Monday, August 29, 2005

When will we learn that US schools need fixing

I'm not talking about teaching ID vs evolution (or is it the flying spaghetti monster vs evolution? ... I kid you not). No this is about the sorry state of public education in the US ... a favorite subject of mine.

Reading Bob Herbert's column in the NY Times I come across these stats:
First the bad news: Only about two-thirds of American teenagers (and just half of all black, Latino and Native American teens) graduate with a regular diploma four years after they enter high school.

Now the worse news: Of those who graduate, only about half read well enough to succeed in college.


The Program for International Assessment, which compiles reports on the reading and math skills of 15-year-olds, found that the U.S. ranked 24th out of 29 nations surveyed in math literacy. The same result for the U.S. - 24th out of 29 - was found when the problem-solving abilities of 15-year-olds were tested.


An education task force established by the center and the institute noted the following: "Young low-income and minority children are more likely to start school without having gained important school readiness skills, such as recognizing letters and counting. ... By the fourth grade, low-income students read about three grade levels behind nonpoor students. Across the nation, only 15 percent of low-income fourth graders achieved proficiency in reading in 2003, compared to 41 percent of nonpoor students."

How's that for a disturbing passage? Not only is the picture horribly bleak for low-income and minority kids, but we find that only 41 percent of nonpoor fourth graders can read proficiently.

So who is the The Program for International Assessment? From their website:
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) was developed by the OECD to assess the reading, mathematics and science literacy of 15-year-olds in participating countries. PISA assesses how well prepared students are for life beyond the classroom by focusing on the application of knowledge and skills to problems with a real-life context. PISA results reflect the influences of education systems and societies on young people up to the age of 15. PISA represents an international collaboration that provides information for policymakers and researchers throughout the world.

So who is the OECD? From their website:
The OECD grew out of the organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), which was set up in 1947 with support from the United States and Canada to co-ordinate the Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II.

This isn't some flyby lobbyist group. This is an international organization (partially set up by the US) studying how students and school systems from around the world are performing.

Lets look at the stats:

Look closely, Canada ranks 5th (and not too far off the top OECD country surveyed, Finland).

The solution to the American problem - learn from other countries' educational systems! (all you have to do is cross the 49th parallel!)

This includes:
-get higher qualified teachers (which will require higher wages for educators)
-fund all schools adequately (this means that school funding must not only equalized, as in California but also increased - something Californians have not done!)

I've gone through this whole education bit before, but this is the biggest threat to the future of this country. Just look at 15th century China - although it was by far the most technological country on the planet, the Chinese turned inward. They closed the borders, banned seafaring trade and could not learn from the other "barbarian nations" ... as a result the west eventually leapt ahead of China.

In 1834, the British (with a population an order of magnitude less than China but with far superior technology) could send a fleet of ships half way around the world and win wars against the mighty empire and force China to open it's borders to the Opium trade. With the lack of education and stupid ideas such as ID floating around, is this the fate of our mighty empire?