As we all know, a financial crisis is upon us, and I believe that we have every reason to believe that the U.S. education system will be profoundly affected by it. Here’s my crystal-ball-like prediction as to where education will head in the next six school years:
2008-2009: Our story begins with most U.S. districts strapped for cash. As a result, some districts are moving toward sharing a superintendent among several districts, others are facing state intervention due to unmanageable deficits, and others are trying to cut the total number of school days to balance the budget.
2009-2010: With the DOW now under 5,000, GM officially going through bankruptcy, and money for education being slashed repeatedly, even mid-year, schools start trying more severe implementations of the usual types of cuts we’ve seen before. Art, music, physical education, and foreign language programs are the first to go. Many rural schools change from a 5-day schedule to a 4-day, extended-day schedule to try to save money on bus runs and utilities. On Fridays, since there is no school, many of those districts host pay-to-participate classes or day care options to bring in revenue and accommodate working parents. Class sizes increase. More districts reduce social workers, assistant principals, counselors, health care workers, etc., as well. A push for national standards gets into full swing and is very successfully pitched as a cost-saving, efficient way of teaching in the 21st century.
2010-2011: With the economic Depression continuing, the Obama administration hurriedly institutes a national set of standards in time for the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year. http://www.school.gov is set up as a one-stop online spot for teachers to secure all the resources they need to teach to the national standards. Large corporations earn windfall profits if their online textbooks are chosen as the official national textbook for one or more classes. Controversy ensues as it becomes apparent that many of the textbooks have been chosen due to political payoffs/bribes, not for the quality of their content. Interest groups also play a part in determining what is found in those textbooks: as a compromise, touchy subjects like evolution and climate change are barely mentioned in the textbooks at all. In the end, a standardized national assessment is also chosen, and it is planned to be implemented in grades 2-12 beginning in the Spring of 2012.
With the 2014 deadline approaching, where 100% of students were supposed to be proficient in reading and math in every school in the country according to No Child Left Behind, the NCLB legislation is replaced by new “Education For All” legislation that places a great deal of emphasis on mastery learning. As a result, students who do not pass the national exam each spring are no longer going to be permitted to move to the next grade level.
With standardized resources available online, and with schools no longer offering much in the way of extracurricular activities, homeschooling flourishes. Collaborative homeschool efforts that do provide art, music, physical education, etc., take root particularly because most families no longer are able to find two steady jobs for both parents anyway, so more of the stay-at-home parents (whether placed in that position by choice or lack of job options) choose to homeschool.
2011-2012: With housing prices now just 35-40% of what they were in 2005, which reduces property taxes dramatically, schools continue to make ever-more dramatic cuts. Virtually all districts make sports and extracurricular activities pay-to-participate endeavors, even in once-wealthy districts. With insurance costs for teachers taking up too much of schools’ budgets, many states start group insurance programs for teachers that they legally compel teachers’ unions to accept, saving large sums of money while reducing the quality of teachers’ insurance substantially.
In urban and suburban areas, the concept of “two schools in one” becomes very popular. In these areas, two groups of students are housed in one school building. One group runs from January 1 to June 30, while the second group runs from July 1 to December 31. In that 26-week school year, students are able to get in about 125 school days that are about 8 hours long. This 1,000-hour school year is close to the current hourly requirements and allows students to pursue jobs, online classes, or extracurriculars in their time off. These school districts sell off their no-longer-needed land and building for a one-time budgetary boost that helps them through these lean times.
The spring of 2012 arrives with much fanfare as the first sets of AAATs (American Academic Achievement Tests) are given. Nationally, 22% of students fail and will not be allowed to pass on to the next grade. Widespread differences in results (Austin, TX, for example, has just a 3% failure rate) leads to huge accusations of cheating. A wave of angry protests begins from parents and teachers of students who will not be allowed to pass, but so does a flurry of pro-accountability media sentiment. Everyone, it seems, is talking about education.
http://www.school.gov now contains video tutorials for every math, science, and social studies lesson in the entire K-12 set of standards. Online assessments, problem sets, games, and activities become much more plentiful on the site as well. Language arts standards, which have proven themselves to be harder to turn into specific and actionable tasks, are set to have their own videos and more comprehensive materials in 2012-13. Despite a lack of funds, most middle and high schools in the USA now require that each child have a laptop throughout the day. In some urban areas, schools and colleges collaborate to offer wireless internet services to entire cities, and e-learning is hailed as the savior for all that ails us.
21% of students fail the 2012 AAAT tests. This improvement (from 22% failing last year) is widely hailed as proof that the system is working. A few commentators point out that 51% of black students failed the AAAT tests, but not much else is heard in terms of this disparity.
2012-2013: With sturdy, decent laptops now available for under $50, virtually every child in third grade and higher now uses a laptop for the vast majority of in-class work. http://www.school.gov becomes even more robust, and is seen by many as a replacement for the live teacher of yesteryear, except in the very early grades. As a result, class sizes soar. In many schools, only one teacher is hired per grade level, along with an additional paraprofessional for every 30 students (beyond the first 40) in that grade level. A school with 125 sixth graders, for instance, typically now has one teacher and three paraprofessionals helping the students to work their way through the sixth-grade materials found on school.gov. This cost savings, combined with the cheaper health insurance, lack of extracurriculars, and two-schools-in-one approach, allows schools to get by on about half of the money (adjusted for inflation) that they needed in 2007.
Homeschooling flourishes to even greater levels as any parent who wants her child to experience any form of schooling other than the e-class format found on school.gov has to provide that herself. With over 25% of the school-age children in America now homeschooling, the government decides to crack down, proposing that (A) homeschooling parents must have a teaching certificate and (B) all students must complete the entire school.gov set of materials (chapter quizzes, interactive experiments, videos, etc.) each and every year. Alternative forms of education enter a crisis period as lawmakers discuss whether to allow them to continue.
Again, 21% of students fail the AAAT tests.
2013-2014: This is as far as the crystal ball goes. With fuel costs now astronomical, schools no longer offer transportation to students. Students must be transported to school by parents/guardians or, in many cases, are allowed to work through the school.gov materials on their own from home as they keep in touch with a paraprofessional assigned to them.
A compromise of sorts is struck with homeschooling parents: in the final legislation, parents are not required to have a teaching certificate, but they must complete a 30-hour course found on school.gov. In the same legislation, homeschooled students are forced to complete only the unit tests found online at school.gov; they do not have to watch every single video or complete every single assignment. There are 10 unit tests per year in language arts, math, science, and social studies, making it 40 tests in all, not counting the standardized assessments each spring (which all homeschoolers must take as well). Homeschooling advocates feel a mixture of anger and relief at this verdict. It is stifling, but it could have been even worse.
Teachers and paraprofessionals are now routinely assigned 50 students each, since it is rare that all of those students would ever actually show up physically in school on any given day.
Juvenile crime increases. A few commentators claim that this is because of the 6-month and/or 4-day-per-week school year, giving students too much free time, which some do not use very constructively. Others assert that a lack of meaningful teacher/student relationships is a cause of this increase.
24% of students fail the AAAT tests. Concerns are raised about this increase in the failure rate, but no one is yet able to pinpoint the cause. The Algebra II, Calculus, Physics, and American History courses, classes that over 40% of students failed, are made easier for the 2014-2015 school year. Just 2% of homeschooled students, notably, fail this year’s AAAT tests.
A few social commentators begin to notice an appalling lack of creativity among American youth. These warnings are ignored for the time being.
Your thoughts or predictions are welcomed in the comment section below!