American Public Education – At the Bottom of the Class

Prior to the focus on self-esteem rather than academics in the education curriculum, California always ranked highest in the nation on student achievement tests. Today, California ranks close to the bottom. In the words of a wag, so goes California, so goes the nation. His insightful admonition has come to pass.

US 15-year old students significantly underperform their peers from every country in the world, even in reading. Being 32nd is not much better than being dead last, 34th (among OECD nations). Only Mexico and Turkey rank below the United States. The PISA results are mirrored in every international assessment of achievement.

For the world’s only super power, this is a national disgrace. Recent surveys found that 75% of freshmen in 2-yr and 40% in 4-yr colleges require remediation. Our students get a high school diploma at the end of 12th grade, but they don’t get the education that entitles them to the credential. College graduates in 2013 could not pass an exam 8th graders took in 1895 or 1912 to qualify for admission to high school.  [1], [2]

There are many reasons for the failures of the massive education apparatus, starting with its size and its centralization. In the United States, education is controlled by unions, politics and multiculturalism. The Three R’s have been replaced by radical indoctrination and social revisionism.

Text books are deliberately dumbed down to erase differences in intellect and prevent possible injury to students’ self-esteem and narcissism. Teachers lack qualifications. 40% of math teachers lack a minor in mathematics. 51% of chemistry and physics teachers lack a minor in their discipline. Might this be a reason why high school seniors are illiterate and innumerate or why American students scored worst in class on PISA or TIMMS?

Cai Yuanpei, founder of modern education in China, warned his nation’s leaders to keep out. Education must be above politics. They wisely heeded his counsel as did those in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Today, their students are the best in the world. In the United States, education is the handmaiden of politics.

Teachers’ unions control education. Education systems in other countries are responsive to failures in practice or policy. Tenure does not protect the unqualified. Administrators are limited to the absolutely essential. Teachers and personnel are hired on merit, not government mandate. The results speak for themselves.

After a six-year study of 270,000 students found a striking difference in performance in students in single-sex schools and those in coeducational schools, a shift toward more all-girls and all-boys schools occurred. When the data were replicated in South Korea and China, similar shifts were made. Those responsive changes are mirrored in the PISA scores.
Title IX legislation in 1972 made coeducation in public schools a national mandate. Single-sex public schools became illegal. Studies demonstrate females in single-sex schools outperform girls in coed schools. Similar to the psychological constraint brothers often have on their sisters, male students inhibit achievement of their female classmates.

Barnard College in NY has graduated more female physicians and chemistry professors than any college in the country. Black and Hispanic girls at The Young Women’s Leadership Academy in East Harlem outperform every student in New York on the State Regents’ Exam. Females account for 51% of the population and 60% of college students. An increase in single-sex public schools and colleges and in charter schools would be of enormous benefit to huge numbers of students and to the country. Every incremental increase in PISA scores translates into a significant increase in our national GDP.
President Obama has advocated a new program to transform public education for the 21st century. Deceptively called the Common Core State Standards Initiative, it represents the attempt by the federal government to nationalize public education, a move it is prohibited from making by the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Provisions Act, the 1970 General Education and Provisions Act and the 1979 Department of Education Organization Act.

Developed by two federally-funded private consortia who wrote the curriculum standards and performance assessments in mathematics and English Language Arts, the content lowers the standards of the nation’s highest performing states.
Massachusetts has consistently been the nation’s highest ranking state on annual National Assessment of Education Performance exams since 2005. It has also ranked among the highest on global assessments of academic performance, scoring fourth in reading, seventh in science and tenth in math. Its scores have plummeted since the implementation of the common score-sub standards.

By way of comparison, the United States ranked 24th in reading, 36th in mathematics and 28th in science on the 2012 PISA assessments among the 34 OECD countries and 31 partner countries whose students competed in the exams. [3]
Where do we go from here? There is a critical point in nuclear fission beyond which it is impossible to reverse the process. In failing Liberty, William Damon said the survival of a democracy depends upon an informed citizenry. As the PISA results have demonstrated, we have an un-informed and un-educated citizenry that will become more so with Common Core, a topic we will address at greater length in a separate article.

The United States has reached a critical point. If Common Core is implemented in all US public schools as the national education policy, we risk any hope of having an educated citizenry. It behooves everyone to make certain that does not happen.

About the Author:  R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.





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