Higher standards needed in schools

By Shemaiah Clarke
Philadelphia, Pa.

Ever since moving to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago, I have been struck by how lenient American teachers are. In Trinidad and Tobago, where I lived until June 2012, there are high standards and students are expected to excel in school. Teachers assume an assertive role and constantly encourage students to work harder.

According to the Espoir International Youth Program, Trinidad and Tobago is considered “one of the most educated countries in the world.” In my experience, students there graduate from high school groomed for entrepreneurship because of the rigorous teaching system.

American teachers, in contrast to their counterparts in Trinidad and Tobago, tend to just reward their students for simply trying and rarely insist that they push themselves. The result is an apathetic mindset among students that stunts academic growth. Too many teachers allow students to settle for an average standard, and don’t encourage them to reach the heights that are accessible to them.

It isn’t just teachers who are to blame. American public education is built around standardized testing, and these tests are not intellectually challenging. Tests in the United States tend to rely more heavily on multiple choice, while tests in Trinidad and Tobago lean more toward open-ended questions—and are more difficult as a result.

Journalist Chris Hedges has described American multiple-choice tests this way: “These tests produce men and women who are just literate and numerate enough to perform basic functions and service jobs.”

Of course, higher expectations could lead to students falling through the cracks in the education system and could result in a significant number of dropouts per year in high schools. To prevent this, the United States must devote more money and resources to education—more computers, more books, more financial incentives for teachers.

But the most important reform America could make would be to adopt a more rigorous education system. Teachers should be trained not to acknowledge “no” as an answer from a student but instead encourage them to work harder and more diligently.

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