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The US spends more on education than other countries. Why is it falling behind?

By the Guardian

Spending per student exceeds the OECD average but the likes of Finland and South Korea get better results. What can the US learn from themRead full story

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  • I am astonished by how many continue to place the blame on the teachers: The solution is clear, he says. “We have to have more highly educated teachers and we need to pay them more,” he said.

    “More highly educated teachers” are not going to solve the problems of traumatized children who are neglected and have no support. Everyone wants to fix a school system which cannot and probably should not be in a position to address a social problem. The problem ain’t the teachers. They don’t need to be “more

    I am astonished by how many continue to place the blame on the teachers: The solution is clear, he says. “We have to have more highly educated teachers and we need to pay them more,” he said.

    “More highly educated teachers” are not going to solve the problems of traumatized children who are neglected and have no support. Everyone wants to fix a school system which cannot and probably should not be in a position to address a social problem. The problem ain’t the teachers. They don’t need to be “more highly educated “. They are a very highly educated, competent, and dedicated workforce.

    You cannot address a complex problem in this fashion. You need systems thinking. Otherwise you’ll just continue to produce unintended consequences and wonder “how the hell did that happen?” Or you can keep blaming the teachers and the problem will remain unsolved.

  • Ian Myers
    Ian MyersFounder at Country House Enterprises

    The US eduction system, as it stands today, was created during the industrial revolution and shaped by a largely agrarian, male economy. As the US economy and labor force continued to evolve, the education system has remained stagnant.

    From elementary to high school, teachers have had an outside impact on my life and it is appalling that those tasked with the most important job in our country, are payed so little. It also means that most of our best and brightest (even our mediocre) graduates

    The US eduction system, as it stands today, was created during the industrial revolution and shaped by a largely agrarian, male economy. As the US economy and labor force continued to evolve, the education system has remained stagnant.

    From elementary to high school, teachers have had an outside impact on my life and it is appalling that those tasked with the most important job in our country, are payed so little. It also means that most of our best and brightest (even our mediocre) graduates, do not consider teaching. With the cost of college so high, even if they want to, students can hardly afford to take a position for sub-$30k.

    Lastly, like many things in the US, our greatest weakness are often our strengths. Other countries have better standardized test scores (used to evaluate education for this article), but they often lack the individuality and creativity of the American education system. What we lack in rote memorization, we make up for in creativity.

  • Simply throwing money at a problem like education won’t fix a system built on inflexible national standards and prioritizing teaching to tests.

    Both No Child Left Behind and Common Core took a one-size-fits-all approach to closing the gap between American students and those in other countries, like China, but neither program left much room for individualized curricula or lesson plans. Every fifth grade student, for example, received the same education, regardless of where they lived or what their

    Simply throwing money at a problem like education won’t fix a system built on inflexible national standards and prioritizing teaching to tests.

    Both No Child Left Behind and Common Core took a one-size-fits-all approach to closing the gap between American students and those in other countries, like China, but neither program left much room for individualized curricula or lesson plans. Every fifth grade student, for example, received the same education, regardless of where they lived or what their needs where — it’s a public-housing way of handling education, and we all know how well public housing policy works…

    Students are not a monolithic bloc, and there cannot be a monolithic approach to their education. Teachers should be required to hit certain benchmarks when it comes to math, science, and reading/writing but have the flexibility to meet their students on their level. Rote learning is not the same as knowledge.

  • So if we are underpaying our teachers, where does so much of this money we spend go? My sister is a teacher and it’s astonishing what we ask teachers to do for what we pay them. It’s an exhausting and dispiriting profession often full of bureaucracy and institutional mediocrity.

  • Russ Lilly
    Russ LillyFormer FedEx Managing Director

    No real discipline in schools, pass failing students to move them along and lazy attitudes from

    students and parents...welcome to the States...

  • Living in Europe I am often surprised that the American College graduates I come across frequently have worse English language skills than many non-native English speaking Europeans. It’s shocking. Sure, America is a big place, but there must be some minimal standards. Or not?

