Has the U.S. education system put learning on the back-burner?


Kenny Eliason

This young class demonstrates a good learning environment. In this environment children will flourish.

Throughout my life, I had always loved learning and attending school. Yet since entering high school, my opinion has changed. I am not alone in this, my friends and peers agree. Most high schools in the U.S. focus on the achievement of students not necessarily learning the concepts. We feel like we are in a vicious cycle of cramming information to pass a test and then forgetting it so we are able to move onto the next subject.

“Personally I strive for A’s. You could not ask me what I learned in history last year because I could not tell you. All I cared about was getting an A, because that’s what colleges want.” Student Annelise Motto says. A contributor to this process is the pressure put on students to receive certain grades, the pressure from parents, society, colleges and internal expectations. The thought “I need to get a good grade” is the focus of our learning. This contributes to not only a lack of true learning but to a growth of anxiety and stress among students.

With grade pressure also comes expectations from colleges. What colleges expect from their possible incoming students is astounding in most cases. Students feel the need to get perfect grades and have a perfect life to get in. Students forget that the college should fit them not that they should fit a college. Students tend to gravitate towards being a cookie cutter type student in order to earn approval. The more prestigious a school is, the more value you have as a person. Students need to get rid of this mindset in order to take advantage of their learning.

Not only students but teachers also feel this pressure. Teachers don’t want to teach a class where no one wants to be there. To increase student engagement, students need to build bonds with their teachers and the teachers need to connect their class to the real world. In this week’s Don to Don podcast with Mrs. B she says, “If a student doesn’t know why they’re there, they aren’t gonna want to learn.” The goal we are reaching for is to return the love of learning to our school and students. Cathedral Catholic strives to teach their students to be lifelong learners, unfortunately I feel they are falling short. Many students and teachers can see the loss of love for learning. “We don’t like seeing you guys wilt away, ” Ms. B says. Cathedral Catholic is doing their best to avoid disconnect among the teachers and their courses. The teachers collaborate to calibrate their courses and grading the same, but us students don’t see that. “The teacher you get matters what grade you get.”, Student Kelli Jackson claims.

Cathedral has also communicated with teachers to provide more authentic assessments for their subjects. For example, essays should be used in all English classes. This is a hard goal to reach with our current schooling system. Unfortunately, many students including myself are unsatisfied with the current changes.

Changes we can make to create a better learning environment involve the change to mastery based grading. This version of grading defines the clear expectations of learning for students, parents, and educators. This separates what the student has learned and what they have failed to learn. Mastery-based grades separate academic achievement and a student’s behaviors. For example, turning in work late is a behavior not a direct reflection of a student’s academic ability. A school that embodies this grading system is St. Anne’s in Brooklyn, New York. “We believe that grades distract from the joy of learning. They reduce what should be complex responses to challenging intellectual problems to right or wrong, or perhaps half-right or half-wrong. Grades are reductive symbols and a shortcut around the hard work of responding individually to the work of our students, celebrating what they have achieved, and explaining to each student how his or her work can continue to progress and develop.” St. Anne’s displays on their website. Structuring education in a similar way to St. Anne’s sets their students up for success. I believe that they need to be a role model for schools around the nation. Mastery grading is a perfect fit for our dilemma.