According to “A Nation at Risk”, the American education system
has declined due to a “rising tide of mediocrity” in our schools.
States such as New York have responded to the findings and
recommendations of the report by implementing such strategies as the
“Regents Action Plan” and the “New Compact for Learning”.


In the early 1980s, President Regan ordered a national
commission to study our education system. The findings of this
commission were that, compared with other industrialized nations, our
education system is grossly inadequate in meeting the ezdards of
education that many other countries have developed. At one time,
America was the world leader in technology, service, and industry, but
overconfidence based on a historical belief in our superiority has
caused our nation to fall behind the rapidly growing competitive
market in the world with regard to education. The report in some
respects is an unfair comparison of our education system, which does
not have a national ezdard for goals, curriculum, or regulations,
with other countries that do, but the findings nevertheless reflect
the need for change. Our education system at this time is regulated
by states which implement their own curriculum, set their own goals
and have their own requirements for teacher preparation. Combined
with this is the fact that we have lowered our expectations in these
areas, thus we are not providing an equal or quality education to all
students across the country. The commission findings generated
recommendations to improve the content of education and raise the
ezdards of student achievement, particularly in testing, increase
the time spent on education and provide incentives to encourage more
individuals to enter the field of education as well as improving
teacher preparation.

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N.Y. State responded to these recommendations by first
implementing the Regents Action Plan; an eight year plan designed to
raise the ezdards of education. This plan changed the requirements
for graduation by raising the number of credits needed for graduation,
raising the number of required core curriculum classes such as social
studies, and introduced technology and computer science. The plan
also introduced the Regents Minimum Competency Tests, which requires a
student to pass tests in five major categories; math, science,
reading, writing, and two areas of social studies. Although the plan
achieved many of its goals in raising ezdards of education in N.Y.
State, the general consensus is that we need to continue to improve
our education system rather than being satisfied with the achievements
we have made thus far.


Therefore, N.Y. adopted “The New Compact for Learning”. This
plan is based on the principles that all children can learn. The
focus of education should be on results and teachers should aim for
mastery, not minimum competency. Education should be provided for all
children and authority with accountability should be given to
educators and success should be rewarded with necessary changes being
made to reduce failures. This plan calls for curriculum to be devised
in order to meet the needs of students so that they will be fully
functional in society upon graduation, rather than just being able to
graduate. Districts within the state have been given the authority to
devise their own curriculum, but are held accountable by the state so
that each district meets the states goals that have been established.
Teachers are encouraged to challenge students to reach their full
potential, rather than minimum competency. In this regard, tracking
of students is being eliminated so that all students will be
challenged, rather than just those who are gifted. Similarly, success
should be rewarded with recognition and incentives to further
encourage progress for districts, teachers and students while others
who are not as accomplished are provided remedial training or
resources in order to help them achieve success.


It is difficult to determine whether our country on the whole
has responded to the concerns that “A Nation at Risk” presented.
Clearly though, N.Y. State has taken measures over the last ten years
to improve its own education system. In many respects the state has
accomplished much of what it set out to do, but the need to continue
to improve is still present. Certainly, if America is determined to
regain its superiority in the world, education, the foundation of our
future, needs to be priority number one.


Teachers often develop academic expectations of students
based on characteristics that are unrelated to academic progress.
These expectations can affect the way educators present themselves
toward the student, causing an alteration in the way our students
learn, and thus causing an overall degeneration in the potential
growth of the student.


Expectations affect students in many ways, not just
academically, but in the form of mental and social deprivation which
causes a lack of self-esteem. When educators receive information
about students, mostly even before the student walks into their
classroom, from past test scores, IEPs, and past teachers, it tends
to alter the way we look at the students potential for growth. This
foundation of expectation is then transformed on to our method of
instruction.


One basic fallout from these expectations is the amount of
time educators spend in communicating with students. We tend to speak
more directly to students who excel, talking in more matures tone of
voice, treating them more like a grown-up than we do to the students
who are already labeled underachievers. This can give the student an
added incentive to either progress or regress due to the amount of
stimulation that they receive.


As educators we tend to take the exceptional students “under
our wing”. We tend to offer knowledge in situations to help push the
good students, in comparison to moving on to the next task for the
others. We also tend to critique the work of our god students more
positively than the others, offering challenges to the answers they
have given.


The most obvious characteristic that educators present to the
students is in the area of body language and facial expression. We
tend to present ourselves in a more professional manner to our good
students, speaking more clearly and with a stronger tone of voice. We
tend to ezd more upright, in a more powerful ezce, than to the
slouching effect we give to the underachievers. The head shakes,
glancing with our eyes, hand gestures, and posture all contribute to
the way we look at certain students based on our first impressions
which came before we even knew the student.