  • Greg Vetter
    Greg VetterCEO at Tessemae’s

    The article is missing one the main reasons why the US is continuing to fail it’s children through education and it’s food. The NIH did a study on 30,000 kids and found that children that are 5-7 meals together at home around a table in a week were more likely to get A’s and B’s than children who only ate 0-1 meals together. Meals were defined as breakfast or dinner since lunch was at school. Every country listed other than the United States takes pride in their meals including school lunch. The

    The article is missing one the main reasons why the US is continuing to fail it’s children through education and it’s food. The NIH did a study on 30,000 kids and found that children that are 5-7 meals together at home around a table in a week were more likely to get A’s and B’s than children who only ate 0-1 meals together. Meals were defined as breakfast or dinner since lunch was at school. Every country listed other than the United States takes pride in their meals including school lunch. The US gives a mix of high fructose corn syrup, natural flavors, preservatives that never let it spoil, and enough ingredients that can’t be pronounced to confuse the national spelling bee...and then we wonder why kids aren’t focusing in class or better yet, learning.

  • Invest in teachers. Training, pay, professional development, and more.

  • Japan has half of the population of the United States, yet still manages to support higher education by subsidizing the cost and make it affordable to all.

    A good start would be, to provide interest free loans to students.

  • James Randorff
    James RandorffMusician, Instructor at US Navy

    Observe Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Students will fail when they do not feel physiologically stable, safe/secure, and loved. At that point, the skill of their teachers will matter very little, unless those teachers are actually taking in students and fulfilling their primary needs (which is far too much to ask as normal duties of a teacher).

    This is the result of the widening pay and benefits gap in our country: We end up paying more than anyone else for an education system that is incapable of

    Observe Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Students will fail when they do not feel physiologically stable, safe/secure, and loved. At that point, the skill of their teachers will matter very little, unless those teachers are actually taking in students and fulfilling their primary needs (which is far too much to ask as normal duties of a teacher).

    This is the result of the widening pay and benefits gap in our country: We end up paying more than anyone else for an education system that is incapable of being as effective as nations with greater income equality and effective social safety nets.

  • Kandice Levero
    Kandice LeveroSenior Art Director at Valtech_

    What is: Because the US government couldn’t throw a pizza party without paying off twenty corrupt individuals?

  • The root problem is the finger pointing. I don't think we can assuredly blame teachers, administrators, parents, or students.

    There's a toxic culture in the American education system that claims we can fit all students through the same mold. Other countries understand the value of letting kids be kids; cutting back on homework, increasing recess, and getting rid of standardized tests.

  • Samantha Bailey
    Samantha Bailey

    Why not more mindfulness and better cognitive behaviors taught earlier in the beginning?

    Pre school all the way through high school to provide children with more balance. Therefore, more can succeed. Each year have it based more in depth psychologically for a better and more focused progression.

    Everything starts at home. If you look at all the different social influences even in day to day life you see so many different types. Similar backgrounds and polar opposites. I feel strongly adding more

    Why not more mindfulness and better cognitive behaviors taught earlier in the beginning?

    Pre school all the way through high school to provide children with more balance. Therefore, more can succeed. Each year have it based more in depth psychologically for a better and more focused progression.

    Everything starts at home. If you look at all the different social influences even in day to day life you see so many different types. Similar backgrounds and polar opposites. I feel strongly adding more psychologically would strengthen our younger generations. Start early.

    People are naturally selfish at times, neutral, overly aggressive, and push overs. There needs to be balance. Funding is what everyone considers an issue. Someone in a higher position than myself expressing my own opinion would have to consider what is feasible for implementing, if there were enough supporters.

    Teaching children how their mind works through education early on I bet would improve everything as a whole.

    If we build a stronger generation now through sacrifice if need be we could build stronger minded focused children. I believe the future would have a greater success for the US with added psychology early on.

    I agree with other posts as well.

    Nutrition should be approved upon. An active adult alone requires 4700 mg of potassium per day.

    A centered mind, a knowledge of how your mind functions, and realizing you are an individual could classify students in a better school program directed to their learning style. Plus, exercise will lead to better absorption rates and let children use the bathroom! It is when our basic needs are not met that things can get out of wack which leads to disfunction.

    Here’s yet another idea...Have separate types of schools in the same geographical location to specialize in the different types of learning. As in hands on, books, etc. It would require more traveling within a school district with more specialization. Which would not be the most economical idea for some families. Not to mention natural resources as well as the amount of time spent traveling.

    I still feel like a simple add on of psychology, nutrition, and mindfulness practices would help every type of student from the get go. Everything else seems overly complicated and really expensive.

