Education in America: Don’t Fail Me
Education is the only way towards success, formal or informal. Over the last few weeks I’ve been paying special attention to education issues in the news. Last week I watched a program on CNN entitled Don’t Fail Me hosted by Soledad O’Brien. The program followed the lives of three high school students, Maria, Shawn and Brian. All from 3 different school systems and social economic classes participating on separate teams from around the nation to build winning robots in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Each student was stellar and worked very hard to maintain superb grades in higher level courses but that is the only thing they had in common. The program also touched on the school systems and their failure to prepare students for higher learning.
Maria lives in Arizona and attends a school were the current drop out rate is 40-50%. Her story really touched me because she worked so hard to be self sufficient. As a sophomore she lobbied for advanced classes at her school and was successful in finding a teacher and 31 students to start the math class. After 5 months only 5 students remained in the class. At her school chemistry and physics are not an option for the majority of the population as most students prefer not to take difficult math and science classes. (As highlighted in a previous Rebel Artistry post the United States is rated 17th in Science and 25th in Math.) Maria’s dream is to study solar engineering at Standford University. Only 7% of the applicants are usually accepted. Her family is proud but due to their own lack of education can only offer Maria so much. Maria’s parents are Mexican immigrants. Her father completed school up to the 6th grade and her mother up to the 5th grade. In her neighborhood the average family income in $30,000/year. Maria is doing her best to prepare herself for her dreams of attending Standford with limited resources.
Brian is a bit more fortunate because he lives in a working middle class neighborhood in Tennessee and his school system is supposedly better than Maria’s. At 7 years old Brian knew that attending college was a requirement. 70% of the students in his graduating class will attend college. He too is taking advanced classes with a concentration in math and science. Brian scored in the top 1% of the nation on his ACT test and since has been getting lots of offers from ivy league universities that weren’t even on his radar. Unfortunately, Brian needs to be challenged and is suffering because most of the parents in the community are more concerned with extra curricular achievement and not academic success. Soledad O’Brien spoke with some officials in Brian’s area to get some background on what is really happening with education there. Phil Bredesen, Governor of Tennessee shared some shocking news. The county notified parents that 84% of the students in the 8th grade were proficient in math when in fact the accurate number was 22%. I was very surprised. I know it is standard for false information to get to the masses regarding student success. But with the lack of parent interest this is a disaster. Who thought it was a good idea to make the parents think students were successful at that point. Since that announcement the state has included more math and science in the curriculum and increased graduation requirements.
Shawn lives in a predominantly Asian neighborhood in New Jersey where the average household income is $200,000/year. His family is adamant about preparing him for success and promoting financial stability. So Shawn is taking a combination of advanced placement and higher level courses to start getting college credits while in high school. He is usually in bed around 12:30 am after completing all studies and doesn’t mind the hectic schedule. Shawn feels fortunate and obligated to push himself as compared to his autistic brother who does not have the same opportunity. Shawn manages to hang out with friends and live a normal teenage life. With the support of his parents he will only continue on to more advanced math and science courses. His parents stated that they moved into the neighborhood because they new that particular school system was better for Shawn. A majority of the children in the community are steered towards academic tracks that will prepare them for job opportunities where they can compete globally in the areas of math and science. In the United States Asians make up 5% of the population but 25% of the graduates from MIT and Caltech are from the Asian community.
While the program focused on the FIRST robotics competition and application of higher level math and science I was drawn towards the diversity in each situation, the desire of success and the support system each student had. Maria’s team went the furthest in the competition. Though the competition was intense Maria never lost sight of her studies and missed meetings twice each week for study sessions in preparation for her advanced math class. Brian had a great team as well but they didn’t make it very far. His family situation and support system is much stronger than Maria’s. Brian’s mother holds him accountable because she understands the importance of high academic achievement. Shawn’s robotics team was going strong until they took a hit by another robot. Shawn is set up to go the furthest of the three with his family, a strong school that will continue to challenge him and his personal goals. When I think about these students I wonder which of them will make it as a leader in their careers. I wonder about the parents at Brian’s school who will call the staff about their child’s success in sports before they even think about academics. I wonder why principals and other school officials continue to push teachers to teach tests instead of application of concepts.
I enjoyed watching the program because it highlighted three young people from different parts of the country who were working very hard to achieve their academic goals with or without guidance. Their high expectations for themselves will take them very far but will the school system fail them due to lack of preparation? Are these children’s needs being met and talents fostered? We need to pay attention to these issues when voting or taking our own children to school. More children need to take part in programs like FIRST so they can apply things they are learning in the classroom to everyday life. I believe application gives children a better perception of how valuable their education can be.
Check out this video sneak peek from CNN.