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Jewish World Review
June 3, 2009 / 11 Sivan 5769
Dumbest Generation Getting Dumber
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an
international comparison of 15-year-olds conducted by The Organisation for
Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that measures applied learning
and problem-solving ability. In 2006, U.S. students ranked 25th of 30
advanced nations in math and 24th in science. McKinsey & Company, in
releasing its report "The Economic Impact of the Achievement Gap in
America's Schools" (April 2009) said, "Several other facts paint a worrisome
picture. First, the longer American children are in school, the worse they
perform compared to their international peers. In recent cross-country
comparisons of fourth grade reading, math, and science, US students scored
in the top quarter or top half of advanced nations. By age 15 these rankings
drop to the bottom half. In other words, American students are farthest
behind just as they are about to enter higher education or the workforce."
That's a sobering thought. The longer kids are in school and the more money
we spend on them, the further behind they get.
While the academic performance of white students is grossly
inferior, that of black and Latino students is a national disgrace. The
McKinsey report says, "On average, black and Latino students are roughly two
to three years of learning behind white students of the same age. This
racial gap exists regardless of how it is measured, including both
achievement (e.g., test score) and attainment (e.g., graduation rate)
measures. Taking the average National Assessment of Educational Progress
(NAEP) scores for math and reading across the fourth and eighth grades, for
example, 48 percent of blacks and 43 percent of Latinos are 'below basic,'
while only 17 percent of whites are, and this gap exists in every state. A
more pronounced racial achievement gap exists in most large urban school
districts." Below basic is the category the NAEP uses for students unable to
display even partial mastery of knowledge and skills fundamental for
proficient work at their grade level.
The teaching establishment and politicians have hoodwinked
taxpayers into believing that more money is needed to improve education. The
Washington, D.C., school budget is about the nation's costliest, spending
about $15,000 per pupil. Its student/teacher ratio, at 15.2 to 1, is lower
than the nation's average. Yet student achievement is just about the lowest
in the nation. What's so callous about the Washington situation is about
1,700 children in kindergarten through 12th grade receive the $7,500 annual
scholarships in order to escape rotten D.C. public schools, and four times
as many apply for the scholarships, yet Congress, beholden to the education
establishment, will end funding the school voucher program.
Any long-term solution to our education problems requires the
decentralization that can come from competition. Centralization has been
massive. In 1930, there were 119,000 school districts across the U.S; today,
there are less than 15,000. Control has moved from local communities to the
school district, to the state, and to the federal government. Public
education has become a highly centralized government-backed monopoly and we
shouldn't be surprised by the results. It's a no-brainer that the areas of
our lives with the greatest innovation, tailoring of services to individual
wants and falling prices are the areas where there is ruthless competition
such as computers, food, telephone and clothing industries, and delivery
companies such as UPS, Federal Express and electronic bill payments that
have begun to undermine the postal monopoly in first-class mail.
At a Washington press conference launching the McKinsey report,
Al Sharpton called school reform the civil rights challenge of our time. He
said that the enemy of opportunity for blacks in the U.S. was once Jim Crow;
today, in a slap at the educational establishment, he said it was "Professor
James Crow." Sharpton is only partly correct. School reform is not solely a
racial issue; it's a vital issue for the entire nation.
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