We spend billions annually on public and private education on our children. Is our country getting our money’s worth? We rank last or near last in all standard achievement measurements when compared to the G20 Industrialized nations⏤we are lagging far behind in mathematics and sciences. It would seem with the billions we spend, the investment in education at local, state and federal levels we would be near the top, producing a flood of STEM students to fill the needs of our 21st Century economy, the reality is only 2.7% of US citizen undergraduates have STEM degrees, and fewer at graduate level. At some of the top universities the number of foreign nationals in STEM programs outnumber US Citizens. This has been an increasing trend over the last 20 years.
It’s more than just the costs and academic failures⏤some of our schools fail to provide a safe and nurturing environment, they don’t provide a well-rounded education, while politics and funding has narrowed the scope and restricted the experiences for achievement. What has happened to art, music, dance, gymnastics, swimming and other sports?
Schools have been called “shooting galleries” and “glorified babysitting” or “teen day care centers.” What has gone wrong, what are we doing wrong, how can we fix it?
Since the founding of our country, education has always been a valued commodity, producing an intelligent workforce, experimenters, innovators, and leaders in technology and science. Yet in the last 50 years the United States has fallen from the world’s leader in sciences, technologies, engineering and biological sciences. Once the leader in innovation and discovery, leading the World’s G20 nations to one that now follows, lacking in the skilled educated population to compete on the world stage. Why as a nation, have we permitted this to happen? Today, we spend more money per student than any other country in the world, but our world ranking in Science and Mathematics is a dismal 37th.
Why are public schools from K to 12 failing to prepare our students, failing so dramatically? Is it the student, his/her teachers, is it the administration? Or is there something else fundamentally wrong with our educational system in this country that no amount of money or simple changes can correct? Ever since the Department of Education was created by the Federal Government⏤more bureaucracy has crept into education, more levels, more control, more reporting, and more Political Correctness. Let’s take a look at the effect of this bureaucratic explosion.
We have recently seen school districts and even statewide initiatives that replace excellence and achievement with curriculums that are more socialization than education. Many districts are eliminating advanced placement AP courses, with the goal of mainstreaming everybody to a common achievement level, utilizing the same curriculum and eliminating any disparity between coursework for students regardless of their abilities.
Many studies have shown that some students are capable of greater challenges, many students fit into yet another capability profile and still other students need additional help, time and assistance. Many critics have said that political correctness, a feel-good experience in our schools is more important than learning facts and information. Even going as far to say memorizing information about our history, knowledge of science, and even math principles as elemental as “times tables” are obsolete and unnecessary. I remember the phrase “someday algebra will save your life” well I think that is true, especially now that we complete the first 20% of the 21st century.
What are the exterior influences on our education system? Time was, in a not too distant past, schools were run at the local level. Principals and teachers established the curriculum, selected the books and materials, and grouped students to their abilities and their educational needs. As school districts grew so did the administrations, local schools reporting to a county wide bureaucracy, and the county’s reporting to state bureaucracy and finally the states reporting for totally absent and bureaucratic Federal Department of Education.
People would move to a certain locale because the schools had a reputation for excellence. The community provided the funding necessary as the citizens determined. Now political correctness has that replaced it with “equal opportunity, quasi-equality in funding and a mandated education experience that must meet a common denominator and typically at lower standards. Many of us would say this has led to a dumbing down of public education.
So how do we fix this? First we must determine what education should be delivering for our society and the future of our country. The only problem is some politician’s idea is that schools should just be a good time, so we must do away with political correctness right up front. Our politicians with advanced degrees, too many lawyers among them, must realize that not every student is headed to MIT, UCLA, Harvard, Stanford, or University of Virginia, or any other 4 year private or State University. In our 21st century economy that relies on skills, specific education, and in its complexity every member of our society must be educated to be able to succeed as a functioning well educated individual.
Not every high school student needs to be prepared for a university education of four years. The fact is⏤even with the substantial high school education it is up to the student to succeed or fail at the university level once on their own. If not when they fail and drop-out they will be burdened with the stigma of failure from all, worst of all blaming themself. They will lack the skills necessary to move in another direction. They may feel defeated and lost, not knowing what direction to choose for the rest of their life.
Many students were forced into this four year university path by parents or peer expectations, and by the system that has singular goals to measure achievement. A system that says if you grow up in New Rochelle New York, you should be going to an Ivy League school, becoming a lawyer, doctor, Scientist or member of a wall street financial giant. And if you are not you are considered an under-achiever or failure. I have a friend that grew up in that community, became a Yale dropout, then started off working as an auto mechanic, became very good at, something he always loved and wanted to do, he now sells million-dollar exotic cars, his company maintains them and makes a hell of a lot more than his lawyer neighbor and has a heck of a lot of fun doing it, by the way he owns three businesses.
A good starting point is we must get rid of the Federal Department of Education, why do we need it, after all every State has a Department of Education, every County a Department of Education and every district has a Superintendent, Assistant superintendents, Curriculum Specialists and more bureaucracy than is necessary.
Move control of education closer to the classroom, put control of our children’s education back in the hands of the professionals in the classrooms, our teachers and principals, after all they are the administrators who run the schools directly and foster parental involvement. Also end the political correctness and put in a good dose of reality. Do proper assessment, proper challenging of our students at all levels of their capabilities and potential achievement. There is a phrase in special education “all students learn differently”. We should learn from this that every student can achieve to the level of their capability and beyond if we recognize that every one of our children are individuals and a little different.
Our politicians talk about diversity and yet when it comes to education they want to lump all children in one bucket. We need to teach and expect them to reach beyond using Google and a calculator for their information and results. Return education to where teachers evaluate a student’s progress and appropriate placement. Let administrators worry about the bricks and mortar, make sure the air-conditioning is running, and the cafeteria provides good food. Let the teachers teach, in my opinion⏤administrators that have no classroom experience should be as far away from education as a jet plane can take them.
Structure our schools so they provide a meaningful education to all of our students so those with skills to become a graphic artist or musician, or those who want to be the next great bioengineer or scientist can and still others who want to be writers or philosophers have that opportunity.
Our society needs all of our people to be able to achieve and contribute and not have a stigma about not meeting someone’s politically correct scenario for what their life should be.
It all started here over 400 years ago, we have now built a great nation, our founders as children frequently attended one-room schools, they learned basic skills, mathematics, history, literature, reading and writing, music and art. They learned to think and question, they were challenged, they worked hard, they produced a Declaration of Independence, a Constitution and the greatest nation on the face of the earth. They made sure that opportunity and education was available for all, they let the teachers teach our children and they’ve done a pretty damn good job of it.
Teachers and parents are the foundation of education, they are the closest ones to the student, they inspire and nurture, they challenge and reward, and yet our bureaucratic educational system fails to recognize that fact and has substituted regulation after regulation in its place. We must put them⏤ our teachers and parents back in charge and not the distant burdensome bureaucracies that have no idea what our children are learning.