By Eleanor Ransburg
According to StudentsFirst.org:
— American schoolchildren are not reading at grade level. In a recent report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one out of three students scored “below basic” on the 2009 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Reading Test. Among these low-performing students, 49 percent come from low-income families. Even more alarming is the fact that more than 67 percent of all American fourth-graders scored “below proficient,” meaning they are not reading at grade level.
Reading proficiency among middle and high school students isn’t much better. On the 2009 NAEP Reading Test, about 26 percent of eighth-graders and 27 percent of 12th-graders scored below the “basic” level, and only 32 percent of eighth-graders and 38 percent of 12th-graders are at or above grade level.
— Compared to other countries, America is failing in math and science education. In an assessment by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 15-year-olds in the U.S. placed 25th out of 30 countries in math performance and 21st in science performance.
— Despite decades of efforts, the test scores of American schoolchildren are not improving much. At all. In April 2009, Education Week reported that average math and reading scores for 17-year-olds in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests have remained stagnant since the 1970s. And according to The Journal, fourth- and eighth-grade reading scores “have barely budged since 1992,” despite policy and investment focused on improving overall student achievement.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, the national high school graduation rate has slipped in recent years, despite an array of public and private efforts to boost the percentage of students going on to college. The percent of students earning a standard diploma in four years shifted from 69.2 percent in 2006 to 68.8 percent in 2007, according to an analysis of the most recent data in Diplomas Count 2010. The report was released by Education Week and the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center, a nonprofit in Bethesda, Md. At its peak in 1969, the national graduation rate was 77 percent.
Racial and ethnic gaps persist, the report notes. Forty-six percent of black students, 44 percent of Hispanics and 49 percent of native Americans did not earn a diploma in four years.
These numbers are important, even for families with no children in school, the Christian Science Monitor reported. It’s also important to the community at large. Why?
Because education level is directly tied to income. The better educated you are, the more you earn. And the more affluent a community is, the more its residents contribute in taxes.
According to a recent analysis by the Alliance for Excellent Education, if dropouts were reduced by half in America’s 50 largest cities, the graduates extra earnings would add up to about $4.1 billion a year. The Christian Science Monitor reports that this would increase state and local tax revenue by as much as $536 million.
That’s more than half a BILLION dollars.
In other words, instead of being a dropout and likely a drain on public coffers, the student who completes high school and goes on to graduate from trade school or college actually CONTRIBUTES to public coffers.
So … what can we do to improve reading, math and science scores among schoolchildren? And how can we keep more teens from dropping out?
The solutions won’t be easy, and they will involve all parties — teachers, parents and students, as well as local, state and national leaders.
Nothing is off the table. Specifically:
— If charter schools or single-gender classes are successful, let’s explore how we can translate that success to more public schools.
— If tenure is interfering with a school board’s ability to weed out poor teachers, union officials should rethink their policies.
— If private schools are spending 30 percent less per student than public schools but routinely have higher reading and math scores, we should find out WHY. Is it due to preschool preparation, parental involvement, class size, the quality of the teachers, the curriculum itself, or all of the above?
— If pregnancy is forcing more and more teen girls to drop out of high school, let’s rethink our response to teen pregnancy. Right now, we’re footing the bill for everything from diapers and day care to food stamps for mothers as young as 14 and 15. Well, what if we raised the age of eligibility for welfare to 18? And what if we rewarded young girls for NOT getting pregnant before they finish high school?
As we explore all of these issues, we should be honest about the facts: Public school staffers have far more advanced degrees than private school staffers and typically earn more money, yet public school students consistently score lower on math and reading tests than their private school counterparts. Obviously, half a century of throwing tax dollars at public schools is NOT the answer.
What is the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
It’s time for CHANGE, people. Radical change. Right now.
(Sources: StudentsFirst.org, Christian Science Monitor, Publicpurpose.com, Privateschoolreview.com and the National Center for Education Statistics)