One major way we can avoid these pitfalls and eliminate unfair
expectations that help produce failure in our students is to restrict
the past information on the students to a need to know basis. Instead
of telling the teacher how the student did on past examinations, just
present them with the curricula that the student must learn during the
time they spend in that class. This enables the educator to formulate
their own opinions of that student. Also, instead of doing the IEP
meetings during the middle of the year, we should wait till the end of
the semester to inform the educators of certain aspects of the student
instead of giving them all the information earlier in the year.


Finally, it is up to the educator himself to evaluate their
own teaching methods to be able to recognize, and change, the way they
present themselves to the entire class. To be able to know what we
are doing, and how we are doing it, at different times in the day is
crucial to the aura we present to the students.


Schools are often blamed for the ills of society, yet society
has a major impact on our education system. The problems that schools
are facing today are certainly connected to the problems that are
society faces, including drugs, violence, and the changing of our
family structure. There are many methods that schools have begun to
use in order to deal with the problems they are faced with and still
offer the best possible education to our youth.


The use of drugs in the general population has become a very
serious problem in society and within the school system. There are
two aspects to drug use that teachers are having to deal with now.
The first is in trying to teach the new generation of crack babies
that are now entering the schools. These students have extremely low
attention spans and can be very disruptive in class. Early
intervention programs designed to target these children and focus on
behavior management within the school setting have been effective in
preparing these students for school. Educators have also identified
drug use among students as one of the most significant problems that
our schools face today. According to the text, the rate of drug use
among students has declined in last few years, but recently there has
been an increase in alcohol abuse among teenagers. Intervention
programs such as APPLE, (a school based rehabilitation facility) have
been implemented in many schools with the cooperation of school
counselors and community agencies to treat drug using teenagers.
Other programs, such as D.A.R.E have been implemented in many
elementary schools to provide education about drugs to young students.


Violence, both in society and in the school system has also
been identified as a serious problem. The influx of weapons in
schools creates a dangerous situation for teachers, administrators and
other students. One remedy for this problem has been introduced in
many public city schools; the use of metal detectors. While this
method is not foolproof it does send the message that violence will
not be tolerated in schools and that severe measures will be
implemented in order to curb it. Educators are also being trained to
identify those students who may be violent and to provide non-violent
crisis intervention. It is an undeniable fact that our society has a
serious problem concerning violence and that the violence on the
streets is certainly connected to the violence in the schools. It
seems questionable that even these measures will significantly reduce
the problem in schools, but certainly the process of teaching can
continue in a less stressful atmosphere by having these measures in
place.


Unfortunately, there are other problems such as the changing
family structure that do not have such clear cut solutions. Some of
the problems that teachers are faced with concerning the family
include poverty, single parent homes, abuse and/or neglect and
homelessness.


Statistics state that 41% of single, female headed households
live below the poverty level and that students who live in single
parent homes score lower on achievement tests, particularly boys whose
mothers are the head of the household. Obviously, single parent
families are a fact in our society today, given the rising rate of
divorce and single women having children, and it is true that this
change is having a severe effect on students today, but this should
not effect the quality of education that is provided, but rather,
encourage educators to be more aware of the difficulties these
students face in order to adapt their teaching style, as well as the
curriculum to reach these students.


Similarly, child abuse and/or neglect has become a major issue
in society and schools. It is not clear whether there is a rise in
the occurrences of abuse or whether better awareness has increased the
statistics, but it cannot be argued that this a significant problem
and one that effects those educators who have to help students who are
either abused or neglected. Strict regulations concerning the
accountability of teachers regarding the reporting of child abuse or
neglect are in effect. Teachers are required to be trained on the
ability to identify abuse. Community agencies, shelters and child
welfare agencies have begun working in conjunction with schools in
order to deal with the problem with as little disruption in the
students education as possible.
Homelessness is another major problem in our society. The
rate of homeless people has grown significantly since the early 1980s
deinstitutionalization movement and more recently due to the rising
unemployment rate have led to more families and children being
homeless than ever before. This social problem has become a
significant problem for educators. Low achievement, which may be in
part due to low attendance as a result of a transient lifestyle,
physical problems associated with living on the streets and child
abuse are all issues that educators are confronted with when working
with students who are homeless. Unfortunately, because of the lack of
government funds, this problem continues to grow in America. On the
other hand, schools have begun to deal with this problem by hiring
additional counselors, some who work specifically to coordinate
service with shelters in order provide assiezce to these families
and more precisely to the children. This effort clearly demonstrates
that educators are genuinely concerned about providing education to
all children.


Clearly our schools and society face the same problems. It
has become necessary for all people, not just educators, to be more
aware of the problems. Although some intervention programs have been
implemented and in some cases are very successful, it is becoming more
apparent that these problems are going to continue and will have a
direct consequence on our future in this country. Unfortunately, we
as a society tend to look for the “quick fix” to our problems without
realizing the consequences for the future. Our society need to
underezd that the schools are not responsible for the cause of these
problems or the solutions, but rather, all aspects of society,
including schools, are intertwined and need to collectively work
together if we are ever to make progress toward resolving these
problems in the long run.