America’s Education Crisis
One of the most fundamental requirements for the future success of the United States is the development of a well-educated generation, competitive with global peers. This is not happening. Our failing school system is producing students who are disturbingly deficient in both science and language skills, as well as being ignorant of their own nation’s history and structure.
The federal government has been steadily increasing its role in education, states have been spending more, and the results have not been beneficial. The Wall Street Journal notes that the U.S. rates a dismal 27th place in education among developed nations. The U.S. Dept. of Education reports that,
“Today, the United States has one of the highest high school dropout rates in the world. Among students who do complete high school and go on to college, nearly half require remedial courses, and nearly half never graduate.”
Money Isn’t the Problem:
It’s certainly not for lack of financial support.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics,
“Current expenditures per student enrolled in the fall in public elementary and secondary schools were 5 percent higher in 2013-14 than in 2003-04 ($11,222 and $10,641 respectively, both in constant 2015-16 dollars).”
A CBS report found:
“The United States spends more than other developed nations on its students’ education each year…Despite the spending, U.S. students still trail their rivals on international tests…When researchers factored in the cost for programs after high school education such as college or vocational training, the United States spent $15,171 on each young person in the system – more than any other nation covered in the report…As a share of its economy, the United States spent more than the average country in the survey. In 2010, the United States spent 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education, compared with the 6.3 percent average of other OECD countries…The United States routinely trails its rival countries in performances on international exams despite being among the heaviest spenders on education…U.S. fourth-graders are 11th in the world in math in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a separate measure of nations against each other. U.S. eighth-graders ranked ninth in math, according to those 2011 results. The Program for International Student Assessment measurement found the United States ranked 31st in math literacy among 15-year-old students and below the international average. The same 2009 tests found the United States ranked 23rd in science among the same students.”
Schools Get Failing Grades:
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)-sponsored Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security reported these grim statistics in 2012:
· More than 25 percent of students fail to graduate from high school in four years; for African-American and Hispanic students, this number is approaching 40 percent.
· In civics, only a quarter of U.S. students are proficient or better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
· Although the United States is a nation of immigrants, roughly eight in ten Americans speak only English and a decreasing number of schools are teaching foreign languages.
· A recent report by ACT, the not-for-profit testing organization, found that only 22 percent of U.S. high school students met “college ready” standards in all of their core subjects; these figures are even lower for African-American and Hispanic students.
· The College Board reported that even among college-bound seniors, only 43 percent met college-ready standards, meaning that more college students need to take remedial courses.
Cevin Soling, writing in The Daily Beast reported:
” The [high school] curriculum has precious few courses that provide skills that are meaningful in the job market…1 in 3 high school graduates lacks basic math skills… two studies by the Department of Education show that only 15% of American adults can perform complex and challenging literacy activities and those proficient are much more likely to credit home learning for their skills.”
Part of the problem facing our education system has been the plague of left-oriented politicization of education. Just as history and civics have been ignored by a progressive school establishment that is uncomfortable with America’s culture of individual rights, science education has suffered from the displacement of much traditional course matter with politically-motivated “sustainability” instruction. Writing in Science Education, Noah Weeth Feinstein and Kathryn L. Kirchgasler worried that…
“…there may…be risks involved in incorporating sustainability into science education. What concerns us, in particular, is the possibility that science education will advance an oversimplified idea of sustainability that diminishes its social and ethical dimensions, exaggerating the role of technology and the importance of technical expertise at the expense of non-STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) disciplines and nontechnical expertise. Rather than supporting a generation of students to engage with science in realistic and productive…this approach might lead students to systematically misinterpret and underestimate the challenges that confront their local, regional, and global communities.”
While much attention has been paid to public education’s failings in science and literacy, not enough has been said about its disastrous record in a subject that constituted one of the key reasons why public education was instituted in the first place: teaching students about their own nation’s history, and how its government works. Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s most profound early supporter of education, was clear on why he believed it was so important:
“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be,”
As the New York Analysis of Policy & Government recently reported,
“A Nations Report Card study found that only 18% of eighth grade students are proficient in U.S. history. Similarly, a worrisome 2014 survey of 1,416 adults recently conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that:
· While little more than a third of respondents (36 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government, just as many (35 percent) could not name a single one;
· Just over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto; and
· One in five Americans (21 percent) incorrectly thinks that a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is sent back to Congress for reconsideration.