  • To fix America's underperforming schools, we need to treat our teachers like knowledge workers, not factory workers. Paying more for good teachers and replacing bad teachers with good ones is the first step.

    "The world’s most successful school systems have become “professional” and treat the recruitment and development of highly qualified teachers as integral to their education system."

  • Paul O'Brien
    Paul O'BrienCEO at MediaTech Ventures

    Because the U.S. is a) generally more expensive the most places b) structured to reward school performance, not teacher nor individual student outcome and c) attempts to standardize to progress the average; not excel the standard.

  • I see elementary math education is a chronic issue but it also depends on when to compare. My impression is that US students tend to get behind for the subjects that demand upfront memorization and repetitive trainings, but they exel in critical thinking, logical reasoning, and communication, all of which emerge as academic strength later in school years than earlier. It is not to say we do not have a problem, of course, but to say educational outcomes are multi-faceted.

  • Jack Douglas
    Jack DouglasStudent

    Perhaps schools need better communication. Also, there are too many schools trying to change the ways things are being taught even though they might not be as effective.

  • Adam Gross
    Adam GrossThunderbird Plastics

    As someone who is married to a teacher, I’ll second the comments regarding the need to treat teachers like professionals. My wife got through one year. She loves to teach. However, She finds being a teacher to be all-consuming, yet thankless and demeaning. She’s currently interviewing with jobs outside that profession. An incredible amount of money is spent on administration in many schools that should be spent on the teachers and supplies. Teachers ARE highly educated. Which makes their pay in most

    As someone who is married to a teacher, I’ll second the comments regarding the need to treat teachers like professionals. My wife got through one year. She loves to teach. However, She finds being a teacher to be all-consuming, yet thankless and demeaning. She’s currently interviewing with jobs outside that profession. An incredible amount of money is spent on administration in many schools that should be spent on the teachers and supplies. Teachers ARE highly educated. Which makes their pay in most states insulting. From the school district on down, the teacher is at the bottom rung of a very tall ladder in which principals, vice principals, teaching coaches, district supervisors and school superintendents all are granted the authority to have an opinion and directly manage any given teacher at any time. As someone entering the education sector, there’s no incentive to enter as a teacher. You will get paid worse and treated worse than anyone else in the system. There’s a reason we have thousands of open teaching positions. There is a lot of money spent in our K-12 education system. A huge portion of it is not being spent in the classroom. The management of teachers has come to consume about as much money as the teaching itself. Eradicating most of the self-serving bureaucracy in the administration, paying that freed up money to teachers, and trusting them to do their job would almost certainly make those performance metrics in the article better.

  • Art Busch
    Art BuschFree-Lance, Pro Bono Observer

    There are no simple solutions. However, inroads can be made. First, NCLB needs to end. There are no participation trophies in life and the world of work. Teaching as if there is is counterintuitive and does students no favors. Pearson Education, and the academics that have made a cottage industry from the exploitation of the false metrics of standardized testing need to be banished forever from primary and secondary education.

    Second, teachers need to be well-versed in a variety of fields. Few, if

    There are no simple solutions. However, inroads can be made. First, NCLB needs to end. There are no participation trophies in life and the world of work. Teaching as if there is is counterintuitive and does students no favors. Pearson Education, and the academics that have made a cottage industry from the exploitation of the false metrics of standardized testing need to be banished forever from primary and secondary education.

    Second, teachers need to be well-versed in a variety of fields. Few, if any academic disciplines, stand on their own. Any educator worth their salt should be able to call upon a diverse wealth of facts and knowledge to broaden students view.

    Additionally, educators need to be just that, and not purveyors of, and vocal advocates for, one political or cultural conversation or another. Those that choose to practice this way should lose their licences. If a teacher cannot be impartial, as much as humanly possible, they ARE NOT teachers and have no place in front of students. Those that go this route are propagandists that bring disrepute and dishonor to the profession and do great, and perhaps irreparable, harm to the children they are influencing. Those that practice in this manner are truly a cancer and must be excised as such.

    Correspondingly, let good teachers teach, and truly mentor those who need the help. They are the experts, they know their students. Give them the mandate to run their classrooms as they see fit. Support and defend them when they are right and discipline, or correct them, when they aren't.

