The State of Education

With school starting up in about a month, I thought it was time to post this one…

Before I go on, I want to publicly state that I absolutely admire teachers and school systems that do not sink to the status quo, but encourage their students to achieve excellence in their quest for an education. To the rest of the teachers & school systems that constantly lower standards so that more students will graduate high school, but cannot fill out a simple job application, shame!!

Consider, if you will, the following letter to the soldiers serving in Iraq (punctuation & grammer have been kept intact):

Dear Soldiers,

I hope that yall find that Osama bin ladin because he did stuff that I could not imagin so you might think I’m stupid but I made it to forth grade so I mak A’s and B’s to there.

You friend, Bowen

The above was among letters from children collected by a teacher in Pontotoc, Mississippi. This letter, along with others, are to be published in a book.

And if the above wasn’t enough, consider the comments made by Bill Gates in a speech last year to a meeting of state Governors:

When we looked at the millions of students that our high schools are not preparing for higher education – and we looked at the damaging impact that has on their lives – we came to a painful conclusion:

America’s high schools are obsolete.

By obsolete, I don’t just mean that our high schools are broken, flawed, and under-funded – though a case could be made for every one of those points.

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.

Our high schools were designed fifty years ago to meet the needs of another age. Until we design them to meet the needs of the 21st century, we will keep limiting – even ruining – the lives of millions of Americans every year.

Today, only one-third of our students graduate from high school ready for college, work, and citizenship.

The other two-thirds, most of them low-income and minority students, are tracked into courses that won’t ever get them ready for college or prepare them for a family-wage job – no matter how well the students learn or the teachers teach.

This isn’t an accident or a flaw in the system; it is the system.

Let’s be clear. Thanks to dedicated teachers and principals around the country, the best-educated kids in the United States are the best-educated kids in the world. We should be proud of that. But only a fraction of our kids are getting the best education.

Once we realize that we are keeping low-income and minority kids out of rigorous courses, there can be only two arguments for keeping it that way – either we think they can’t learn, or we think they’re not worth teaching. The first argument is factually wrong; the second is morally wrong.

Everyone who understands the importance of education; everyone who believes in equal opportunity; everyone who has been elected to uphold the obligations of public office should be ashamed that we are breaking our promise of a free education for millions of students.

For the sake of our young people and everyone who will depend on them – we must stop rationing education in America.

I’m not here to pose as an education expert. I head a corporation and a foundation. One I get paid for – the other one costs me. But both jobs give me a perspective on education in America, and both perspectives leave me appalled.

When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow. In math and science, our 4th graders are among the top students in the world. By 8th grade, they’re in the middle of the pack.

By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations.

We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world. Many who graduate do not go onto college. And many who do go on to college are not well-prepared – and end up dropping out. That is one reason why the U.S. college dropout rate is also one of the highest in the industrialized world. The poor performance of our high schools in preparing students for college is a major reason why the United States has now dropped from first to fifth in the percentage of young adults with a college degree.

The percentage of a population with a college degree is important, but so are sheer numbers. In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the United States did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor’s degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering. In the international competition to have the biggest and best supply of knowledge workers, America is falling behind.

What has happened to the billions upon billions of dollars literally given without question to the education lobbies? We certainly are not getting out money’s worth, so where is it going? I think I know…

Take, for instance, the Mission Statement at my son’s high school:

“The mission of ABC High School is to teach for understanding so that all students learn for a lifetime. In this task, a positive learning environment will be continually promoted, evaluated, and adjusted in order to provide opportunity for achievement and self-esteem.”

Awwwww – doesn’t that just give you a warm feeling? They care about your child’s self-esteem, will not bruise his or her ego, and make sure that the environment that they will (hopefully) learn in will be encouraging. What about being held to an educational standard? Oops, can’t do that – it’s not in the mission statement! But I digress…

Here in Michigan, the charter school & private school initiatives were met with great opposition by the teacher’s union, stating that these schools wouldn’t live up to their expectations. In fact, the reverse was true – students were learning and excelling.

The problem is that there have been low expectations of the students for so many reasons, and to expect them to learn by osmosis is ridiculous! No wonder many colleges now offer remedial classes in English & Math.

Teachers Unions hold our children hostage, but that is not the fault of the teachers. Teachers want job security (who doesn’t?), but the Unions have a lot of power in protecting those teachers who are ineffectual or do not teach the subject at hand (remember the geography teacher by the name of Bennit who went on a rant in Colorado?) After all, who wants to oppose a group of people making statements that the extra funding is “for the children”?

The curriculum and grading system has been skewed to the politically correct of where failing students do not receive a failing grade so that their feelings would not be hurt and their self-esteem lowered. Anyone who looks at a Bell curve knows that some will fail, some will pass, and some will excel. Those who fail or are failing need help, and not drag down the rest of the class with them.

