Public Education Problems: Overview of the Public School System

Public schools in the United States report varying student performance statistics from state to state; however, there are certain problematic trends have been documented across the nation. Read on to learn more about recently reported issues and concerns within the public school system.

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Common Public School Issues

Several positive trends, such as the recently created Common Core Standards Initiative, propose a positive future outcome for increased student performance across public schools; however, several problems remain present within the K-12 public education system. Several of these issues are complex and influenced each year by economic shifts.

Classroom Size

Though the national average ratio of students to teachers in public schools is roughly 15:1 according to The Brookings Institution (www.brookings.edu), classroom sizes in urban settings tend to be disproportionately large in public schools. In a large classroom, quiet or timid children may receive less attention than in a learning setting with a smaller ratio of teachers to students. Children and teenagers who are prone to bullying or verbal abuse may also have a greater tendency to act out in a large classroom, where a teacher may have too many students to consistently offer his or her attention to disruptive students.

Funding

Public schools in the U.S. are largely funded through local property taxes and state revenues; federal subsidies account for a small percentage of overall funding. As a result, low-income areas tend to be less well-funded, while higher property taxes and private fundraising in affluent communities can create more funding in high-income areas.

When budgets are cut due to a decrease in state revenues, special education programs, course offerings and extracurricular programs may be cut short to preserve funds for transportation, structural costs and employee salaries. In the 2009-2010 school year, thousands of public school teachers and support staff were laid off due to budget cuts. According to U.S. News and World Report, 40 states are projecting school funding losses for the 2011-2012 school year.

Violence

Though instances of ethnic tension, physical or verbal abuse, sexual harassment and gang violence among students are not limited to public schools, statistics show fairly high rates of violence within the public school system. According to the National Center for Education Surveillance (NCES), 25% of public school principals reported instances of school bullying or violence between 2007-2008 (www.nces.ed.gov). The NCES also reported that public schools in city centers claimed to have higher rates of verbal abuse and violence than schools in suburban or rural areas; in a similar trend, larger schools reported struggling with these issues more than small schools did.

Drop Out Rates

According to Gregory M. Damieder, who is an assistant and adviser to the U.S. Secretary on College Access, up to 1.2 million teens a year drop out of public schools in the U.S. (www.suffolk.edu). The NCES reported in 2008 that income rates for high school drop outs are lower than the national average income by $19,000, and that unemployment rates are increased for students who do not graduate.

A 2009-2010 Consolidated Report by the North Carolina State Board of Education reported that drop out rates in North Carolina were the lowest they have been since the early 1990's. The board attributes some of this change to smaller school settings and a focus on transition-to-high-school programs for ninth graders (www.ncpublicschools.org).

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