The state of America’s education system has continued to be in crisis. What is the cause of the problems facing it today? What is at the root of this failure?
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This is the time of year in the United States when parents begin to turn their attention to sending children back to school. Even the stores are running their “back to school” sales. Parents are hurriedly purchasing the latest fashions so their children can be in step with their fellow students. Notebooks, backpacks, pens, pencils, organizers and binders are flying off store shelves as parents try to equip their children for another school year. Even college-bound students get into the fray as they start or return to their pursuit of “higher education.”
While it is normal and expected that parents provide the physical items their child needs for another school year, most depend on the educational system to do the actual educating. Every year, parents happily hand over their open- and receptive-minded children, entrusting teachers with educating and preparing them for life.
Are they simply being taught how to earn a living, or how to live as well? Will they be able to pass state-mandated proficiency tests and make it to graduation? Will they even graduate? (A high percentage of students fail every year, with some only receiving a certificate of completion, not an actual diploma.) Few ever stop to consider what kind of education, if any, their children are receiving.
Some do consider, but are more concerned about whether school is even a safe environment, providing an atmosphere that will allow a student to learn. They might ask, “Will my child be a victim of violence?” “Is the school building itself safe or will the ceiling come crashing down?” (This did happen in one Cleveland, Ohio school building.) “Are the buildings filled with hazardous materials, germs and viruses that pose a health risk?”
Sadly, these have become real concerns. Without a well-rounded, balanced, educated citizenry having high standards, ethics and morals, a nation cannot hope to maintain or advance its position in the world. At a time when America is increasingly challenged for world dominance as an economic and military superpower, her educational system is failing.
Why? While many can easily see the problems—the effects—of its failure to properly educate every child, very few see or know the real CAUSE!
What is at the root of this failure? What is the cause of the problems facing the educational system today?
Before we can take a look at the cause of the failing education system, we should study the problems facing and being produced by modern education.
President George W. Bush recently stated, “When it comes to the education of our children…failure is not an option.” This statement was made twenty years after the Reagan administration commissioned the report A Nation at Risk. This 1983 report warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity [in our schools] that threatens our very future as a nation and as a people.”
The findings in that 1983 study were shocking:
• About 13% of all 17-year-olds, and perhaps 40% of minority youths were functionally illiterate.
• When matched against 21 other countries, U.S. students never ranked first in 19 academic tests and ranked last seven times among industrial nations.
• Average scores of high school students on standard achievement tests were lower in 1983 than before 1957—the year Sputnik set off a flurry of U.S. educational reforms.
Following in 1989, then President George Bush held the first National Education Summit, with the states’ governors in attendance, for the purpose of setting educational goals, ranging from eliminating illiteracy to propelling U.S. math and science students to rank first in the world.
National Urban League President Hugh B. Price is quoted as saying the current President is “asking our schools to do something that no society has ever done, to educate all children well, regardless of their circumstances.” This is being equated with making a solid education a fundamental civil right.
This is a very tall order in the Information Age. The population of schools in the U.S. for grades K-12, public and private, in the year 2000 was approximately 53,167,000. These school-age children come from all walks of life, differing social and economic backgrounds, races and religions, two-parent families, single-parent families and even now a growing number of “alternative lifestyle” families. Each child comes from a unique background and environment, requiring teachers to adjust their educational methods for each one.
As class sizes have continued to grow since the 1950s, when former Harvard President James B. Conant advocated replacing small schools with large comprehensive ones, this has become increasingly more difficult to do. The result of this thinking has led to urban high school students having to attend a factory-like school with student populations approaching 1,000! There is a statistically documented higher occurrence of violence, poor achievement and dropout in large urban schools. (All statistics are cited from the National Center for Education Statistics [NCES] throughout.)
How can a child be properly educated under such conditions? And how can a teacher guide and instruct children on a one-on-one basis, giving them the time they need in such an environment? It is impossible, though every good teacher truly tries. This is just one of many impediments facing America’s education system.
Take the case of one student who attended and was removed from the highly regarded Hunter College High School in New York. She found it to be too competitive and impersonal, stating, “My attendance and grades were terrible.” Enrolling in the 175-year-old Humanities Prep, a small school in Manhattan that specializes in giving students a second chance, she flourished in the one-on-one atmosphere. Now a senior applying to college, she has this to say: “At Hunter they didn’t care, but here they’re really concerned.” Were it not for Humanities, “I would likely have ended up on welfare.”
Lack of a good education frequently leads to underemployment, unemployment and lifelong reliance on welfare, which carries on to the next generation.
Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of this magazine’s predecessor, was also the founder and chancellor of three liberal arts colleges. Mr. Armstrong knew the importance and benefits of keeping class sizes small. Notice: “I was well aware that colleges had fallen into a dangerous drift of materialism…I also realized that mass-production, assembly-line education in universities of five to forty thousand students resulted in loss of personality development and much that is vital in student training” (Autobiography of HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG, Vol. 2, pp. 212-213).
Upon founding Ambassador College, Mr. Armstrong purposely set out to avoid the problems of large campuses and class sizes.
He later wrote, “To that end, the small student body on campus and the small student-faculty ratio provide a distinct advantage. On campus the relationship between student and faculty is as happy and helpful as it is unusual. The smaller college, adequately staffed and outstandingly equipped for its needs, with high character and cultural surroundings, offers greater opportunity for self-expression and activity in the area of the student’s talents. It can give more personal attention to the individual student’s problems. It produces an altogether different and more desirable campus atmosphere” (Ambassador College Course Handbook, Fall Semester, 1983).
How much progress has been made since the national effort was begun to improve the level of education in America? A Washington research group, the Education Trust, shows that the U.S. is ranked 17th in graduation rates (after formerly leading the world), with only 74% of 18-year-olds having completed high school. Not even half of the school children in America can read proficiently at their grade level. A look at the test scores in mathematics and science of U.S. twelfth-graders reveals the fact that they score well below their peers in almost every other developed country! Due to many contributing factors, students from a minority or a low-income background perform worse.
Milt Goldberg, who headed the commission that produced A Nation at Risk, stated, “While we’ve certainly made some improvements, they’re not enough to keep up.”
Those nations that are ahead of the U.S. in educating their children will not wait for this country to catch up, not if they want to replace America in her role as the leader of the free world.
The three subject areas that are most often used to gauge student achievement are reading, mathematics and science. These three subjects are the tools that allow a society or a country to achieve, progress, advance and excel.
Consider the following:
READING performance of 9- and 13-year-olds was higher than the performance in 1971, but there was no meaningful difference among 17-year-olds. In reading, both 9- and 13-year-olds’ achievement scores increased in the 1970s. Although no further improvements in average reading scores have occurred for these age groups since the 1970s, their average scores were higher in 1999 than in 1971. In contrast, average scores for 17-year-olds were about the same in both 1971 and 1999. Their scores have remained within a narrow range during all assessment years.
MATHEMATICS scores for 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds have increased since 1973. For 9-year-olds, a period of stable performance in the 1970s was followed by an increase in average scores from 1982 to 1990, and then some subsequent modest increases through the 1990s. For 13-year-olds, an increase in average scores between 1978 and 1982 was followed by additional increases during the 1990s, resulting in a pattern of overall progress. The average scores of 17-year-olds declined between 1973 and 1982, but since then, they have risen. In all three age groups, the average scores were higher in 1990 than in 1973.
SCIENCE performance of 9-, 13- and 17-year-olds declined during the 1970s, increased during the 1980s and early 1990s, and has been mostly stable since then. Among 9-year-olds, average science scores declined between 1970 and 1973 and then remained stable through 1982. Scores for 9-year-olds rose between 1982 and 1992 but have been stable in more recent assessments. Among 13-year-olds, scores declined from 1970 to 1977, and then increased steadily from 1982 to 1992. Since 1992, scores for 13-year-olds have dropped slightly, resulting in a 1999 average that was similar to that in 1970. Scores for 17-year-olds declined from 1969 to 1982, and then increased over the next 10 years. Since 1992, scores for 17-year-olds have remained stable, but average scores in 1999 were still lower than those in the first assessment.
Although these statements show a trend toward improvement, they do not tell the whole story.
Consider these revealing statistics:
• As of 1998, only 31% of fourth graders were at or above proficient in reading performance, with 38% scoring below basic.
• Only 33% of eighth graders were at or proficient in reading performance, with 26% scoring below basic.
• Of twelfth graders, only 40% were at or above proficient in reading, with 23% scoring below basic.
• In math, only 26% of fourth graders were at or above proficient, with 31% scoring below basic performance for the year 2000.
• Of eighth graders, only 27% are at or above proficient, with 31% scoring below basic.
• Of twelfth graders, 17% were at or above proficient, with 35% scoring below basic.
• In science, only 29% of fourth graders were at or above proficient, with 34% scoring below basic skills.
• Of eighth graders, only 32% were at or above proficient, with 39% scoring below basic.
