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Current State of Public Education as a Result of Legal - Cultural and Social Influences

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Current state of public education as a result of Legal,

Cultural and Social influences

American public education differs from that of many other nations in that it is primarily the responsibility of the states and individual school districts. Jefferson was the first American leader to suggest creating a public school system. His ideas formed the basis of education systems developed in the 19th century. Earliest forms of public education were primarily built on religious ideas and were fairly simple to implement (Butts, 1978). However, the increasing influence of people from many countries and belonging to different faiths led to a weakening of this approach. People wanted to see to diversity not only in religious teaching but also in languages offered. After the Declaration of Independence states had gained specific provisions for education. Jefferson believed that education should be under the control of the government, free from religious biases, and available to all people irrespective of their status in society but until the 1840s the education system was highly localized and available only to wealthy people (Johnson, 2005).

Reformers who wanted all children to gain the benefits of education opposed this. Prominent among them were Horace Mann in Massachusetts and Henry Barnard. The common-school reformers argued for the case on the belief that common schooling could create good citizens, unite society and prevent crime and poverty. As a result of their efforts, free public education at the elementary level was available for all American children by the end of the 19th century (Butts, 1978).

The current state of public education can be analyzed based on the following three sociological theories: the functionalist theory, the conflict theory, and the symbolic interactionist theory. The functionalist theory point out that education is meant to serve the needs of society. Functionalists view education as something that needs to be passed as part of knowledge and skills to the next generation; they also recognize education as a tool of socialization and introducing young generation to the social framework and standards expected from them (Henslin, 2009).

Although this was crucial part of the historical course public education followed introducing immigrants to the American value system, today this approach is taking slightly different turn. The share number of immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are causing influx in this pattern. Between the 1993-94 and 2002-03 school years, Hispanics accounted for 64% of the students added to public school enrollment (Fry, 2011). White enrollment declined by 1%. On another hand the rates of drop outs are becoming more alarmingly high, especially within minority population. This is the data collected in California, where the state has reported a graduation rate of 87 percent. Researchers using a different methodology found an overall graduation rate of 71 percent for 2002. They also found that graduation rates for minority students were significantly lower - 57 percent rate for blacks, 60 percent for Hispanics (NewsMax, 2005). By contrast the rate of graduation for Asian-Americans is near 90%.

The argument can be made that the reason for such a significant gap is expectations set by the parents, their own educational level and aspirations that they have for their children. The controversial book of professor at Yale Law School Amy Chua "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" sparked heated argument regarding the parenting style described by her. Many people wonder what those parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside their family, and whether they could do it as well.

Amy Chua painted a vivid picture what it is like to raise successful children: "Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting" and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job" (Chua, 2011). Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children (Chua, 2001).

The conflict arises from the fact that although functionalists' theory is perfectly applicable in each society separately, once you attempt to combine those groups - the clash of values and expectations is revealed. Each group perceives the success for their children in light of the culture that they were brought in. Public education system is built on the notions of uniformity and set standards. Statistical analysis shows that Hispanic population is set to be tripled by 2050 forming about third of US population inadvertently influencing the direction of public education (Nasser, 2010).

Conflict theorists on other hand see education as a powerful means of maintaining social class structures and creating an obedient work force for capitalist society. Contradictory to functionalists who promote education seeing it as benefit for members of society, conflict theorists see educational system as a way to maintain social inequality, preserving the power of those who dominate the society (Henslin, 2009). There are certainly many examples that can support their view. The demographics and curriculum varies among the public schools of US, main characteristics remain the same. The role of communities on the state of its public school remains to be crucial. Several factors have great influence on the quality of the education students receive. One of the them is the available resources that are collected based on the tax revenue in the area, the higher the prices for real estate the larger the amount of money that is collected towards the school. This determines the quality of the teachers that can be hired and paid the salaries to, the quality of the equipment, such as computers, books, office supplies, and fitness. The number extra curriculum classes that can be offered are also larger resulting in overall higher SAT scores for the students from those neighborhoods.

Study conducted recently in New Jersey confirmed firmly established high correlation between socioeconomic status and scores on the SAT reasoning test. The link holds true

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