Failing to Educate

failing to educate picture

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.

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Source: National Center for Education Statistics, US Dept. Education 2016
The data reflects “what US students know and can do in different subjects.” (NCES 2016) As indicated, the numbers reflect the abysmal state of subject matter knowledge and performance in every area of basic education. For example, only 37% of high school seniors nationwide are proficient in reading; arguably the most important basic education subject. No doubt, reading is fundamental to learning. Yet, reading is also fundamental to functioning effectively as a member of today’s technology-driven workforce. In writing, only 27% of high school seniors were proficient; and in math, only 25% of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency. Unfortunately, the numbers in the remaining basic education areas, are equally disturbing; reflecting only 24% proficiency in civics, 21% proficiency in science, 20% proficiency in geography, and a mere 12% proficiency in US history. As seen in the table, the numbers are similar for the 4th and 8th grade levels. The only bright spot at the high school senior level is reflected in the area of economics, with a 42% level of proficiency, although this number still reflects less than half of 12th graders demonstrating proficiency. About 81% of those entering US public high schools graduate each year, reflecting a number that has been increasing since 2008, a very positive development.
Unfortunately for US taxpayers, as reflected in an NCES study it must be observed that the US spends more than almost every developed nation in the world on education each year, averaging $11,700 per student on secondary school education, 31% higher than the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 34 nation average of $9,000 per student. Despite much higher spending, the US trails plenty of other nations in academic performance.

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.

education in america pictureOne 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