    Lastly, the U.S. Department of Education needs to be dissolved. Its paradox of power detaches it from the focus of truly making a difference for most students in the country. Federal Education block grants to states should be as deep as D.C. gets involved.

  • Kyo Kaku
    Kyo KakuVice President at China-Japan J/V

    It is sarcastic that the quality of US rudimentary education is ranked behind while the level of renowned US university programs is state-of-art.

  • Yuni Wakamatu
    Yuni Wakamatu

    Comparing Education by countries is interesting but also nonsense.

    Education basically designs the children to live within the framework.

    IMHO,U.S. places importance on the expressing the idea(application first) while South Korea and Japan does on memorizing the math formulas,English vocabulary and so on...(principle ahead)

    Both education has advantages or disadvantage all the time.

  • Cherry Dougherty
    Cherry Dougherty

    Rachel Connolly, I wasn’t aware teacher’s salaries were so low. I have read that some teachers, have n impoverished neighbourhoods continually buy school supply’s for their classrooms. Are teachers not unionized in America? Can they not strike for better pay?

  • Moises Perez
    Moises Perezphysician

    Raising the bar for teachers is one way to improve quality. Make it competitive to earn the title of "teacher" and raise the salary accordingly. Not only will this increase the quality of the individuals that are allowed to become teachers, but it will also increase the prestige of the profession. Ultimately, creating a cycle of continuous self improvement within the field of teaching and a societal-cultural paradym shift of the way we value/view our teachers.

  • Alexandra Zuzene
    Alexandra Zuzene7th/8th Grade English Teacher at MVMS

    Why do we put the onus of fixing our country’s issues on the educational system? As if it stands alone, not at all affected by every other political, economic, and social system in this country. It is impossible to adequately address a child’s education without also addressing their socioeconomic status. The students I teach are all smart and capable, but they don’t all have enough to eat or two parents out of jail or with full health or insurance to treat their depression or a yard to play outside

    Why do we put the onus of fixing our country’s issues on the educational system? As if it stands alone, not at all affected by every other political, economic, and social system in this country. It is impossible to adequately address a child’s education without also addressing their socioeconomic status. The students I teach are all smart and capable, but they don’t all have enough to eat or two parents out of jail or with full health or insurance to treat their depression or a yard to play outside in. Until we realize that all systems are interdependent, no matter how much money we throw at one problem, it will never be fixed.

  • Jerran Neve
    Jerran Nevebusiness owner

    Friedman once said “if the us government was in charge of the Sahara desert, they would be out of sand in 5 years”.

  • Philip Eyrich
    Philip Eyrich

    I was surprised that Estonia was mentioned but neglected. I’d like to see more about their system because Estonia is a highly advanced country in regard to education and inventions. I believe they still have the world’s fastest internet speed, for one, and they’ve managed to have people assimilate to their culture, preserving it.

    One teacher in the USA had problems with refugees in her classroom. The kids came from places in Asia where hatred, fighting, and war was common between the two nations

    I was surprised that Estonia was mentioned but neglected. I’d like to see more about their system because Estonia is a highly advanced country in regard to education and inventions. I believe they still have the world’s fastest internet speed, for one, and they’ve managed to have people assimilate to their culture, preserving it.

    One teacher in the USA had problems with refugees in her classroom. The kids came from places in Asia where hatred, fighting, and war was common between the two nations (in this case). The solution turned out to be very simple. The teacher took aside the kids who were fighting and explained she knew their history was antagonistic, but, she pointed out, they are no longer citizens of those countries so the animosity need not continue. She added, you are here to start a new life in a new place, so let’s let go of the past and focus on your new identity as citizens of the USA. It worked.

    It is interesting that each country implements different things regarding education. How many are repeating the things others have tried and found unsuccessful? How many implement the things found to work well?

    If communication and identity are two of the basic foundations, we all need a common language for public use and know our identity as belonging to and sharing the country’s laws and culture. I find that it is growing more difficult to communicate with others who have come to the USA and in better cases have learned some amount of English to survive well, but not really thrive. We should not need to figure out what the other means - at least not taking up so much time that it slows everything down. It’s much easier to thrive in a country or culture if you fully adopt their ways and use the common language. Even though the USA is unique in the world, being a mixture of people from Europe in its early days, and even having more people immigrate over time. Most of them knew it would be best to adopt the new culture and speak the common language - English. We are now a fractured nation with groups of people forming their own society within the greater overall society, an identity where each adheres mostly to their ancestors culture and language. It makes thing more inefficient and slow to say the least. If one moves to Japan, China, Korea, Estonia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela or Bolivia, we would have to adopt their common language, their culture, laws, ways, etc or we likely would survive; I doubt they’d cater and change for us, even though they are kind people.

