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The United States has been on a constant process to reform education since it became a republic. Every time a new administration is put in place, there is a likelihood of proposing a new shift in educational practices and policies with the aim of addressing the issue of school reforms by looking for better ways of improving this permanent problem. Throughout the country's history, there have been conflicts from different groups about the principles of education more specific in the public schools.
In more than two centuries now, administrators and policy makers have been debating about the learning perceptions of the initial founders of the country and the continuing legitimacy of their ideas. Just to name a few of the ideas of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson believed that the key purpose of education was to establish literacy and acquainted nationality that would successfully accomplish the processes of meritocracy and autonomous government. Benjamin Franklin on the other hand believed that learning should promote economic development on both practical and ornamental angles (Herr, 2002). Occasionally, these views are identified in need for education reform either independently or integrated together.
Efforts for school reforms in the United States began in the 1980s through 1990s. This has consequently resulted to many programs, among them the success for all, which were aimed at establishing inclusive reform models. This effort was out to accomplish goals that throughout history, the United States had not achieved. This was possible through two chief premises that propelled these goals (Nehring & Cuban, 2009). The first premise proposed that every individual in the United States was well able, deserved and was entitled to acquire standard high school education regardless of his/ her economic status, race or earlier plans before joining high school. The second premise required that academic standard for every student in the United States needed to be improved considerably. All these effort resulted from the fact that leaders of the nation were awakening and realized that the economy, education and a sustainable democratic state were deeply rooted in a postindustrial community (Nehring & Cuban, 2009).
These two decades of school reform were a result of the numerous challenges that faced the education sector in the past years. During these times, the country's education system experienced a main turn down on enrollment of students. For instance, in the 1970s, education was marked with the departure of baby boomers from schools and as a result there was a sharp down turn on enrollment. Coupling this was the growing disentanglement with education. As the number of parents with schooling children became lesser and lesser, the communities' interest in education also declined and as a result, schools had to be funded through taxes from property. This, alongside other economic issues, led to a major revolt on property-tax towards the end of 1970s (Herr, 2002).
In addition to this, the school system was again challenged by societal revolution where the disabled, minorities, teachers' unions, students with poor English backgrounds and women began to claim for treatment that was equal and fair in school. Prior to this, the teachers' union had been very active in the 1960s and as a result that decade was marked with regular strikes. Following this, the judiciary and the congress became more concerned on how the school age society would be protected from prejudice. One of the most important discrimination resolutions to be made was that which required that public schools be ethnically integrated. Thus for this to be accomplished, busing was made obligatory in all public schools (Nehring & Cuban, 2009). This decision however caused major turmoil than the expected good in schools; students from minority groups were enrolled in traditionally isolated schools in search for better learning environments, instead, they found themselves in great violence and chaos. Contrary to the judiciary and congress expectation, these efforts resulted into most White students' getaway from public to private schools.
Similar efforts in making equal opportunities in education to all United States students led to lack of emphasis on learning and teaching. As the country become more and more controversial public schools also became progressively more bureaucratic more concerned with making law and order obligatory as they maintained new regulations instead of teaching. Public education was noted to deteriorate rapidly between 1960s and 1970s and as a result, countless reports were published, detailing the challenges facing public schools and the urgency for nationwide reform (Herr, 2002). Regardless of the growing public concern on the education predicament, the role of the federal government was still inadequate. It was until 1979, after a long Champaign by the National Education Association (NEA), that the carter organization established the United States Department of Education. Major decline in the scores of students particularly in mathematics and science as well as the academic standards were reported to decline drastically. By mid 1980s, the United States government, public leaders and the public at large declared that public education was in a parlous mess and reform was urgently needed.
While looking critically at the history of school reform, it can be agreed that most of the reform proposals have been associated with social, economic and political events. Therefore, in almost every decade, views based on Franklin's and Jefferson's perspectives have been criticized, debated and in most cases, culpability has been laid on schools for a series of apparent national issues. Some of the national issues that have in one way or the other hindered the progress of education include; disadvantaged parenting, feeble national defense, economic recessions, insufficient character development, violence, inadequately equipped work force and the loss of technology in a highly competitive world (Herr, 2002). For however much these issues may not be true, they have continuously caused the government and school administrators to respond to them by constantly changing the structure, organization and core curriculum hence the services that offer. Conversely, these ongoing criticisms have raised public concerns on the validity of education as an indispensable tool in attaining the country's ideas which include; the direct connection between schooling and political, social and economic development. As a result, most of the disparagements of the United States' education and the suggestions to secure it have a propensity to falsely give and impression of the realities and complications of the United States education and its relations with the vibrant society (Herr, 2002).
