Stephany Yong's Blog

US Students fall behind: What it says about the impact of a dollar in education

As high school seniors across the United States toil through the college application season, I paused to reflect upon my K-12 education. I attend a decent public high school in the suburbs of Los Angeles—the kids are driven, our parents push for good grades and our teachers expect record-breaking test scores every year. I have taken more standardized tests than I can count—SAT 9, CAT 6, the SAT I exam, SAT subject tests, Advanced Placement exams, International Baccalaureate exams, the high school exit exam and the list goes on. And still, I feel like there are holes in my education.

In the Newsweek article “Why Can’t American Students Compete,” the failure of the American education system is explored through deficiencies in mathematics, science and English. In the international exams administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OCED), only 32 percent of American students in the class of 2011 were deemed proficient in mathematics, placing the United States 32nd among the 65 participating countries. Even Massachusetts, with its renowned public and private schools, has barely half of its students test proficient in math (51 percent) while my native California has a math proficiency rate of 24 percent, the same figure as likewise bankrupt Greece. Eliminating claims that the United States tests a broader range of its youth population, Americans graduate fewer students from high school than the average developed country.

In addition, the No Child Left Behind allots for states to lower their already low standards in order to secure funding. In reality, the percentages of students who “pass” exams are grossly misrepresented—numerically and sometimes even ethically when teachers in Georgia were involved in a standardized testing cheating scandal this summer.

Herein lies the problem with the American education system: the emphasis on testing instead of teaching. We educate our kids without the aim of instilling in them a sense of intellectual courage to question unjustified beliefs in the search of knowledge; instead, we push the pencils. Curriculum is shaped in a manner for children to pass a set of exams in the spring in order for a school to secure a certain amount of funding.

When teachers start teaching to a test, the importance of the subject matter diminishes from valuable knowledge to necessary rote memorization. After the test, this artificial intelligence disintegrates, having it become difficult to apply in the real world. Expectations lower. Curiosity dwindles. Intellectualism takes a back seat behind passable digits. And from this, we lose the very purpose in educating our children.

Education is an investment, not a bet or wager in order to seek immediate tangible results. By educating a generation of Americans, this group will be ready in the scope of 20 years to take back those jobs in the Silicon Valley and contribute to the global economy. Similarly, such an investment will empower children in South America, Asia and Africa to take hold of their destinies in order to succeed in skilled occupations.

In 2011, the United States Department of Education allotted $71 billion to its budget, more than most of the developed countries we are losing to in the international OCED exams. How can we make every dollar count? Foremost, I found the solution most applicable into a local, grassroots context—the place where the educating happens. As in, more money on textbooks, instruction, quality teachers and smaller class sizes and less money on administrative costs like engraving images of the school mascot in the lunch area. Without the tools to succeed (like the shortage of textbooks as a result of budget cuts), students have nothing to facilitate such academic growth. Through supporting Givology’s aims, donors really do maximize the utility of every donation by having that dollar help a child receive a tool to succeed, whether it be tuition, a textbook or basic school supplies. Now that’s a smart investment.

Newsweek article link:


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