  • Steven Duke
    Steven Dukemaintenance supervisor

    Parents need to become involved in their children’s education. Children need to be held accountable for their work. Bullying needs to dealt with quickly and harshly to send a message that it will not be tolerated. Unions need to stay out of the classrooms

  • Jim Moody
    Jim MoodyScrivener at Scriveners Ink

    I am a lifelong educator. It is amazing to me how different they teachers are treated in Europe and in America. In many of the countries in which I've traveled teaching is an honored profession, not a joke: " if you can, do semicolon if you can't, teach", that sort of thing. A second problem is the fact that American capitalists consider everything a commodity to be bought and sold, and usually for the lowest price possible.

    In America, it's all about tax cuts. So one of the first things that gets decimated is education

  • Katz Ishida
    Katz IshidaEngineer at Quartz

    Good to know that in Finland, acceptance rates for the University of Helsinki’s teacher education program (6.8%) were lower than its law program (8.3%) and medical school (7.3%) in 2016. Their priority is obvious.

  • Glenn S.
    Glenn S.

    The reality is that the focus here in there US is not the children or the teachers, the main focus is money. There is not one care on students passing a class or graduating as long as they are paying that tuition. Most college counselors out there don’t know what they are doing making students take classes they don’t even need for their chosen degrees. I looked at the photo on this article, the children lined up from tallest to shortest in the front. That single observation alone shows how attention

    The reality is that the focus here in there US is not the children or the teachers, the main focus is money. There is not one care on students passing a class or graduating as long as they are paying that tuition. Most college counselors out there don’t know what they are doing making students take classes they don’t even need for their chosen degrees. I looked at the photo on this article, the children lined up from tallest to shortest in the front. That single observation alone shows how attention is payed to each and everyone of those kids. Make sure that they are all included and have a chance at grasping what the teacher is saying or indicating them to do. Here it is every man for themselves. I used to have professors that got offended and upset at students who would ask to please slow down when they were giving a lecture or to repeat a certain point. Students are tossed into these classrooms as if they all learn at the same rate and speed.

    We think that it’s also all on the school system and that all teachers are bad, but let’s look at our culture and how much it has changed for the worse. Look at how people raise their kids today, rewarding or not correcting bad behavior. These kids then enter a teachers classroom, ridicule, and disrespect them and when something is said to the parent nothing is done, and in some cases the parent attacks the teacher because their kid is an angel. So on top of the fact that teachers aren’t prepared and are under payed we have children being brought up spoiled and rotten at home so of course less people want to become teachers.

  • David Toski
    David Toski

    Our teacher's job is the second most important, just behind parent. God bless Our teachers. Good Help OUR parents.

  • Elior Marques
    Elior MarquesYells at other people

    I completely agree with Greg Vetter. As a high school student, I know firsthand that the food they give us is absolute garbage. I wouldn’t force even the most evil person to eat the school lunches. The cartoons that show cafeterias serving brown goop aren’t far off. The food is tastes terrible, looks terrible, is ridiculously unhealthy, AND is really expensive. One year I ate the school lunch every day. I gained so much weight that year that I decided that I’d rather just not eat. Now, either bring

    I completely agree with Greg Vetter. As a high school student, I know firsthand that the food they give us is absolute garbage. I wouldn’t force even the most evil person to eat the school lunches. The cartoons that show cafeterias serving brown goop aren’t far off. The food is tastes terrible, looks terrible, is ridiculously unhealthy, AND is really expensive. One year I ate the school lunch every day. I gained so much weight that year that I decided that I’d rather just not eat. Now, either bring a lunch to school, or I don’t eat until I get home. It’s a real issue. Especially when you examine places like France where their cafeteria food is free or costs next to nothing. In addition to this, each school hires a specialist that makes sure that everything that the children are eating is healthy and up to all the standards. No wonder their children do better!

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