Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The educational crisis in America

Joel Klein, the former chancellor of New York City’s school system writes in The Atlantic:
Nearly three decades after A Nation at Risk, the groundbreaking report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people,” the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education. On America’s latest exams (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), 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.”

While America’s students are stuck in a ditch, the rest of the world is moving ahead. 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.
I don't know about Klein's solutions to the problem, but his statement of that problem is convincing. A nation can not succeed in the knowledge society without leading in education, and the United States has lost the lead it once had. Obama is right that while we have to make major reforms to deal with our economic problems, we should not cut investments we need for the future in that process. While throwing money at teachers is not the key to improving education, neither is starving the sector. I suspect that Klein is right that reforms in our educational institutions are needed.

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