How to Save a School

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How to Save a School: Failure and Success in American Public Schools Jesse A. Louviere
Tulane University
[SOCI 1050-­‐01 – April 24th, 2012]
When exploring the issue of failure in American public school systems, it is important to look at things holistically. How are American schools doing over time and compared to other countries? This paper also looks at policies in American public schools at a national, state, and local level. Moving from broad structural policies to a more personal level, this paper also looks at students in so called “dropout factories” to see what the indicators of risk are. What does research show to be the cause behind low GPAs, dropouts, problem behavior and the like in students? Lastly, what are successful school systems doing, and what perspective would a former educator/administrator/guidance counselor have on education and failure? It is important to touch on several crucial pieces of this puzzle. 2

The news headlines for education in America are telling: reform in Mississippi, an overhaul on Ohio, Teacher of the Year laments education cuts. Obviously something is wrong, but what is it? How is America doing compared to school systems in other nations? Statistics from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) measured the math and science scores of 4th and 8th grade children in 2007. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a mathematics score of 529 placed U.S. fourth-­‐graders 9th of 35 participating educational systems, but this score was not measurably different from the scores in 4 other educational systems. The U.S. fourth-­‐graders' average science score (539) was lower than the scores in 4 educational systems (all located in Asia), and not measurably different from the scores in 6 other educational systems. In mathematics, U.S. eighth-­‐graders’ average (508) was higher than that in 37 of the 47 other participating educational systems, lower than 5 educational systems, and not measurably different from the scores in the remaining 5 educational systems. In science, the eighth-­‐graders’ average (520) was not measurably different from 3 other countries, but it ranked the U.S. 10th of 47 countries (TIMMS 2007). The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a similar test administered every 3 years, is a new standard. It tests children at 15 years of age from countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-­‐operation and Development (OECD) as well as in other non-­‐OECD countries and school administrations. The U.S., as of 2009, was below average in math and not measurably different from average 3

in science and reading. The average for the US in math, science and reading is 496/1000, compared to an international OECD average of 493. Rather than being first or even in the top ten, America ranked 17th of the 65 education systems tested, and did not score significantly different from the average. It helps to get an international perspective of how America is doing. If America wants to lead the world, especially in education, there must be some sort of reform. After looking at some aspects of the American education that could use improvement, we can look at the American students themselves, take another international look at the educational system in Asia – where there are many strong performers and successful reformers – and finally, get perspectives from a Louisiana administrator, educator, and counselor. FACTORS OF FAILURE: HOW ARE THINGS GOING WRONG?

One tenet that is appreciated in most forms of scholarly study is that “structure determines function”. The U.S. has several policies at various levels of government that mold the education system. To start from the top down, we have the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The ESEA was enacted in 1965 and has...
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