• And of twelfth graders, only 18% scored at or above proficient, with 47% scoring below basic science skills.
These statistics do not include all of the almost 11% of 15- to 24-year olds who dropped out of school in 2000! Eleven percent might not seem like much until you know how many students it actually represents. In 1996, by the month of October, five out of every 100 young adults who where enrolled in high school had left without successfully completing a high school program. This means that of the 9.6 million 15- to 24-year-olds enrolled in high school, approximately 500,000 dropped out.
This figure remains relatively constant. The cumulative effect of this number of dropouts each year translates into several million young adults lacking high school credentials.
Recall that these three subjects are the tools that allow a society to progress, achieve, advance and excel. If the educational system in America cannot properly teach each generation of children to achieve proficiency in these subject areas, not only will it have failed, but so will the nation.
With the government mandating that schools teach more non-essential classes (and schools willingly adding non-essential classes) as an attempt at social engineering, along with the requirement that they act as an extension of social services, the emphasis on the major subjects, along with the time necessary to teach them, is diminished.
On top of this is the fact that school is just not a safe place anymore. Gone are the carefree days of sending your children off to school. Not only do parents need to be concerned with their child’s safety to and from school, but, increasingly, they need to be concerned with his safety at school!
Just call to mind the school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, in which 12 students and a teacher were killed. Or Paducah, Kentucky, where three students were killed and five wounded. Even educators are the target of violence, as evidenced in the shooting death of a teacher in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the period from October 1, 1997 to May 26, 2000, there were at least 12 major incidents of school violence. Those incidences left 30 dead and 75 wounded or hurt.
Here is a sampling from the Associated Press:
• October 1, 1997—a 16-year-old boy in Pearl, Mississippi, is accused of killing his mother, then going to his high school and shooting nine students, two fatally.
• December 1, 1997—three students are killed and five others wounded in a hallway at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky.
• March 24, 1998—four girls and a teacher are shot to death, and ten others wounded, during a false fire alarm at a middle school in Jonesboro, Arkansas, when two boys, ages 11 and 13, open fire from the woods.
• April 24, 1998—a science teacher is shot to death in front of students at an eighth-grade dance at a banquet hall in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. A 14-year-old student awaits trial.
• May 21, 1998—two teenagers are killed and more than 20 people hurt when a 15-year-old boy allegedly opens fire at a high school in Springfield, Oregon. His parents are killed at home. On a police videotape, he is asked why he opened fire. He responds: “I had no other choice.”
• December 6, 1999—a 13-year-old student fired at least 15 rounds at Fort Gibson Middle School in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, wounding four classmates.
• February 29, 2000—a 6-year-old boy at Buell Elementary School in Mount Morris Township, Michigan, shot to death a fellow first-grader.
• May 26, 2000—a 13-year-old boy was indicted as an adult on first degree murder charges in the shooting death of his teacher in the hallway of Lake Worth Middle School, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Schools find it increasingly necessary to employ security guards and metal detectors in an effort to prevent drugs, firearms and violence from making it into the schools.
In 1999 alone, there were about 2.5 million crimes involving theft or violence at school. Students between the ages of 12 and 18 were the victims. Of that 2.5 million, 186,000 suffered violent crimes, including rape, sexual assault, robbery and aggravated assault.
In 1996-97, 10% of all public schools reported at least one serious violent crime to the police or a law enforcement official. Principals’ reports of serious violent crimes included murder, rape (or other type of sexual battery), suicide, physical attacks or fights with weapons, or robbery.
Who is in control of the schools? The educators? They are the very ones who have taken discipline out of the schools! And an increasing number of parents will also not allow their children to be disciplined, often suing schools because their children’s “rights” have been “violated.”
Corporal punishment is fast becoming a thing of the past. The mantra of some is that spanking teaches violence. Says a former school teacher, now a school board member, “Do you want someone to spank your child in the classroom when you are not present to witness it?” “The bottom line,” she says, “is if you don’t want that to happen to your child, then I don’t want it to happen to any child.” This virtually guarantees that the students—children—will be in control of the class, and it does not take them long to figure it out. The teachers cannot do anything.
Yet in an age when spanking has been virtually outlawed, youth violence is increasing. Almost none have a healthy fear of authority.
A recently retired police detective from Berea, Ohio, who headed his department’s juvenile crime unit, stated, “They tell us if we strike a child as a form of discipline, they’ll grow up violent. In law enforcement, we’re finding the opposite is true” (abcnews.com).
In Part Two, we will continue our look at the effects of the failing education system, and examine the real cause behind those problems.