While much has been made of the American education system and its many shortcomings, the truth tells a different story.
A recent article in American Journalism Review reveals that American schools are not doing so badly after all. The many international comparisons that are made are not necessarily comparing apples to apples, but more like comparing a Yugo to a Cadillac.
A number of international comparisons are based on average reported outcomes. More than a few European and Asian school systems sometimes separate high performing students from their lower performing counter parts. American reporting often reports scores as an average of all scores. If America’s top performers were selected as our only reporting then our numbers for educational performance would improve over night.
Some American schools are struggling to educate an American underclass that is growing rapidly. A number of these students are vastly disadvantaged, may be more chronically ill and have lower school attendance and a growing number may be facing a language barrier. As the impact of the economic recession continues to express itself in every sector of America, including schools, American schools are facing largely unprecedented challenges.
In spite of these challenges and changed societal landscape, American elementary and middle school students have improved their performance on international mathematics and science studies. These tests began in 1995 and are administered every four years. In each successive testing, American students have improved and are in fact are above average in all testing categories and are within a few percentage points of the global leaders, a truth that often goes unreported.
The number of Americans with at least some college has increased dramatically over the last seventy years. In 1940 10 percent of Americans had some college, today an incredible 56 percent of Americans have at least some college. Additionally, graduation rates from high school have never been higher.
The truth for children everywhere in the world, including America is that if they are raised in a home where poverty is a factor, they will often do less well. In all likelihood, the parents of these impoverished children will often be less educated a factor that also affects the academic success of a child.
Most researchers agree that nearly 22 percent of American children are being raised in poverty, the highest rate of childhood poverty of any of the Western and industrialized democracies. Prominent figures like Bill Gates and his wife have been very out spoken about educational system problems and some of their positions have merit. The difficulties confronting American educators are complex and the solutions will not be found embedded in thirty second sound bites. America’s changing demographics, economic, political, racial and age must be part of the calculus. As new strategies are being constructed in response to a changing America, full out assaults on the American education system rife with unfounded generalizations and lacking fact, will not resolve or improve anything.
The same logic that has been applied successfully in other elements of our culture must be applied to education. First, a thoughtful and factual definition of the problem must be articulated so that all Americans can have a common understanding of the issues.
Remember, all kids count.
Reach the writer at Hurlburt@wildblue.net