17 Nov. 2013

Rothstein, Richard. "THE GOALS OF EDUCATION." ELibrary. ProQuest, 1 Dec. 2006. Web. 17 Nov. 2013.

Sahlberg, Pasi. "Lessons From Finland." eLibrary. ProQuest, 1 Nov. 2011. Web. 12 Nov. 2013.

Wilson, Suzanne M. "How Can We Improve Teacher Quality?" Ebsco. N.p., Oct. 2011. Web. 16 Nov. 2013.