What is Right with American Schools?

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I have been thinking about how infrequently we hear what American schools are doing right. We far more often hear about our problems, shortcomings, and failures. In fact, when I Googled “what is right with American education,” I found only a couple of articles with titles that fit my search before a long list of titles about what is wrong with American schools took over.

Without question, there is much about the American education system that can and should be improved. Much of the attention and effort needed is urgent and crucial. However, not everything about American education is wrong or misguided.

Rather than add to or repeat the list of faults we can find in our schools, I want to step back and think about some of the aspects that we should celebrate, protect, and build on. Here are six things that seem worthy of praise and pride.

  1. We are free to question, criticize, and recommend practices, priorities, and policies to improve our current system. At first glance, this element might not seem like an aspect worthy of praise. Yet, getting better requires an understanding of what needs to and can be improved. Of course, there is a need for listening and dialogue to build understanding, consensus, and commitment to change.
  2. American schools are inclusive. We share a commitment to providing access to education for all children, regardless of socioeconomic and cultural background, academic potential, or physical and mental condition. It is true that we have yet to create paths that ensure every student can and will benefit from the opportunities presented. There remain social and expectation barriers to be removed and replaced with the support, guidance, and resources to make high levels of success within the reach of all learners.
  3. American schools offer rich opportunities for students to engage with other learners who see and experience the world differently. It is true that there could and should be more diversity in enrollment and social interactions within our schools. The lack of diversity in some communities and social segregation in schools and courses are reminders of work yet to be done. Nevertheless, our system of public education still offers among the best opportunities available within our society to be exposed to others who do not share our life experiences.
  4. Caring educators make up the vast majority of adults with whom our students engage in school. Education does not pay comparably to other professions requiring similar education and preparation. Consequently, education tends to attract people who care about children and young people and who are committed to making a difference in their lives. We can always benefit from more people who truly care, but we are fortunate to have in education so many people who seek to build strong, positive relationships with children and youth.
  5. American schools collect, analyze, and use data to inform decisions and drive actions far better than they have historically. Performance of students is more closely monitored and needed interventions occur in a much more frequent and timely manner than at any time in our history. Clearly, data is only part of the formula for learning success. Still, using what we know to provide supports where needed is a crucial part of an effective system.
  6. Despite growing challenges in our society and increasing diversity among students who attend American schools, achievement has continued to hold steady and improve. It can be difficult to appreciate the challenge and understand where true improvement is happening when the composition of enrollment continues to trend toward more poverty, greater diversity, and increasing life challenges. Yet, despite the growing pressures faced, American schools have continued to hold their own and even show improvement in multiple areas.

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