Broke Schools, Stupid Kids

President Bush signing the No Child Left Behin...

The Beginning of the End for American Education

Two separate stories caught my eye today, both helping to illustrate what’s wrong with the education system in America, and what this system has done to the students that suffer through it.  It can no longer be denied that our schools are broken, and that they can no longer properly educate the children of this country.  We are falling behind the rest of the world, and if something isn’t done, we risk falling even further.

The first article, by Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson, appearing in Newsweek, shows just how far behind the rest of the world we’ve already fallen.  The American ego leads us to believe that we are world leaders, that we breed the best and the brightest.  But, the data shows that simply is not the case.  Where we may have once been atop the heap in terms of education our youth, that is no longer true.  Only thirty-two percent of our students show proficiency in math, placing us 32nd out of the 65 nations tested.  The numbers are even worse among minorities (who tend to attend school in lower income areas), which shows a correlation between the amount spent on education and the results of that education.  But, even among white students, proficiency lags far behind many parts of the world.

Our schools have set minimum proficiency standards as part of the No Child Left Behind initiative.  But, these standards have been set so low that even those who meet the minimums can’t compete with students from most other nations.  It has become quite clear that we need to refocus our attention on education, but Republicans would rather make excuses than make improvements.  They refuse to acknowledge that this is a situation that will soon spiral out of control.  This generation of students will spawn another generation that will be held to even lower standards, and they will be even further behind their competition across the globe.

Republicans claim to have a solution to this impending crisis, but their so-called solution will likely just increase the speed of our decline.  Andy Kroll writes in Mother Jones about a proposal by a Michigan State Senator to privatize the public school system.  Phil Pavlov (chair of the State Senate’s Education Committee), citing Michigan’s budget deficit, suggests that public schools should begin hiring teachers from private companies.  This would absolve school districts from paying compensation packages to unionized teachers.  In this scenario, teachers would not be hired based on competence, but rather by their willingness to work for a less pay and no benefits.  It is easy to see that this is a disservice to the students that are supposed to receiving an education, as the government makes it clear that this education is not a priority.

But, education should be a priority.  It should be our top priority.  But, Republicans have shown that they are not interested unless there is a way to make a profit off of it.  But, as always, they are looking at the short-term and ignoring the bigger picture.  Studies suggest that America’s GDP growth could be increased by around one percent.  That may not seem like much, but that would be up to fifty percent faster than current projections.  Over the next 80 years, that translates to potential gains of $75 trillion.  Admittedly, this is not money that will be seen immediately, but it is a figure that is too large to disregard.  A bit of spending now could lead to a windfall down the road.

So, it seems obvious that educating our children is good for them and, in turn, good for the country.  Yet Republicans continue to float ridiculous ideas like getting rid of the Department of Education.  Despite increased class sizes, bankrupt schools, unqualified teachers, and falling test scores, they call for cuts and more cuts, when what we need is to spend.  But, don’t call it spending.  Call it an investment, an investment with great potential returns.

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