Posted on January 28, 2016

Education in the U.S.: Part 2


“Education in the U.S.: Part 2” is the second article in our four-part series emphasizing the home life of students. Student Life editor Jake Norman and photographer Elena Rodriguez teamed up to cover controversial issues that run rampant in our education system, yet are widely overlooked.

Student life before college is fairly straightforward on paper. In a perfect system, a student would go to class, go home and handle their business in and out of the classroom. However, we unfortunately live in a world where some students not only have to battle with the world’s 17th best education system, but with the unnecessary complexities that go on in their home lives as well. With more and more households having either two working parents or less than two parents in addition to our changing attitude about how children participate and interact in school, the challenge to fix our education system could be that the problems begin not in the classroom, but at home.

Growing Pains

We live in a changing society. Since 1970, women have more than doubled their participation in the work force. While this is obviously great for equality purposes, a home where both parents are working jobs can make things difficult for their children that are students. Now this isn’t to say that women should be dropping out of the labor force to take care of children, but as we see our society make this kind of shift, it should be expected that there will be growing pains. It has become fairly common in an average household for parents to no longer hold their students’ academic success in a manner of high importance. Typically, the parents’ individual careers can be seen as a priority, which leaves the children on their own when it comes to homework, grades and sometimes even transportation. But this isn’t the only issue that students can sometimes deal with—the parental structure can have an impact as well. In 2014, only 68.7% of students had both parents present in their household. That means that almost 1/3 of children in school do not have two parents consistently present in their life. This perhaps would not be a huge deal if this number was not decreasing as time went on (back in 1970, this number was almost 10% higher). There is a correlation between students with less than two parents doing worse in school than those who have two parents.

An Endless Cycle

But if you want to understand how this issue really can directly relate to how children do in school, consider this: when you only have one parent in a household, there is typically less money coming in. This forces certain families to move to lower income areas that they can afford. But the problem with this is that property taxes fund local schools.

“They [schools] have more money because property taxes are higher,” says local Spanish teacher Randy Teel. “So, they have more money to get better teachers and more resources.”

So this issue of less than 70% of households having two parents causes not only students to be less disciplined, less driven and less successful in school, but it also affects the schools that these children who are already being hindered at home, have to attend.

“You have to have parental support,” says Penny Greer, a retired teacher. “I saw that constantly when I first taught. But now, not so much. They work too hard, and they don’t have time to participate in their students’ lives.”

Greer has a point when talking about working too hard. Statistically speaking, U.S. citizens work more hours than any other country in the industrialized world. In fact, according to Author Juliet Schor, we worked on average nearly one month more in 1990 than in 1970.

Attitude Is Everything

Attitudes toward school are also playing a factor.

“For the first time, teachers are almost seen as the adversaries,” said Teel. “These parents are facilitating their kids, making excuses for their kids and it’s at the expense of making the teachers into adversaries sometimes. We need to all be on the same page, and we’re not.”

Greer can attest to this. She claimed there were numerous ways she had to battle parents. “Homework is not getting done, teacher letters aren’t getting signed, they’re not coming to conferences.”

Greer mentioned how it was common for parents to make appointments for a parent-teacher conference and then not show up to them.

“One child told me his mother was painting his bedroom and said she couldn’t come.,” says Greer.

Outside of lack of participation, Greer also says she was blamed at times by parents for when a student failed. But despite the issues that exist between teachers and parents, students are still not getting what they need at home. As it has become harder for kids to focus on school with the new technology of video games, streaming and smart phones, parents battle this issue as well when having to pay attention to their kids.

“It is just one of those things where there is too much to do and not enough time to do it all,” said Greer.

Looking back on all of these issues, we clearly have an uphill battle. But perhaps the biggest issue of all is that, in some ways, there is no way to fix them. Despite the statistics given, there is a struggle of really being able to pinpoint where the issues begin and end. While we have statistical evidence for strong correlations between two-income homes, households with less than two parents, divorce rates and student success, it is not enough. To make matters worse, these are not issues that can be fixed with proper legislation. We cannot force parents to participate in this event, or not work a job in these circumstances. We can’t help when a parent walks out the door on their family to never return. And statistics and solutions are getting harder and harder to find as we become wearier of allowing the government to intervene in our households. The problem relies on us as a people. While some of these issues will correct themselves naturally over time, overall this is a problem that can only be fixed if people decide to be better. And that’s hard to bet on.

Photo by: Elena Rodriguez

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