Are American students failing in school, or are their schools failing them?
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.”
The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)–sponsored Independent Task Force on U.S. Education Reform and National Security. reports the grim statistics:
- 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.
A study by Atlantic magazine reports that spending has doubled in in inflated-adjusted dollars on K-12 education, but the results have been negligible. “…one-third or fewer of eighth-grade students were proficient in math, science, or reading. Our high-school graduation rate continues to hover just shy of 70 percent, according to a 2010 report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and many of those students who do graduate aren’t prepared for college. ACT, the respected national organization that administers college-admissions tests, recently found that 76 percent of our high-school graduates ‘were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.’…The World Economic Forum ranks us 48th in math and science education. On international math tests, the United States is near the bottom of industrialized countries (the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and we’re in the middle in science and reading. Similarly, although we used to have one of the top percentages of high-school and college graduates among the OECD countries, we’re now in the basement for high-school and the middle for college graduates. And these figures don’t take into account the leaps in educational attainment in China, Singapore, and many developing countries.”
Catholic schools, where spending per student is significantly lower, outperform public schools.CNS cites an illuminating study.
“In 2011,” says the Department of Education in a report on the NAEP tests, “the average reading score for eighth-graders attending public schools was 19 points lower than the overall score for students attending private schools, and 20 points lower than for students attending Catholic schools specifically…” An insistence on traditional values and on teaching the basics is a key to the success of parochial schools.
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 s almost impossible, and how pension benefits dramatically higher than the average American receives is bankrupting school systems.
While the problems facing American schools are serious, the solutions need not be painful. The New York Analysis of Policy & Government recommends:
- 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.