Sunday, January 30, 2005

Disturbing Data on The U.S. Education System

The deteriorating American education system has been an area of concern among conservatives for many years. The self-serving National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers, along with American liberals bent on keeping the nation’s youth imprisoned in ineffective government schools, have succeeded only in lowering the level of education our young people receive. And that holds true not just in the horrible urban schools of our major cities, but in small town America and in every state in the union.

Andrew J. Coulson, senior fellow in education policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Michigan, published the following results of international testing of students in the fourth- and eighth-grade levels in a recent column on the education system:

Among eighth-graders, the top five nations in combined mathematics and science performance were Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. Among fourth-graders, the top four nations in combined mathematics and science performance were Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (Korea did not test students in the fourth grade).

How did the United States perform compared to other industrialized nations — that is, the top 40 nations in terms of per-capita income? At the fourth-grade level, American students were nine points above the average in science and 11 points below it in math, putting them almost dead average overall. At the eighth-grade level, American students were four points below average in science and 24 points below average in math, putting them clearly, but not abysmally, below the rich-country average.

While we teach our children how to use condoms, how to be politically correct, how to feel good about yourself when you fail, and in some schools why homosexuality is an okay lifestyle, reading, writing and arithmetic seem to be considered passé. Mr. Coulson’s data show that our once high position in the world is slipping.

Columnist Walter Williams, himself a university professor, offers the following in support of my allegation that our educational system is quickly falling apart.

Here are some test questions.

Question 1: Which of the following is equal to a quarter of a million? (a) 40,000 (b) 250,000 (c) 2,500,000 (d) 1/4,000,000 or (e) 4/1,000,000? Question 2: Martin Luther King Jr. (insert the correct choice) for the poor of all races. (a) spoke out passionately (b) spoke out passionate (c) did spoke out passionately (d) has spoke out passionately or (e) had spoken out passionate. Question 3: What would you do if your student sprained an ankle? (a) Put a Band-Aid on it (b) Ice it (c) Rinse it with water.

Having reviewed the questions, guess which school grade gets these kind of test questions: sixth grade, ninth grade or 12th grade. I'm betting that the average reader guesses: sixth grade. You'd be wrong. How about ninth grade? You'd still be wrong. You say, "OK, Williams, I can't believe they're 12th grade test questions!" Wrong again. According to a School Reform News article "Who Tells Teachers They Can Teach?" those test questions came from tests for prospective teachers. The first two questions are samples from Praxis I test for teachers, and the third is from the 1999 teacher certification test in Illinois. And guess what. Thirty-one percent of New York City public school teachers fail teacher certification tests.

If this trend continues, and the education establishment remains successful in thwarting reform initiatives like school vouchers, competition, tuition tax credits, and accepting poor candidates as teachers and setting low expectations for students, the United States will be in real trouble.


Rebecca DeVendra said...

The only reason places like Japan have such high scores is because they only test the elite. If people like me and the rest of my fellow peers in the honors systems at school were the only ones allowed to take tests and move on in education, America's scores would go up. In Japan, if you dont pass a test, you don't go on to middle school. So they have high test scores, and also the highest rate of teenage suicides. (But that's kept kinda quiet.) They way America deals with this problem is dumbing things down- so that more people will go to collage. It's not very fair to the smart kids who work hard. Perhaps some useful education reform will be passed in my lifetime.

James Shott said...

Rebecca, thanks for the comment.

You said that "The only reason places like Japan have such high scores is because they only test the elite. If people like me and the rest of my fellow peers in the honors systems at school were the only ones allowed to take tests and move on in education, America's scores would go up." That appears to be incorrect, based upon this information from the same article, showing that "the overall U.S. participation rate at the eighth-grade was just 73 percent, the third-lowest of all 45 participating countries, and 11 points below the average participation rate of industrialized nations. In fact, the United States had the third-lowest overall participation rate for both grades in both subjects. Japan, Taiwan and Singapore all had participation percentages in the 90s."I know that the U.S. has some very bright students, and based upon my limited experience with you, I think you are certainly one of them.

And, you are correct about dumbing down the curricula so more kids pass, and do well. It's not fair. The only sane thing to do is to reform the system so that we have motivated, well-trained and well-paid teachers, and honest courses of study that stress real history, and useful math and science (to name just two areas). Whether that will occur in your lifetime or not depends upon the people who can force the entrenched education establishment to do what's right for the students and the nation, not what's best for them.

If you'd like to read the entire article, here's the link:

Rebecca DeVendra said...

I was just making a point that the Japanese elite are Required to take these tests. I think there are more of them than Americans; birth rates are dropping over here but I won't go into that. But I don't know, Im just applying what knowledge I have to this article. It's all very interesting, and almost depressing at the same time.

Unknown said...

We need to do better, regardless of the skewing of the results... But when you are big, fast and rich is hard to be hungry!

Buffalo said...

It does appeart that our public school system is in a shambles. I don't think the solution to the problem entails either throwing more money at it or going to the voucher system.
If I were in total control of the education system I would implement the following steps at once: 1)return to neighborhood schools (2) insure teachers were qualified and capable of teaching (3)return to providing a basic education (4) return discipline to the schoolroom. Disrupt a class you're out of class. Hit or threaten a teacher you're in deep doo doo (5)get rid of this silly zero tolerance policy.....and those are starting points

Paul Adams said...
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