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Monday, January 30, 2006

Education: Defining the Problem

This is part one of the series American Education: A Crisis Demanding Leadership.

It won't take long to realize that there is a problem in American education.

Americans spend more than $500 billion per year educating 47.6 million students in 94,112 schools. On average it costs taxpayers $8,000 to educate each student. The money comes from three primary sources: 42% local, 49% state, and 8.4% federal.

In inflation-adjusted dollars, America is paying over 72 percent more today than it did in 1980. Even since the 1999-2000 school year, education spending has increased from $389 billion to the previously mentioned $500 billion. This would be well spent money, except there has been absolutely no increase in the quality of education nor in the results in the major educational categories.

Consider forth grade acheivement, only 31% are proficient in reading, 32% are proficient in math, 29% in science, and 18% in American history. The vast majority of students are not competent in basic subjects! The educational proficiency decrease as students get into older grades. Compared to our international counterparts, "American 8th graders ranked 19th out of 38 countries on the 1999 international mathematics comparison and 18th out of 38 countries in science. In combined scores of mathematics and science literacy, 12-graders in the United States ranked 18th out of 21 countries on the TIMSS 1995 assessment." While these numbers don't sound bad superficially, it is instructive to note that the US spends more than virtually all other nations on education only to yield a declining rank.

John's Stossel's revealing 20/20 report, highlights this international discrepancy: Watch: Belgians call American Students Stupid.

Politicians in the previous three decades have offered countless solutions to the declining competitiveness of the American student on the global market. Practicaly all solutions involved one key component: throw money at it. At the risk of being called stingy, their political opponents offered competing 'reforms' auctioning off our kids futures as though they were a piece of furniture.

One of the lies of socialism is that government money solves problems. Politicians feed their constituencies the line, "Vote for me and I'll take care of your children." Allowing the parent to disengage from the process, the government kept throwing money at education like money was going out of style. Throw money at it (get elected) and watch the returns. But when the test scores didn't come back increased, the mantra of more money was heard; when more money was given and test scores didn't increase, "the test must be racist".

But is it any surprise that government programs don't work? FEMA doesn't work, Health and Human Services doesn't work, intelligence doesn't work: nothing the government does succeed (except the military). Big government education is a death sentence to the future of America.

More money simply does not compensate for a host of other deficiencies. The idea that money compensates for quality of teachers, involvement of parents, facilities, or whatever is a lie. To prove that money isn't the answer, this principle takes any 'underprivileged' child at his school. His students succeeds and he spends far less than the national average: Watch One Successful School Spends Remarkably Less Money

The answer is bigger than money. The education system in America fundamentally broken in terms of quality, efficiency, and curriculum. In regards to curriculum, the National Governors Association listened while Bill Gates said, "“America’s high schools are obsolete. By obsolete, I mean that our high schools—even when they're working exactly as designed—cannot teach our kids what they need to know today. Training the workforce of tomorrow with the high schools of today is like trying to teach kids about today's computers on a 50-year-old mainframe. It's the wrong tool for the times.(cite)”

If the bravest politicians know its broken and even if they knew how to reform it, why wouldn't they? One reason is because of powerful education unions. Not only have unions like the Education Association (NEA) become the powerful, sole defenders of the status quo, they have also lost track of their original mission of improving schools. This article highlights their liberal distractivism: NEA Money Laundering Engenders Outrage in Millions. Also, watch: Education Unions are a Problem. For more on the state of education and the role of Teacher's Unions, watch Cato's "The Worm in the Apple: How the Teacher Unions Are Destroying American Education".

Admittedly, the National Education Association is an easy target because of their opposition to change. But the problem is greater than the liberals at the NEA; government schools simply do not work.

Statistics used are from the National Clearinghouse for Educational Statistics. ABC's 20/20 report on education by John Stossel was used as were resources from the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

Read Part 2: School Choice: Saving America for our Children

Thoughtful Readers Speak:
The Post Office works. I'd say the Post Office alone consistently disproves the mantra that government can't be effective at something.

But, this stuff about American schools being poor is nonsense. We're all the products, here, of American schools. Somehow we turned out just fine. I'm not saying that there's no room for improvement, but this idea that American schools are in some kind of "crisis" is garbage. The vast majority of Americans, including me, are graduates of public schools, and over half of those people go on to higher learning and education.
You know that ostriches really don't put their head in the sand?
Read this:

Make sure to read the comments too.
I'm interested to know what you would do instead of public schools, or what you would do to reform public schools. Everybody goes to a private school and parents pay tuition starting at kindergarten? I don't know a whole lot about educating children, or anything like that. Maybe Europe has the right idea, though. You pick what you want to do when you enter middle school and that way the people who want to go to university are well-prepared for that and the people who want a trade are well-prepared for that.
What about the students that the private schools won't accept? Like, because they're lesbians and the like?

When you've closed down the public school, and both of their parents are at work all day, where do they go to school?

I just can't hekp but think that a fair bit of conservatisim is simply refusing to think about the obvious negative consequences of your policies.
I'm glad that you asked....
Try the Alliance for Separation of School and State.
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