Characteristically school improvement recommendations are comprehensive; some of them are laid on the teachers while others are directed to the student. Those that are directed to the teachers include; coaching according to technology, better pay for teachers, more proficient development for teachers, promotion, pay by merit and performance evaluation for teachers among others (Herr, 2002). Recommendations directed to the students include; tough academic standards, continuous tests, students to meet the national standards for specific subjects, high intake or exit tests to determine the preparedness or eligibility of the student to graduate, more assignments and more courses on mathematics, science and languages
4.0 Strategies of School Reforms
The most common approach is the oblique strategy whereby the government indirectly becomes involved on the reform of an individual school by using an amalgamation of three strategies. Some of these strategies include; improved regulations whereby students are necessitated to take particular courses, assessing school and students' performance and improved salaries for teachers (Herr, 2002). The second strategy is direct approach which includes rethinking and redesigning of each school individually. This strategy is not government based; instead it is pursued by a few corporations which have undergone some processes of internal reorganization. This proposal is uncommon and it is sponsored by corporate and not the government. Unlike the first strategy which deals with salary increment for teachers and compulsory course units for students, the direct approach assumes that education means are overpoweringly inconsistent and therefore reform needs fresh and wisely designed institutions (Herr, 2002). The third reform strategy is the systematic strategy which and primarily uses the parental option. This proposal suggests that parents can take their children to schools of their choice depending on their pockets.
Nevertheless, these school reform proposals strived on minimizing the contexts within which education institutions function and not on the emotional and physical needs of the students. As a result, these proposals emphasized on the population of students in schools and whether they college bound or not. For instance, the 'A Nation at Risk' which was established in 1983 by the national commission for excellence, advocated for the improvement of mathematics and science in high school. The report also suggested for raised requirements for university admission, establishment of more thorough and quality standards for academic performance, longer schooling periods as well as improve the proficient of teachers by providing quality educational leadership and preparation (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003). However, this report did not put into consideration factors such as the variability of students in eagerness to learning. It neither treated students as individuals who were characterized by uniqueness, variability in exploration, and/ or affected by economic and social issues or their families and peer pressure.
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A Nation at Risk simply suggested that each student should meet the specified learning standards and take the proposed compulsory courses that were essential for college and/ or university admission instead of focusing on the wide view of human aspects (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003). As such, most students dropped out of school because these conditions did not favor them. They did not find the relevance of the compulsory courses in their future lives since most of them believed on direct learning opportunities where they would learn professional skills and solve problems rather than learning things that had indirect utility for their future goals.
As a result, the implementation of A Nation at Risk meant that the type and number of professional programs would be eroded in most parts of the United States. Professional programs became elective since students spent most of their times working of the obligatory courses and could not find extra time to participate in professional education. Basically, most school reform lobby groups through the twentieth century experienced a collision of significance between the adoption of a broadminded education and an academic that is stricter in core courses as suggested by the 'A Nation at Risk Report' (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003).
5.0 The reform Action
With the increased levels of exposure, numerous recommendations and determined governors, the need for school reform activity became high. To some extent, some improvement was underway, for instance, the high school syllabus became broader and more aimed on academics. Graduation requirements for high school increased and business oriented leaders realized that the incoming postindustrial world needed adequately skilled workers that held higher thinking and reasoning skills (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003). Uneducated human resources were no longer required in a recruitment line since employers only demanded for highly skilled workers.
With the success of the reform movements to establish stricter thinker content in the United States education, more students came back to public schools, which had earlier been abandoned. Student enrollment rushed forward and course work for all compulsory subjects was standardized for every student. Students graduated from high schools with proof of concrete backgrounds in science, mathematics, foreign languages and history. Some students even registered for higher placement examinations for colleges (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003). Following the new strategy that placed emphasis on the academic subject issues coupled by the high rates of students' enrollment in public schools, more teachers with strong academic backgrounds in the core subjects were required. To the state's astonishment, there were hardly any teachers with the required knowledge to meet the demand of the students since most of the teachers had gone through the traditional education system. Just as they were inadequate in their preparation, so were their teaching techniques (Andrews & Anfara, 2003). Consequently, reform on school curricular for most of the students was placed on the fact that students did not attain quality intellectual training because of lack of proper means to sustain it.
In addition to this, courses that were initially looked down upon began to become popular in most syllabuses throughout the country. Prior to this, students spent most of their high school time without the exposure to practical subjects intensively. Critics started to note that education in the United States was merely a mile broad and just an inch deep. In other words, this meant that United States education was narrow and shallow for most students. As a result, numerous students moved to tracks they considered easier while others were forced to join the one-dimensional education system. Regardless of these advances in the reform of the curricular, most of the students felt that they were gaining very little from this type of education. Mean while, amidst this new stress on the proposed syllabus, vocational learning was struggling to survive in these schools (Andrews, & Anfara, 2003).
Still, for however much that the government was struggling to ensure that the proposed education reform strategies were implemented, most of these efforts were lagged behind by the lack of adequately prepared teachers who have the necessary content knowledge to coach students adequately as well as to accommodate the large number of students enrolled into the academic courses. Teachers were just given subjects to teach regardless of whether they had experience in the assigned subjects or not; the aim was merely to gratify the requirements of the new curricular. Tracking continued and became more challenging as those students in junior tracks received teaching from the lowest -qualified teachers. This consequently led to other movements that generated numerous initiatives that promoted teaching professionalization, even though they experienced greater opposition from the National Education Association (NEA) (Black Enterprise, 1983, p. 125). All these efforts to improve the professionalism of teaching became unproductive as it remained customary work for most of the teachers as NEA conserved the battle.
