There have been a plethora of developments in regards to modern educational systems. Yet at the same time there have many of the same problems that plagued classrooms at the beginning of the last century are still present today. This suggests that there are trends inherent in the world of education that are timeless in nature. However, at the same time the quality of education is increasing rapidly in some instances. There are many examples of new developments that have the potential of bringing a quality of education to people in a demographic that formally didn't have many options in regards to educational choices.
Another trend that was identified is that fact that educational systems have made significant progress, so has the vast material of content that students need to be taught in a modern environment. For example, education in the early twentieth century may have consisted of studies in subjects such as reading, language, math, and possibly some sciences. However, today the scope of education can cover far more sources and disciplines; many of which emerged in the late twentieth century. For example, students today may be required to learn additional subjects that were not even a possibility in previous years such as information technology, programming, genetics, as well as countless other examples. This paper will examine some of the challenges that previous generations faced and compared with the contemporary educational environment. It will also consider the developments in the sciences as well as technological progress which add to the total requirements.
New York Schools in the Early Twentieth Century
Of all the cities in the United States, it is interesting to note that the last city to develop a system of public high schools was New York City (Superintendent of Schools, 1948). The late start that New York City got in the realm of education may be one of the factors that accounted for some of the problems that they encountered. Additionally, the late start on high school education also had many ramifications for the facilities capabilities. Schools were ill-equipped to handle the influx of students that grew from year to year. Not having sufficient are adequate space to house and teach children is one problem that persisted throughout the years, however in the beginning it was far worse than at any other time.
One of the most successful programs that New York City developed in the early years of the public school systems history was sponsored by the U.S. Navy. Although this school was more vocational in nature, it also made provisions to provide students with an array of more traditional subjects as well. Students took classes while onboard the U.S.S. St. Mary's ship while also learning nautical skills as the ship traveled to various destinations such as Europe, Africa, and many more interesting locations. However, the more traditional classroom settings in New York were plagued with various other problems.
Many children of high school age during this period chose to work over continuing their education. To children of families with modest incomes, education seemed more of a luxury than a necessity. However, the city actually tried to cater to this children as well by constructing the first evening high school in 1866 (Superintendent of Schools, 1948). Before the school had officially opened there were seven teachers that prepared to educate about two hundred students. However, over one thousand students applied during the opening day of the school. The incredible demand for non-traditional educational opportunities is another trend that has continued to this day by many sectors of the educational population.
Overcrowding was another persistent problem with the New York City educational system. As the population grew it further exacerbated the already stressed resources of the system. The facilities were inadequate, both in size and capabilities, to provide a decent education to the students. Furthermore class sizes made it nearly impossible for teachers to give any kind of personal attention to many of the students. One strategy that was employed out of necessity to try to mitigate the effects of overcrowding was to run multiple sessions. For instance, one session would begin early in the morning and run through the early afternoon until the next shift of students arrived and the process started all over. One can only imagine the stress that teachers encounter in such a demanding work environment.
Other problems that were present stemmed from the fact that the culture in the high school environment that students were introduced to was vastly different than the culture that was present in their earlier primary educational settings. When the students reached the high school level there was less individual attention which demanded that they manage their learning activities themselves; which many were not prepared for. Students fell behind quickly since they were ill equipped to be more proactive in their own learning. There were a significant percentage of students that dropped out almost immediately after beginning high school, plus another rather large percentage that followed shortly after.
Modern NYC High Schools
It is somewhat ironic or revealing maybe, that many of the same problems that were identified in the first part of the twentieth century as still prevalent today. Not only does the cities educational system have to deal with high levels of dropouts, facilities that are lacking in the needed space and equipment, and overcrowding, there are other challenges that are present in the modern day teaching environment. Since the entire body has progressed since the beginning of the twentieth century, there is a considerable amount of material beyond the academic basics that a child must learn to be candidate for a successful career.
Surely no one argue that the teaching profession hasn't made a tremendous progress, including many achievements, but at the same time the body of material that teachers are excepted to impart upon their students has also expanded; in many cases in a disproportionate manner. One of the biggest problems, or theme of problems, is that there is a large and identifiable achievement gap between middle class children and those who live in poverty; which is composed of a disproportionate amount of minority students (Tough, 2006).
There have been several research studies that have been conducted over the last couple of decades to try to determine the root causes of the so-called achievement gap. These studies took several different routes in trying to identify the root causes of the wide spectrum of student abilities that are present in the educational system. Such approaches include many academic disciplines including psychology and sociology. Researchers studied items such as I.Q. development, the amount of words that children are exposed to, and the sizes of their vocabularies.
In today's highly fragmented economy in which poverty has reached epidemic heights, many parents are effectively forced into working extreme hours in multiple jobs leaving them little time to care for their children. In other cases, parents are divorced or never married and a single parent has to spend a significant among of time working; again leaving little time for parenting. While wealthier families not only have more time to engage with their children, there is also the funds available to schedule countless activities such as piano lessons, soccer games, and trips to the museum for example (Tough, 2006).
One development that has attempted to address the achievement gap has been the introduction of charter schools into the educational sphere. Charter schools are private institutions in which the larger institutions that are designed within this model work as a franchised network of schools. These schools have a tremendous amount of debate that questions their effectiveness. On one hand, proponents of the charter system point to evidence that they have been successful at narrowing the achievement gap while others question these results.
One author found three trends that are included in the charter schools that have been shown to be the most effective among their peers (Tough, 2006). The first is that the charter schools have an extended school day that often significantly stretches beyond that of traditional school hours. There is more time available for after school activities that include such items as individual tutoring. Teachers are expected to work extended hours as well. The article notes that teachers are required to accept phone calls through all hours of the evenings to answer questions about homework assignments and furthermore states that some teachers are required to work twelve to fourteen hours a day.
The second common denominator among the charter schools that are deemed successful by some is that set explicit goals for nearly every aspect of the educational process. There are goals for each day, week, month, semester, and sometime for each individual class. Teachers are trained and retrained and there is a dedication among the charter school members to share best practices and other items that have proven effective.
The third item that was identified with a successful charter school was that they teach their students to be heavily disciplined. Students are trained…