When people ask, “Why is the United States school system so broken?” they are referring to the public education system as a whole. But this is an inaccurate view of public education that distracts from the root causes. Racial segregation and funding inequities are a result of intentional concentrations of privilege. Blaming public education for these problems by pointing to teacher training, curriculum, and the design of a high school are wishful thinking.
The curriculum has become insufficiently challenging and arbitrary, which has created a culture of complacency. Many Americans are continually told that our current curriculum is obsolete and inadequate. But the fact is, our educational system was far different in the 19th century. Before the 20th century, high schools focused on Latin and mechanical drawing, and offered little or no math beyond basic algebra. Furthermore, an average school year in 1900 was 100 days long, a period of forty percent less than the current one. In addition, a typical classroom size was twice as large as modern classes.
The results of our education system are not all that impressive. We still have troubling gaps among racial and ethnic groups, with black and Hispanic students showing the most improvement. However, when we compare scores with those of other countries, we see that the U.S. education system is broken. While our students may not have been as lucky as those in other nations, they still perform well compared to those in the same racial and ethnic groups.