The point is that the public school systems have been reduced to glorified baby-sitters where they are afraid of not passing students who don’t measure up. Having sat through many individual parent-teacher conferences, most of the teachers that I have met are more concerned with keeping order and a positive atmosphere than they are about teaching the subject. Even then, because of lawsuits & whatever, the standards of passing are reduced to the point of where almost everyone passes providing they make an effort (like showing up & putting their name on the test paper – I kid you not!!) The result is that these children go through their school life getting their ego stroked, never really being held to a standard, and when they don’t measure up in real life, take the classic “it’s not my fault” mentality, and blame someone else for them not succeeding. Sound familiar?

The simplified solution is for there to be a national standard for both students and teachers. For the students that don’t pass, they should be held back a grade or go to a remedial or summer school to catch up. For the teachers that don’t measure up, then the standard 3 strikes and you’re out policy should apply – get your act together or find another job. For those students that pass, then they advance to the next grade. For those teachers that pass, they keep their jobs. For those students that excel, then financial credits toward a college education could be the reward. For teachers that excel, pay raise and/or extra funding for their class/school. And to prevent any “cheating,” an independant board to conduct the testing and evaluations. (And yes, I do understand Mr. Gate’s position on getting the minority & poor educated. This should not only be a concern, but a priority. How else can the cycle of poverty and ignorance be broken? It will be achieved by effort, not by throwing more money at the problem.)

Parents – encourage & help your children to learn and meet your children’s teachers. Teachers – raise your standards no matter what your districts say your minimums are. School administrators – don’t settle for mediocracy, but encourage your students and your teachers toward excellence. Just remember – Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders (and caregivers!).

About Tom Roland

EE for 35 Years, Two Patents - now a certified PMP. Married twice, burned once. One son with Asperger's Syndrome. Two cats. Conservative leaning to the Right. NRA Life Member.
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One Response to The State of Education

  1. Tom says:

    I just feel all warm and tingly! This garbage has been going on for decades. Gates has much of it wrong. The money is not the problem. In real dollars, more is spent per pupil today, than was spent in the past. It ain’t the money, it’s the Unions and the School Boards who kow-tow to those unions.

    High Schools can’t teach if the kids entering are still unable to read, write, and grasp elementary arithmetic.
    benning | Homepage | 08.10.06 – 9:47 am | #

    “For the students that don’t pass, they should be held back a grade or go to a remedial or summer school to catch up.”

    That’s what we did back in the golden days of education, right? Back in the 1950s.

    You know what the high school graduation rate was in the ’50s?

    ’bout 50%.

    Which was okay. There were more farms, more factory jobs that didn’t require education.


    So, we’ve cracked down and are no longer graduating half of America’s children. Now what?

    Teaching all of the children is more difficult than teaching half of the children. It’s a different task altogether.

    I’m not saying we don’t need to work on education. I’m just saying that we’re graduating some 90% of our children now. Literacy rates have increased greatly in the last 50 years. We’ve made great strides and the solutions to increasing performance are not so easy or cheap.

    And I’m a former teacher, for what it’s worth.
    Dan Trabue | Homepage | 08.12.06 – 1:12 am | #

    Benning, I am appalled at the amount of $$ that is thrown upon the alter of education and “it’s for the kids,” and yet colleges have remedial classes. Gates does have one thing right in his speech – Children in the United States are falling way behind other countries.

    Dan, while I agree that graduation rates are up, my question is about the quality of education. Is it quality or quantity that we are really after?

    My son’s high school principal has gone on record stating that more than half of the graduating seniors have a B or better grade average, and that there are more Honor students this past year. Knowing some of the students in question and how they write, I’m appalled that such bad writing skills earns A’s & B’s (and yes, my son is one of them). Is it grade inflation and settling for mediocrity? I think so, at least from my experience & observation.
    Tom | Homepage | 08.12.06 – 3:55 pm | #

    I think computers have made kids lazy. While they are an affective tool, kids need to be able to write a paper without them.
    Teresa | Homepage | 08.13.06 – 8:35 am | #

    And there I go misspelling effective. That is my point.
    Teresa | Homepage | 08.13.06 – 8:35 am | #

    “Is it grade inflation and settling for mediocrity?”

    I think perhaps this is the case, but when we’re trying to educate 90% of everyone instead of everyone and we don’t give schools the extra resources they need to do so, then they may have to settle somewhat. Not that they want to – believe me.

    In my experience, nearly universally, teachers are the hardest-working folk I know. Long, tough days with often unappreciative kids and sometimes unsupportive parents and paperwork out the butt, they work to give their kids the best education they can.

    If we want to increase kids’ performance then we need to decrease class size, increase resources and, in short, invest more in education.
    Dan Trabue | Homepage | 08.16.06 – 9:14 am | #

    “When you’re trying to educate 90% of everyone and not just half of everyone…” I meant to say.

    Keeping in mind that going from 50% of the population receiving a good education to 90% does not mean merely investing twice as much. That second half are often the ones who need even MORE resources to achieve the same level of competency.

    Whether it’s due to learning problems, or family issues or hunger or lack of support at home, the graph for reaching the second half increases dramatically.

    (Did you know that in my state – Kentucky – 1/4 of the children live in poverty [if I’m remembering correctly] and a good number are actually homeless?! Obviously, these children may have other things on their mind than performing well in school…0
    Dan Trabue | Homepage | 08.16.06 – 9:21 am | #

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