The next generation of Americans won’t be better off than their parents, not if we don’t wake up soon to what’s really going on with education.
Wow! I watched the Oprah Show yesterday afternoon, Monday the 31st of July. The show’s subject was our nation’s growing crisis in education. From my own experience as a teacher in a suburban school district of Northern Texas, limited as it may be, I knew that things were bad and getting worse. But this show was a real eye-opener for me. I hope Governor Perry and key members of our state’s legislature were paying attention.
On the show yesterday were Bill and Melinda Gates, whose foundation is making big contributions to local school districts to update campus facilities and equipment, as well as a dedicated effort to raise our nation’s level of awareness (click here to read more about this foundation). According to Mr. Gates, more than a third of young people in high school today will not graduate. And most of those who do will not be prepared for the riggers of college academics. His most alarming prediction, for me at least, was that students who drop-out, and even many of those who do graduate from high school, will be doomed to a lifetime of poverty, unable to compete with workers of other nations who will be much better prepared for the high tech jobs of the future in our flattening world of a global economy.
African-American and Latino students in this country are the hardest hit by this shocking trend. Not because they lack the intelligence to succeed, but more because they lack the expectation of success. “Students rise to expectations,” said a guest on Oprah’s show. “Likewise, they descend to expectations, their own, those of their parents, and those of society.” And high-stakes, punitive testing is not making things better. It’s making things worse. I’m sorry, Mr. President, but you are wrong about this too.
This quote is from Gary Orfield’s book, Dropouts in America, which was highlighted yesterday on the Oprah Show: “There is a dropout crisis far beyond the imagination of most Americans, concentrated in urban schools and relegating many thousands of minority children to a life of failure. We urgently need to address this problem as a nation. Our goal in this book is to make the public aware of this issue and make improving high school graduation rates a central part of national education reform. We believe the first step must entail highlighting the severe racial disparities in high school graduation rates that exist at the school and district levels.”
Many politicians, looking for someone or something to blame for this situation, think it’s the fault of teachers or the fault of the public education system itself. Privatize it, the say, introduce economic incentives to attract and award the good teachers and weed out the bad teachers, and things’ll get better. But, according to a new study done by the U.S. Education Department and reported in an “All Things Considered” broadcast on National Public Radio the 26th of July, public schools perform favorably with private schools when students’ income and socio-economic status are taken into account (click here to read about this report). The findings of the study counter a popularly held notion, that private schools outperform public schools.
Much like all the disinformation about global warming that has kept our country immobile and unresponsive to the alarms being sounded by serious scientists over the world, we have allowed our elected representatives to argue over theoretical remedies and half-hearted commitments to improve education too long. Private and charter schools may be part of the solution because they are unencumbered by many of the legal obligations imposed on public schools. But we owe our kids better, all of our kids, not just those from wealthy families.
I was thinking of calling this posting “Chicken Little and the Drop- out Crisis,” because I really do believe the sky is falling. But then I remembered that, in the children’s classic story, the sky wasn’t really falling; it was acorns. Hmmm… maybe the Chicken Little title was better, ’cause those little acorns falling now are soon going to turn into great big oak trees! Our prisons in Texas are over- crowded as it is. Just wait until the frustration level of a whole new wave of dropout minorities hits our streets. So, folks, it’s a simple case of “pay me now or pay me later.”
Because of socio-economic factors beyond educators’ control, an equal education for all is simply not possible. We’re fooling our- selves if we think it is. And “equal” in this sense does not mean “the same”. A quality education, however, appropriate for each student’s different gifts, abilities and interests, is well within our capabilities to provide. Other, less prosperous countries are doing it, so can we. To this end, we simply need legislators to help schools find the needed resources, then get out of the way and let teachers teach.
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