Failing to Educate in America
Sadly, and dangerously, America’s public schools, generally from Kindergarten through the12th grade, are failing; and this has been true for more than 30 years. They are failing to provide a basic education to the majority of students at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade levels, with basic education defined as proficiency in reading comprehension, mathematics, writing; and additionally in the subjects of science, economics, technology and engineering literacy, US history, and civics. The most recent data available, reflected in the table below, ranging from 2009 to 2015, compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the US Department of Education, details the extent of the nation’s education problem in the secondary school system, at the 4th, 8th, and 12th grade or high school senior level.
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, but posting an average score. (CBS News 2013)
The lack of proficiency among American secondary school students, particularly in view of the dollars expended on education, indicate that the system is failing to provide an adequate basic education to millions of students who graduate from US public schools. This egregious situation ought to raise the ire of everyone responsible for education, including local school boards, governors, state legislators, the national government, and of course, school administrators, teachers, and taxpayers, and compel them to drastic action to reform the school system.
One might legitimately ask why this has happened to an educational system that 40 years ago set the standard for academic performance, and was the envy of the world. Briefly stated, the failure is attributable to several factors including, the decline in moral and ethical standards in society; the breakdown of the American family; emphasis on elevating self-esteem among students, as opposed to instructing and instilling a sense of personal responsibility and fostering student independence and self-discipline; lowering academic standards and expectations; “social promotion” – passing students to the next grade level despite the demonstration of academic proficiency in the current grade level; the removal of disciplinary powers in the classroom and school environment from teachers and principals; the failure to impose strict accountability for poor performance among students; and the failure to impose fair performance and accountability standards, and merit-based compensation for teachers. There are also structural problems exacerbating this problem, including the poor managerial relationship between elected school boards, school superintendents, administrators, and teachers. This appalling situation must be resolved, as it portends great risk for the nation’s economic security, and ultimately, its national security interests.
Can this situation be resolved? The answer is emphatically “yes!” The solutions for the problems within the control of the school system are not particularly difficult. The implementation of the solutions, thus far, has proven to be virtually impossible, because it is political in nature. Simply stated, our nation lacks the political will to fix this problem. There are conflicting interests at work; mostly between the teachers, who are unionized; the administrators who are responsible for determining academic and operational policy; and state legislators and governors. Ultimately the taxpayers, through their elected representatives, will have to decide whether the status quo is acceptable or not. The broad solutions required to resolve this national problem are reflected below.
- Create a competitive market around the secondary school system by implementing school choice nationwide. Allow principals and teachers to lead and manage their respective schools.
- Restore disciplinary powers to teachers and principals in the school environment.
- Establish and maintain high and uniform academic standards and expectations in the basic education subjects. Eliminate what is commonly called, “social promotion” – passing students to the next grade level despite the demonstration of academic proficiency in the current grade level.
- Implement merit-based performance planning and compensation programs for all personnel in the school system, including teachers and administrators.
- Restructure the current school board governing system. Grant executive powers over school districts to elected city mayors; who appoint a school superintendent, subject to confirmation by the local city council. This will create an effective and efficient leadership and management system, with direct and visible accountability for school system academic and operational performance.
Although the foregoing solutions may seem drastic, the situation is desperate, and only bold measures will restore America’s public education system to the position of leadership in the world. What should you do, as a citizen and taxpayer? Express your views to your state legislators, and vote for candidates who are committed to the bold solutions necessary to overhaul the nation/s secondary school system.
Article By Allen Sutton