In 2013, the United States Department of Education requested a discretionary budget of $69.8 billion, a 2.5 percent increase from 2012. It is not nearly enough, not even close. As a whole, that $69.8 billion represents a scant three percent of the federal budget for 2013. In comparison, defense spending – at least, that which is reported to the public – totals 21 percent of the federal budget, or seven times the education budget. Pension and healthcare spending dwarf education spending in similar fashion, and transportation checks in at the same level as education. Perhaps most disturbingly, the US government spends eight percent of its budget – nearly three times the education allotment – just on interest payments to service debt. Is it any wonder that the United States has fallen behind the world at large in education? One recent study ranks the United States 15th overall, behind countries as diverse as South Korea, New Zealand, Belgium, and Estonia.
Poor Incentives, Poor Teaching
- By no means is the current educational downturn solely the responsibility of teachers, but it is a simple fact that some teachers are more effective or more qualified than their peers. Just as with any other profession, one of the main things that will attract the best teachers to a given school is the ability to offer a competitive salary. For many schools, this is simply not possible. This leads to the most effective educators congregating in certain areas, where funding is available not only to meet their deserved salary, but to allow for an engaging, versatile classroom experience as well.
- There will always be exceptions, and this is not to say that teachers are motivated only by money when choosing a position, but this basic logical progression still plays out in underfunded schools all over the country. Even an under-qualified teacher who proves their effectiveness in their first few years on the job at an underfunded school is at risk of being “poached” by a school with more resources.
- Beyond the incentive issue for people who already are teachers is the risk of losing potentially great teachers to other professions. With little financial motivation for pursuing a teaching career, a student must pursue the job as a labor of love. For many otherwise qualified students, the thought of toiling in an underfunded classroom is enough to steer them in other direction, career-wise.
Sub-Sufficient Educational Environments
- For students, the underfunding issue realizes itself in a number of ways, starting with the teacher. There is a major incongruity between the everyday life of most students, and what they experience in the classroom, especially when it comes to technology. To engage the modern student, you need to be able to offer information through a number of media, which simply isn’t possible considering the funding that public schools receive.
- Leaving aside the technology element, in many cases the textbooks and other learning materials available to students are woefully outdated. Again, the pace of information availability in the outside world has little resemblance to that in most classrooms.
- Students are also being forced into more crowded classrooms, in which even the best teachers can struggle to fill the needs of every student. Large classrooms make one-on-one help sessions largely impossible, while also limiting the teacher’s options for providing stimulating, unconventional learning activities in the classroom.
Really, this list only scratches the surface of the education problems in the United States today. In many areas, teaching methods are outdated, with no funding available for continuing education and students are forced to attend school in substandard conditions every day. Beyond that, the overall scheduling, style, and implementation of education program has seen little innovation in recent years.
The changes can start there. People in power and those teachers with an education doctorate degree need to take a look at the many countries ahead of the United States in worldwide education rankings, and see what makes their programs more effective. On top of that, more funding is obviously needed, and politicians need to be made aware of that need in a way that they can’t ignore. The education system in the United States is surely broken, but it can just as surely be fixed with some innovation, hard work, and improved funding.