In 2014, Capitol Times.com quoted a statement by Arizona state legislator Steve Montenegro, a Republican, that “Civics and Social Studies and History are being boxed out of the classroom.” He notes that “96% of a sample group of high schoolers in Arizona and Oklahoma failed to pass a basic test on citizenship issues.”
A 2013 Pew study found:
“Overall, 66% say either that the education system in this country needs to be completely rebuilt (21%) or that it requires major changes (45%); only 31% think the system works pretty well and requires only minor changes…The public has long seen room for improvement in the way education works in this country. At least six-in-ten have said the education system needed an overhaul when the question was asked in 2005, 2006 and 2011. And dissatisfaction is widely shared: majorities of all major demographic groups say the education system needs to be revamped…However, there is no difference in opinion between parents of children under age 18 and those without children under the age of 18, and about two-thirds of Republicans (65%), Democrats (67%), and independents (67%) agree that the education system needs at least major changes. College graduates (75%) are more likely than those with no college experience (60%) to say the education system needs major changes or to be completely rebuilt. However, there is a modest difference of opinion among college graduates: 68% of those with a post-graduate degree say the education system needs at least major changes compared with 79% of those with no more than a college degree.”
Why do our superbly financed public schools fail? Former NYC schools chancellor Joel Klein, writing in the Atlantic magazine answers this key question:
“If the forces behind reform seem scattered and weak, those defending the status quo-the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors-are well organized and well financed…The school system doesn’t want to change, because it serves the needs of the adult stakeholders quite well, both politically and financially.
“Let’s start with the politicians. From their point of view, the school system can be enormously helpful, providing patronage hires, school-placement opportunities for connected constituents, the means to get favored community and business programs adopted and funded, and politically advantageous ties to schools and parents in their communities…politicians can reap enormous political support from the unions representing school employees. The two national unions-the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association-together have some 4.7 million members, who pay hundreds of millions of dollars in national, state, and local dues, much of which is funneled to political causes. Teachers unions consistently rank among the top spenders on politics.
“Moreover, millions of union members turn out when summoned, going door-to-door, staffing phone banks, attending rallies, and the like. Teachers are extremely effective messengers to parents, community groups, faith-based groups, and elected officials, and the unions know how to deploy them well…Albert Shanker, the late, iconic head of the UFT, once pointedly put it, “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”
Klein goes on to illustrate how, due to union pressure, firing a teacher for bad or even illegal conduct is almost impossible, and how pension benefits dramatically higher than the average American receives is bankrupting school systems.
The federal government’s growing role in education has exacerbated the already serious problems. As the author of the Declaration of Independence explained,
“But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by…[any] general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward, it is a belief against all experience…”
The Daily Signal notes that,
“While Jefferson supported the idea of public education, he would not have placed schools under government supervision. Instead, he argued for the placement of ‘each school at once under the care of those most interested in its conduct.’ He would put parents in charge… Taxpayers would provide the resources for public education; the community would arrange the schooling.”
While the problems facing American schools are serious, the solutions need not be painful. In 2015, The New York Analysis of Policy & Government recommended:
· End “mission creep.” Increasingly, schools are tasked with ever increasing responsibilities to feed and babysit their students. Neither should be the prime purpose of educational institutions. The focus should be, as exclusively as possible, on learning.
· Spend dollars on actual instruction, not on patronage or community relations positions, non-pedagogical staff or non-pedagogical activities. For far too long, the needs of the students have played second fiddle to those of unions, community organizers, and politicians.
· Emphasize the basics and stop spending dollars and time on educational fads. Students who can’t read well or perform basic math will not succeed. Students who don’t know the basic facts of American history and civics will not have the tools to be intelligent citizens. The latest version of “new math” and other fads almost always fail to accomplish anything.
· Take Washington bureaucrats out of the picture. The federal government has failed to improve academic achievement, but it has wasted taxpayer dollars and distracted local schools from their primary tasks.
· Take truly troubled students out of the mainstream and place them into special programs where their needs can be met.
· Provide facts, not opinions, in lessons. More and more, opinions are replacing actual facts and traditional values in such subjects as history, social studies, civics, and even reading.
Lawrence J. Fedewa, writing in the Washington Times, examined the terrible statistics resulting from America’s failing education system and warned that,
“It is clear that failing schools lead to failing societies. According to these data, our turn is coming if not already here. Our schools need a lot of fixing if America is to retain its standard of living…”
Originally published on New York Analysis of Policy and Government.
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