The Future of Education in America



From "No Child Left Behind" to "Race to the Top," education policy has been on the front burner for some time. Join Active Minds as we look at the state of education in the U.S. and Colorado and explore issues such as charter schools, teacher tenure, standardized testing, merit pay, and more.

Key Lecture Points

  • Beginning in the 1840s with the Common School Movement, the United States began to build a system of mandatory public education for all. Today, approximately 50 million children are enrolled the public schools in America in grades K-12 at a cost of $540 billion for the 2010-11 school year.
  • 150 years after the establishment of a system built for an industrializing America, the nation is asking whether the public school system is achieving at the level at which it ought to. In the most recent study of the 34 developed nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), American children are ranked 17th in reading, 31st in math and 23rd in science. Additionally, the national drop-out rate, while falling, was still at 8.1% in 2009.
  • President Obama has placed a high priority on education reform. He has championed an increased emphasis on charter schools, statewide assessment programs and alternative teacher training and payment systems. In order to incentivize these priorities, President Obama established the“Race to the Top” program in 2009, a $4.35 billion fund which states competed for by demonstrating efforts geared toward the priorities. 11 states and the District of Columbia were awarded grants in 2010.
  • Critics of President Obama’s education policies (including the National Education Association) argue that his programs, while well meaning, do not increase achievement for students, undermine funding for the neediest schools and students, and rely too heavily upon testing.
  • In his 2011 State of the Union Speech, President Obama called on Congress to replace No Child Left Behind with “a new law that raises expectations, challenges failure, rewards success, and provides greater flexibility for schools to innovate and improve results for their students”.

Exploration Questions

  • What do you think should be done to bring American children’s academic performance up to the level of other developed countries?
  • Do you think standardized tests are an effective tool for measuring student and school performance?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you remember a teacher that really made a difference in your life? How?
  • Have you ever worked in a public school either as a teacher or administrator? If so, how have the challenges teachers face in the classroom changed or stayed the same since your experience?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Wagner, Tony. The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills Our Children Need—and What We Can Do. Basic Books. 2010. 344 pages. The author looks at America’s school problems in the larger context of the demands of the global knowledge economy.
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  • Firestone, William A. and Lora F. Monfils. The Ambiguity of Teaching to the Test: Standards, Assessments and Education Reform. Routledge. 2004. 262 pages. This book takes a comprehensive look at the effects of testing and the wide variation in testing practices from state to state.
    Click here to order