WHEN YOU GET CAUGHT BETWEEN GOD AND NEW YORK CITY - 2

EDUCATION IN AMERICA

Let’s discuss the state of our educational system for a hot minute.  There is so much controversy and confusion out there it’s hard to even assess the state of public education these days.  The Tea Party is adamantly opposed to the voluntary Common Core Standards that were developed by a coalition of educators from around the country.  Why are they opposed?  Well, it has something to do with the Federal Government shoving a liberal agenda down the throats of Americans (somehow “voluntary” got lost here) or it’s Obama’s Communist takeover plot. Or was it a climate change thing?  Never mind.  Can you see why I’m confused? 

I keep thinking that we didn’t have these kinds of problems when I was in public school (ages ago) back up in Rochester, NY, but I know times have changed.  No one dared attack a teacher.  You basically showed up everyday, sat for six hours being bored out of your skull, memorized a lot of shit you new you’d never remember (much less use), and you took tests, wrote papers and twice a week you had “gym class,” now called Physical Education.  Even so, we did okay.  Today primary and secondary education seems to be another battle zone (Culture War causality maybe?) inflaming whole groups of passionate folks on every side of the issue.  So, yes, I guess things have changed. 


One thing that has changed – markedly – is the United States’ ranking on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) PISA test scores over the past decades.  Now I know there are all sorts of arguments about how the OECD criteria are bogus, America is too heterogeneous unlike our European buddies, etc. etc. etc.  All that may or may not be true. But the scores do give a certain picture.  And it’s not pretty. 


2012 EUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT* RANKINGS 

COUNTRY
EDUCATIONAL ATTAINMENT RANK
United States
14
South Korea
1
Japan
2
Singapore
3
Finland
5
United Kingdom
6
Canada
7
Netherlands
8
Ireland
9
Poland
10
Denmark
11
Germany
12
Russia
13
These figures are from 2012 with updates in 2014

(* Educational attainment is a term commonly used by statisticians to refer to the highest degree of education an individual has completed as defined by the US Census Bureau.)


So Poland and Russia beat us in the level of education American students achieve?  I don’t know what the historical trends are for the U.S. but, frankly, I think this table is scary enough without considering if we are heading up or down. 

Now we come to my all time favorite set of statistics: achievement rankings in Math, Reading and Science.  The following table gives some recent OECD rankings:



CURRENT US OECD PISA SCORES 2012

MATH
READING
SCIENCE
SCORE
RANK
SCORE
RANK
SCORE
RANK
481
31th
498
21th
497
24th

2009 US OECD RANKINGS
MATH
READING
SCIENCE
25th
11th
20th

2000 US OECD RANKINGS
MATH
READING
SCIENCE
20th
16th
15th




To summarize, since the year 2000, just over a decade based on these data points, the US has fallen from 20th place to 31st in Math, 16th to 21st in Reading and from 15th place to 24th place in Science.  Not exactly cause for celebration from my point of view.  Recall as well, that back prior to 1990 the US consistently ranked much higher in all categories.

So it would appear that even after thirty years of school vouchers, charter schools, get tough policies, teacher union bashing, home schooling, and all the other conservative measures designed to improve public education it just hasn’t happened.  What’s interesting is one program (a Federal one) which has proven successful, Head Start, has never been adapted to the rest of the public school system.  Note that study after study shows that on average Charter Schools do no better than public schools although they continue to use public tax dollars for their existence and, naturally, it’s now a big business.  

Today, of course, the right wing is hell-bent on ditching Common Core.  Why it is that having uniform standards so that kids from Mississippi and Alabama are exposed to the same curricula (as opposed to the science of Creationism, for example) as are school kids in California and New York is simply beyond comprehension.  All the headline grapping hot air over Common Core is simply another right wing anti-Obama effort even though he’s had nothing to do with its creation. 

I certainly don’t have any solutions to the declining scores of our students and there are certainly a plethora of factors involved – teacher’s unions, curriculum standards, testing, bloated school administrations, too much money spent on sports programs, the loss of art and music programs – to name only a few.  On the other hand, since the 1983 publication of “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform” it certainly appears that the state of affairs in public education has only gotten worse.   

What I do know, however, is that if we continue to produce pubic school graduates who fall so far below other Western Nations in achievement, it does not bode well for the future.

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