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 to fall.
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 completely.
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
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
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
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 that matter.
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 deserve.
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
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 ourselves.