Issues, Trends, and Controversies

The United States has engaged in a national debate over the purposes of schooling since the inception of the public school system. Such debate has resulted in numerous reforms and change efforts over the years. Some reforms have made lasting changes in elementary schooling, while others have gone away as quickly as they arrived. There are a number of burning issues that currently engage the public in discourse and negotiation.

The Evaluation of the Elementary Curriculum

Evaluation of the curriculum has become a focus of concern and disagreement. The use of standardized tests, some argue, drives the curriculum. The importance placed on these tests by local, state, and national entities all but define what will be taught in schools, thus negating local control of schools and, in fact, creating a form of national curriculum. Teachers who “teach to the test” are neglecting the development of powerful thinking skills and creativity. In fact, the tests are said to penalize those children who are creative thinkers. This limitation was noted by Hilda Taba in 1962, and remains a relevant concern. Some standardized tests, for example, have writing portions that consist solely of multiple-choice questions.

The Importance of Elementary Education

In America, children normally enroll in elementary schools at age five or six and exit elementary school at age eleven or twelve. In 2002 approximately 25 million children attended elementary schools in the United States. Readiness for elementary school is viewed as highly important. Through Head Start programs, the government provides educational opportunities for children from disadvantaged circumstances in order for them to be prepared for elementary school. Parents of the children who may not qualify for government-supported programs often enroll their children in privately run preschools in hopes of setting their children on a successful path to elementary school. Although school attendance is not mandatory in most states until first grade, national surveys of parents of early elementary pupils show that 98 percent of primary school children attend kindergarten before entering first grade.