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WARNING: Side Effects of School!

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Competition

To set students apart from each other in public and private schooling, the majority of students are given grades for the work they do in class. Those grades are then transferred into the student’s GPA (Grade Point Average), which determines their general skill and eligibility for college. The race to get the highest GPA begins at the beginning of high school and the stress piles up throughout the grade levels. Stress becomes an issue for all students who want to keep up with the competition. To do this many students must neglect other things in their life that doesn’t relate to their classes in order to maintain their overcompensated GPA.

The idea of setting ourselves apart from the others has been drilled into the minds of students for years. Students believe that a high GPA is the only thing they can focus on in order to get into college, is this what the years of schooling is supposed to teach our students? Is it supposed to teach students not to do what they enjoy but rather what will make them better than their peers? There are other schools, even some here in Wake County, that prepare elementary, middle, and high school students for college without giving grades. For example, Montessori education has found a way to nurture student’s desire to learn and to keep track of students skills in ways that don’t involve grades. Teachers closely observe student’s mastery of subjects and ensure they understand what they are required to. Colleges still accept people from these high schools, so why are grades and GPA still such major factors in students’ high school careers?  

 

The Washington Post noted that the argument for having a competitive school environment is that it will simulate the real world and teach students that there are winners and losers and that sometimes life is unfair. Other arguments that are pro-competition push the notion that students will be motivated to do better when they see their counterparts doing the same or better than they are. Friendly competition promotes a healthy working environment where students are motivated to work hard and it encourages them to be happy with their performances when they do well, and strive for improvement when they don’t. Many say without the proper motivation to work students won’t put in effort or work to better themselves and therefore competition is a necessary and effective way to get students to work harder. Although this is a common thought in our education system many others see that competition has copious amounts of negative effects on students.

The intense, overbearing competition that is present in our school systems leads to extreme stress for students, according to the American Psychological Association. This spike in stress for students often results in increased chance of them developing or becoming more susceptible to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. The mental health issues that stem from school can then lead to the performance of the student in school to suffer. While others may point out that students suffer from stress due to other factors at school a poll conducted by NPR and Harvard school of public health poll demonstrates that the majority of the stress from school comes from the academics rather than social pressures or other stressors found in the school environment. One student, Danny Wang, explained his stance on GPA and how it affects students, “When you give people ranks in schools it kind of [inhibits] anyone that isn’t up at the top. It would [affect] their abilities to focus in class and do work in school because they think they have a bad rank and they will never get into a good college because of it. It doesn’t help them.”

 

Teacher Expectations

Another factor that affects students in school is teacher expectations. These expectations can vary among teachers even within the same subject. Teachers expectations can vary between teachers even if they are teaching the same subject. Many students ask themselves, “why do these discrepancies occur?” This is due to the fact that teachers are unique individuals who all perceive differently and grade to different standards. One teacher may grade more critically due to their high expectations while others may be more lenient and flexible. Mrs. Masterson, a teacher at Panther Creek, states that, “I don’t necessarily know that [grades are] actually a measure of what they’ve learned. Some teachers are going to have grades that really reflect what a student has learned where other teachers may have more of what is referred to as ‘fluff grades’ which is a grade for completion. That’s more of a behavior grade than an actual grade of understanding of content.” What is the effect of this is on students?

According to “Do High Grading Standards Affect Student Performance?” by David N. Figlio (University of Florida and National Bureau of Economic Research) and Maurice E. Lucas (School Board of Alachua County, Florida) higher expectations from teachers lead to less school delinquency, but on the other hand it has also been proven that higher graduation requirements lead to more school dropouts.

Other conclusions drawn from this study suggest that initially low-ability students are discouraged by high-ability peers and high teacher expectations and therefore continue on as low-ability student whereas initially high-ability students excel when presented with low-ability peers and high teacher expectations. This demonstrates that when students initially don’t do well and can’t measure up to the expectations of teachers it negatively affects their attitude towards the class and affects their overall performance, but it also demonstrates that students that initially meet or exceed expectations have a more positive outlook on the class and do better overall. Different expectations affect students in different ways and this could end up affecting their grades, mentality, and performance. Some students face the problem each year of getting thrown into a picking hat and wondering whether their teacher will allow them to enjoy the class or dislike it, to excel in the class or fail it.

 

How do other places around the world do it? How can we do better?

The education systems across the world all work differently, and those disparities cause the students from each of these countries to perform in various ways. The map depicted below illustrates the manifested differences in education and which countries are doing well.

Finland is at the number one rank in education, and some may ask themselves why this is so. There are many factors that make Finnish education different from ours. To begin with, students and teachers have a much closer relationships and are able to work one-on-one with each other to determine where the teachers can determine where students are struggling, how certain students learn, and can help them improve effectively. This can be attributed to the fact that the Finnish population is significantly smaller than that of the United States, but there’s no denying that they are on the right track. Another thing Finland does differently is that they have a lack of standardized testing. Students do not take standardized tests on the regular and it seems to help their stress levels significantly which is something other countries can learn from. Along with this, Finland also minimizes the amount of homework given to students and if it’s possible they give them none and it doesn’t promote competition in their school environment. This also significantly decreases the amount of stress felt by students in that country and therefore boosts their scores up, making them the number one ranked country in the world for education.

When students were asked what they would change about the United States education system many of them responded that there should be less standardized testing. A junior at panther creek, Maliha Bhuiyan says, “It doesn’t really measure your other intelligence, people can have different intelligence in other areas standardized testing doesn’t cover.” It seems to be the general consensus among students that they feel standardized testing does not effectively display their strengths and weaknesses. The National Council of Teachers of English did research on ‘How Standardized Tests Shape – and Limit – Student Learning’ and discovered that, “standardized tests limit student learning because they focus on cognitive dimensions, ignoring many other qualities that are essential to student success.” Another observation that many students and teachers made was that the drastic changes have taken place in our society as a whole and education should also evolve and change along with us. Sitting in a classroom all day, listening to a teacher talk, and taking notes does not work for all students and school should be made into something creative and exciting for everyone. Mrs Masterson expressed, “It worked for a long time … It was just: Here are the directions, now follow [them]. Where now we are at a point where our brain capacity has really increased because our technology has increased. So we need to be more focused on how our brain works and gear our educational systems to that piece, meaning it shouldn’t just be sitting at a desk all day. You have the capability to learn the skill set … [with] a hands-on approach.”

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