Why America’s Education System Is Failing

Dan Reider




We, as Americans, at least in recent decades, always seem to be looking for an easy fix. And if we cannot find the easy fix, we try to give the impression that we are at least doing something whether in actuality we are accomplishing much of anything or not. Our Congress has probably been the most prolific purveyor of the easy fix for most major issues in the last half century, from Social Security reform, to tax reform, to reform of the criminal justice system and education system reform.


One area that all Americans really need our leaders to succeed in is education reform. Our educational system has been failing our young people for a long time. One only has to look at test scores, proficiency rates, graduation rates or any other of a number of benchmarks to recognize we are in trouble. We might be at the tipping point from which we cannot recover.


School choice, vouchers, alternative schools, church schools, private schools, charter schools, and home school are some alternatives being used to try to give students the opportunity to get a good education that will carry them through their adult lives. While these educational options may have their place in our education system, the public educational system is still the foundation of the American educational system. It cannot be abandoned or fully replaced in the foreseeable future.


What the president and Congress need to fix, regardless of what other issues need to be addressed, is the public educational system. Quality teachers, appropriate salaries, after-school programs, tutoring, mentoring, discipline within schools, class sizes, substandard facilities, lack of educational materials and related issues need to be comprehensively analyzed and solutions to these problems need to be found.


The fixes will be difficult and we will not all agree on the direction that our public educational system must take, but we have to get started on the right path immediately. Only then can we even hope to have any sort of opportunity equality that in turn can lead to better income equality.



We can pass all the laws we want, provide funding without direction, we can give the appearance we are doing something, like we have for the past 50 years, but in the end, most of the same problems will persist unless we make real change. The result of the many years of educational problems is now being regarded as racial inequality, but there is more to this. The root of the problem lies with the inequality of education and the loss of opportunity.


During the mid ‘60s to the early ‘70s there was a lot of anger and violence in the U.S. over various issues but particularly the shortage of career opportunities, the lack of quality education, social injustices, and other inequalities facing minorities. There was much debate on all levels, much as there is now, on what could be done to rectify the situation and provide equality for all: the rich, the poor, African-Americans, Hispanics and others.


Over time, many programs such as Affirmative Action, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment Benefits, Pell Grants and others were either created or modified to provide better benefits to the poor or disadvantaged.  There were some that argued that while these programs had become necessary and that it was in the best interest of our country to provide assistance to those most in need, the real key to long-term prosperity was through education.


Now, almost 50 years later, we can no longer ignore the obvious: that we failed to address many of the issues we faced in the ‘60s and’70s. We have spent an incredible amount of money; developed numerous social, economic, and educational programs; and otherwise tried whatever we thought would bring about major change with members on the lower end of the socioeconomical pyramid, and yet the results show our efforts have been underwhelming. We only have 82 percent of students graduating high school – African-Americans graduating at a rate of 71 percent, Hispanics at a rate of 75 percent, and whites at 86 percent. And these are record highs. And these statistics include those who have been “pushed” through the educational system without the benefit of having achieved the quality of education required in today’s society.


Education is the key to opportunity in our society. To have a high chance of success, however one wants to define success, one must become educated by whatever process works for that individual or group- technical education, traditional education, homeschooling, etc. To have a fighting chance of success in today’s world, one must at least complete an education equivalent to the high school level.



We all know there are many successful people who never finished high school, but they are more the exception than the rule. There are many opportunities to advance in today’s world without even having a minimal education. Those who work as plumbers’ helpers, stock persons, fast food chefs, department store sales persons, etc. should and do take pride in their work and many work hard to advance in their chosen path. They can be successful, but the path is very difficult. It is exponentially more difficult in today’s world than even 25 years ago to meet one’s financial goals with a minimal education.


So where does that leave us after 50 years of programs? We have far more minorities (percentage wise) unable to get through high school than non-minorities. The job opportunities for minorities are fewer than for non-minorities since the non-minorities have a higher level of education. With better career opportunities, the non-minorities have amassed greater wealth than the minorities and have saved significantly more for retirement than minorities. The educational divide is very high, thus resulting in a large financial divide.


The long-term answer is that in today’s highly technological world, a high school education is a must for everyone and a college education is becoming more important than it has ever been. We can offer everyone who finishes high school a free or reduced cost for college education, but how does this help those that have not finished high school and the tens of thousands each year who will not finish high school?


The immediate outlook is bleak. This is the Land of Opportunity but, realistically, what chance do most youths have today in achieving their goals without even a high school education? I do not know how we can change the statistics in a short period of time. Nor do I know what can be done for the millions who have received less than a minimal education in the last few decades. I don’t know what the answer is, but we must come up with a solid solution. Only when the education of our population improves will the real cause of social unrest improve in our culture.


Author Bio:


This is an opinion piece by Dan Reider, who is a consulting engineer living in Columbia, South Carolina. For more than 30 years, he has been involved with design of K-12 facilities as well as colleges and universities. During the course of designing these facilities, he has attended and been a participant in many meetings where the topics have included discussions about student behavior, campus security concerns, and drug and alcohol use. 


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