by Zack Burgess, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
The system is broken. Public education is failing.
The average fourth grader doesn’t even have the most basic skill set in
common subjects, while school superintendents in urban centers
throughout the country, who are trying to get it right, are being
fired at record levels.
Arlene Ackerman is gone after three years in Philadelphia. Teresa Gueyser
was ousted last year in Detroit. Michelle Rhee is gone in Washington
D.C.after ruffling feathers. And after several months of
investigation, the state of Georgia recently released a scathing
report on test cheating in Atlanta public schools.
Something is wrong with this picture.
It’s no secret that the relative decline of American education has become
a national embarrassment and a serious problem for the nation’s
future. Not too long ago, American students tested better than any
other students in the world. Now, ranked against Europeans, America
does about as well as Lithuania, behind at least 10 other nations.
Within the United States, the achievement gap between white students and
poor and minority students obstinately perseveres, and as the
population of disadvantaged students grows, overall scores continue
Students are struggling to do basic mathematical, scientific or literary
activities that are reasonable for their age. Countless
elementary-school students are not progressing from addition to
multiplication; some never progress from adding on their fingers.
Many middle-school students can’t consistently multiply in vertical
formats, do long division, or convert fractions into decimals. And
too many can’t read at grade level. Subjects other than literacy
and mathematics – such as civics, history, economics, forensics,
second languages, social studies, art, music, gym, geography, ethics
and communication – are given short shrift or have been eliminated
High-school students are dropping out at unacceptable rates or they’re
graduating without the basic skills they need to go to college,
vocational school, the military or the work place. Up to 50 percent
of high school graduates must take remedial classes before beginning
their post-secondary life.
As a consequence, an increasing number of parents perceive public school
as inadequate. Some are choosing to supplement the regular program.
Others are leaving public school altogether – sending their
children to private schools, alternative schools or private tutors.
More and more of them are making the hard choice to teach their
children at home.
Today, 14 urban school districts have on-time graduation rates lower than 50
percent. They include Detroit, Baltimore, New York, Milwaukee,
Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas, Denver and Houston. And among
the nation’s 50 largest districts, three graduate fewer than 40
percent: Detroit (21.7 percent), Baltimore (38.5 percent) and New
York City (38.9 percent).
According to The Heritage Foundation, our students are not doing well on
national assessments. The most recent NAEP assessments indicate that
less than one third of fourth graders are proficient in reading,
mathematics, science and American history.
More than half of low income students cannot even demonstrate basic
knowledge of science, reading and history. Eighth graders ranked 19th
out of 38 countries on mathematic assessments and 18th in science.
And American 12th graders ranked 18th out of 21 countries
in combined mathematics and science assessments.
While the public wants to assume that what is wrong with the public
education system is a lack of funding, this is not necessarily the
case. It’s simply this: The foundation is bad.
And until certain issues are addressed, no amount of funding will fix the
problem. No one holds teachers and administrators accountable for the
undereducated students that graduate every year, not to mention how
schools have the ability to ignore parents – and anyone else, for
Don’t get me wrong; I believe there are great teachers out there, who are
honestly trying to figure out how the system could be made better.
There are scores of conscientious teachers, principals, parents and
school staff who spend their days working on behalf of the students.
They get the paperwork done, are friendly to students and come up
with new, innovative, esteem-building programs. Lord knows I wouldn’t
have succeeded without them.
But since 1960, the amount spent per pupil has more than tripled after
dollars have been adjusted for inflation, yet the education our
children are subjected to is not three times better. Why isn’t the
system being held accountable?
According to the Department of Education, public schools receive an average of
$9,969 per pupil – twice the average amount spent per student at
private and charter schools. Some areas, like the District of
Columbia, spend in excess of $12,000 per public educated pupil.
Where is that money going? Does anybody know – or perhaps more importantly
– does anybody care? I think it’s fair to say that there shouldn’t
be a one-size-fits-all prescription for education, yet that’s
exactly what most students receive throughout our public schools.
Wasn’t the No Child Left Behind Act created to fix our public schools? In
fact, it has done more to damage the system than correct it. Under
this law, extreme emphasis has been placed on test scores and
punitive action, and school districts have been forced to train
students for NCLB tests versus offering them the education they
In March 2011, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Congress that
more than 80,000 of the nation’s 100,000 public schools could be
labeled as failing under No Child Left Behind. That’s 80 percent of
our schools. Sad when you think about it.
But we can’t totally blame the system. It’s just a referendum on the
American public as a people. We have failed our students and