6.0 The Superior Goals
In responding to the report prepared by the Carnegie Forum on Education, entitled 'a nation prepared: teachers for the twenty-first century', concentration for the teaching career was further magnified (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003). In responding to the A Nation at Risk, Carnegie proposed new solutions on how the teaching profession would be improved. The report proposed the establishment of the national board for professional teaching standards and afterward the National Board Certification for Exemplary Teachers (Andrews & Anfara, 2003, p. 165). With the movement for reform being underway into accomplishing its goals, in 1987, the then United States secretary of education called for accountability. The nation needed concrete results for the time and money spent on the reform process. Federal lawmakers and some of the involved business leaders demanded solid evidence of the restructuring in education. In the meantime, the association for national governors necessitated for accountability from these schools. State governors had largely participated in the school reform campaign since the establishment of the A Nation at Risk, and its influence became more outstanding in September 1989, when they converged for an education meeting in Virginia.
The country had come to a grasp with the claim that the results of education needed to be quantifiable if all the resources and attention invested in it were to be considered valuable. Therefore, in order for this educational progress to be recognized, superior goals had to be instituted. The then president of the United States, George Bush and his board of governors dedicated themselves into establishing quantifiable goals for school reforms that they branded 'America 2000'. Together, they agreed on a reform process that would engage parents, teachers, school boards of governors, administrators, business leaders and the public as a whole (Wong, Guthrie, & Harris, 2003). Their aim was to come up with a universal mission for advancing education for the entire community.
Some of the goals that were settled on, relatively to 2000 include; by 2000, every child will join learning institutions ready to learn, the rate of high school graduation will rise to at least ninety percent, all students will proceed to the next grades after demonstrating their capability in core subjects such as mathematics, English, science, history and economics among other subjects, in grades 4, 8 and 12 respectively. This was to ensure that every student learns to use his/ her brain well so s/he may be well equipped for responsible nationality, advanced learning and industrious employment in the dynamic economy (Herr, 2002). Other goals were that by 2000, teachers would have access to profession improvement programs so as to acquire the right skills and knowledge needed to prepare students for the following century, United States students will be leading the world in science and mathematics, and finally, all adults in the United States will be educated and equipped with the necessary skills to participate in an international economy (Herr, 2002).
7.0 Determination to achieve the proposed goals
So as to ensure that the above goals were adequately accomplished, the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) was established in 1991, and was mandated to explore the national standards of education as well as evaluate the progress made in attaining these principles. In its 1992 report, NCEST recommended for the creation of voluntary nationwide standards which would propel the establishment of apposite comfortable learning from one grade to another, with the hope that the breadth and depth of knowledge would improve for every student (Herr, 2002).
In 1994, the suggested goals for 2000 plus two new goals were added into the United States law under the Educate America Act. These new goals stated that all schools will be free from violence, drugs and weapons and that all schools will encourage the involvement of parents in supporting the academic, emotional and social growth of the students (Herr, 2002). In 1997, another report entitled What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, once again recognized that teachers played an essential role in improving students' success, hence challenging the country to recruit well equipped teachers in all schools by 2006.
In conclusion, the journey to school reform in the United States has not been as easy as many would expect. School reform began almost two decades ago when the government and the society at large realized the urgency for an improved education system. This realization was as a result of the deteriorating school performance that was attributed to poor teaching and lack of commitment of students to work hard in class. Since 1980, several reform proposals have been recommended among them include; improved regulations whereby students are necessitated to take particular courses, assessing school and students' performance and improved salaries for teachers, rethinking and redesigning of each school individually, and finally, giving parents the choice to take their children to the schools that please.
Even though it took longer for these proposals to be executed, their attainment was faced with lots of opposition from business leaders who demanded that students must be taught vocational courses so that they would become well equipped and complete in the modern economy. However, this was only attainable only if their teachers were well equipped will high quality knowledge that they could transfer into their teaching methods. Unfortunately most of the teachers lacked the necessary skills since they went through the traditional type of education. As a result, there was no significant evidence that the reform process was productive. The government together with the parents, business leaders and the society at large; came together and proposed quantifiable goals that they would achieve by 2000.
Some of these goals include; every child will join learning institutions ready to learn, the rate of high school graduation will rise to at least ninety percent, all students will proceed to the next grades after demonstrating their capability in core subjects such as mathematics, English, science, history and economics among other subjects, in grades 4, 8 and 12 respectively, teacher's access to profession improvement programs, students will be leading the world in science and mathematics, and finally, all adults will be educated and equipped with the necessary skills to participate in an international economy.
The government became determined in achieving these goals and as a result, the National Council on Education Standards and Testing (NCEST) was established in 1991, and was mandated to explore the national standards of education as well as evaluate the progress made in attaining these principles. In 1994, the goals for 2000 were added into the United States law under the Educate America Act. In 1997, another report entitled What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, challenged the country to recruit well equipped teachers in all schools by 2006.